The Dallas Mavericks are one game out of the playoff race.
[Jim Mora voice] Playoffs?! [/Jim Mora voice]
Just to be clear....all of you are afraid you might be having a heart attack, too, right?
I know one thing for sure: this was a win. A much-needed, must-have, super, big, important win. Where to start breaking this one down, though? I think I need a minute to wrap my head around that.
If it seems a little pathetic to be talking so dramatically about a win to put a team at 35-36...well, that's where we're at right now. But, after everything that's gone on this season(or, really, the last ten months), to be here at all is somewhat remarkable.
To say that the Dallas Mavericks had been written off is pretty accurate and, I think, pretty understandable. This was a team that was seven games under .500, and six and a half games out of the playoffs, less than a month ago. Dirk Nowitzki looked like he was maybe getting his legs back, but much too late. O.J. Mayo was having his best season as a pro, but fading fast. And coach Rick Carlisle was playing lineup roulette, especially at point guard and center.
Now, however, after they eeked out a 109-102 victory against the L.A. Clippers(and got their first win in 12 tries against the top four seeds in the West), Dallas is very much in the playoff discussion, and suddenly things seem to be going right...sort of.
First things first: it would appear that The Bearded One, or Dirk Werner Nowitzki, as you know him, is at or near full strength again. A season high 33 points from Dirk gave us plenty of vintage highlights, and makes all the difference in the world if this team is to have any chance at a playoff berth. In addition to the patented off-balance, one-legged, herky-jerky fadeaways, Dirk also was able to get into the lane a few times for nice hook shots from either hand(and the off the dribble stuff has not been there consistently for him yet this year), and, most importantly, he was able to go 39 minutes, in a contest Dallas could not have afforded to have him play less.
Dirk's supporting cast situation is a little murkier, but as we'll get into, they made enough plays to get the "W".
Going up against an offense with real firepower, you had a feeling this would be a game of runs, and it was. In the first, after a lot of back-and-forth, the Clippers made a run at the end of the quarter that featured six straight unanswered points from Chris Paul, who absolutely abused Mike James and(especially) Darren Collison in this one. Lob City led 27-22.
In the second, after Dallas had climbed back to a tie, Vince Carter would mount his own personal run with seven straight in the final three minutes, giving Dallas a solid cushion, only to see the Clippers quickly shrink it to two with a triple from ex-Mav Caron Butler and a Blake Griffin free throw. In what appeared to be an ominous sign, O.J. would execute a comically-poor last possession of the half, fumbling away the ball without a shot. DON'T WORRY: HIS END-OF-HALF SHOTS WOULD GET BETTER.
Riding this momentum, the Clippers would storm out in the third with a 9-2 run in the first two minutes. That stretch would feature four fouls from Dallas, including two from Mike James(and a flagrant from Mayo on a Griffin breakaway). James would pick up a third a few minutes later, giving him four for the game and forcing him to sit, as well as putting L.A in the bonus. The Clippers would attempt 10 free throws in the quarter, but none in the final five minutes, helping to minimize what could have been a disastrous turn of events against a club that can rack up free throws. However, Dallas did find themselves down by nine at 80-71 with four mintues left in the third quarter.
Dirk would score five straight on back to back jumpers(the second being an and-one), with a Paul three in between. Then a Collison runner, followed by a Dirk free throw and finally a Mayo steal and pass to a streaking, dunking Collison would tie it. A technical free throw from Collison put Dallas back ahead at 74-73 heading into the fourth.
Then the crazy started to take ahold. As the Clippers kept flirting with pulling away, hitting open jumpers to keep their advantage at five, or six, or seven, Dallas began to look worn and outgunned. A seven point lead with six minutes left looked like it might stretch to double digits, but a Mike James momentum three cut it to four, and then another Dirk Nowitzki run saw seven straight points for the German and gave the Mavs another lead at 90-89.
Chris Paul would respond, scoring six points of his own, a long jumper putting his team back ahead at 93-90. The lead would stay three until an O.J. Mayo post-up opportunity with a minute left saw Mayo flip home a one-hander and draw the foul on the smaller Paul. The game would be tied.
Then, the first of a few really, really weird sequences happened, with Elton Brand blocking Matt Barnes at the hoop, followed by Blake Griffin blocking O.J. Mayo at the other end on an ill-advised 1v3 fast break layup attempt, and finally ending with Chris Paul losing the ball and Vince Carter getting fouled in the scramble to recover it. Two freebies from Vince made it 95-93 Dallas with under a minute in regulation.
Clearly offended at this, Chris Paul would make an acrobatic layup over two defenders to tie it, intercept a wild pass from Vince Carter(who for whatever reason was dribbling into no man's land while Dirk played decoy), then make another ludicrous shot to put L.A back ahead with five seconds left. It looked like Paul's heroics would be Dallas' undoing.
What happened next...I...I don't even know. Once again, the ball went to a guy not named Dirk Nowitzki, in a must-have-basket situation, down the stretch, late in a game. This time it was Mayo. "Juice" caught the ball near the baseline, then dribbled near the corner about ten feet from the basket. A double team came, and he picked up his dribble. He was dead to rights. Dead to rights, that is, until he reverse-pivoted, came back up from under the basket, and flipped in a left-handed layup off the backboard for the game-tying, "are you kidding?" shot that I still can't believe went in. The clock read 0.5 seconds.
As if that wasn't crazy enough, Matt Barnes immediately picked up the ball, and after a half-second, fired a laser beam pass down to the other end, where Blake Griffin caught it, spun, and banked in a shot from the free throw line...only it didn't count because he had just been called for an (iffy) offensive foul for pushing off on Dirk Nowitzki.
In the overtime period, Dallas would make two field goals, both from one guy...and win. After Paul started right where he left off in regulation by hitting a jumper, Dirk Nowitzki would counter with back to back buckets of his own to give Dallas a 101-100 lead. A few misses at either end later, Dirk would make a pair of free throws to make it 103-100. Following a tough defensive stand, giving Dallas back the ball with 30 seconds left, Chris Paul would make yet another incredible play, stripping Vince Carter. This would set up a wide, wide open three from Matt Barnes that could have tied the game...only Barnes airballed it, giving the Mavs back possession and, with 22 seconds left, the ability to play the free throw game to ice the game, which they did.
There are about a million things I want to touch on here, so I'll just try and get them all out rapid fire:
- Dirk obviously huge, huge, huge tonight. Season high 33 points, nine rebounds, just one turnover. Went 0-3 from three, but hit 9-10 free throws, including a bunch of critical ones late. Huge, huge, huge. You could tell the Clippers were trying to throw just about everyone at him. And the strategy was pretty simple(especially from
that d-bag Matt Barnes): be physical, beat him up, make him take the toughest shot possible. It wasn't going to work tonight.
- As good as Dirk has been lately...how in the WORLD is he not getting the ball with under a minute left??? Obviously, tough to complain given the win, but seriously, why in the world is Vince Carter getting the ball in those situations? Even if you know Dirk is going to be double-teamed, you have to let him make the play, in my view.
- What a weird game from O.J. Mayo. He goes 5-15, 0-4 from three...but hits two huge shots in the last three minutes of regulation. He made a whole bunch(seriously, a lot) of awful decisions, too, with horrible lob passes to Wright, one or two dumb 1-on-3 or 1-on-2 fast breaks that he blew, etc. At points he looked like he was pooping his pants at the thought of being in a big game on national TV against a playoff opponent. At other points he looked the poop in his pants had caught fire and that the only way to put it out was to charge wildly at the basket without any idea of what he was doing. Oh, did I mention he played great defense on Chris Paul when Mike James got in foul trouble and Darren Collison was clearly outmatched?
- Speaking of Collison, he also looked completely out of his mind(not in a good way) at times in this one. Both he and Mayo have a terrifying and frustrating tendency to play way too loose with their dribble, and to be honest I'm a little shocked they only combined for four turnovers. Collison did have a nice breakaway dunk to tie the game in the fourth and fire up the crowd, and for the second game in a row he played "coffin nailer" by hitting free throws late. He also had the wild crazy shot he seems to make all the time(this one a buzzer-beating three). Still, do we call this one a positive step? I dunno.
- Elton Brand gets the unsung MVP award for me. He came in off the bench was really great on defense helping to slow down the pick and roll action that gave Brandan Wright trouble early on. Not surprisingly, Brand was +12 on the night, with four blocks, no turnovers, and all the great hustle plays and leadershippings that this team needs so damn badly.
- Chris Paul was incredible tonight. Playing on a bum leg, apparently, he put up 33 to match Dirk every step of the way, and hit two unbelievable shots that probably should have beat Dallas in regulation. He also made several terrific defensive plays. He's a great, great player, and it really is scary to see him in the opposing uniform. Rick Carlisle made some nice adjustments to limit Paul, otherwise he probably would have gone for at least 40. In the first half, he put Mayo on Paul instead of Collison(who had no chance), and Mayo's size did seem to give CP3 a little trouble. This only worked, of course, when the Clippers had Willie Green in the game(really Del Negro? Willie Green?) or Eric Bledsoe. Late in the game, when Paul was torching Dallas with his midrange game, Dallas began doubling Paul at halfcourt to get the ball out of his hands. This is very nice in theory and did work tonight, although...
- There were lots, and lots, and lots of wide open threes for the Clippers. They hit a few, but certainly not all of them. Caron Butler missed a few that could have put L.A ahead for good in regulation, and, of course, Barnes airballed a wide open look in O.T. Definitely, you'd like to see rotations be a bit better, especially against other teams that do a lot of pick and roll and swing the ball around the perimeter(fortunately, the Spurs won't be on the schedule again unless Dallas makes the playoffs).
So, tomorrow night, the Utah Jazz take on the Phoenix Suns and the Lakers take on Minnesota. Conventional wisdom says that isn't going to help Dallas in the standings, so it's important not to let a physically and emotionally grating victory lower their guard, as the Mavs host the Pacers Thursday in another game against a playoff team.
I still can't quite believe this is a real playoff race...but buckle up!
|Final - 3.26.2013||1||2||3||4||OT 1||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||27||21||25||24||5||102|
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