The Dallas Mavericks beat The Portland Trail Blazers in this early March Friday matchup between two Western Conference teams fighting for playoff relevancy. Dirk led the Mavs with 22 points on 8-19 shooting and 5 rebounds, and LaMarcus led the Blazers with 30.
The first points of the Mavs' third match against the Blazers were scored on an incredibly attractive reverse layup from Monta Ellis, right after Nic Batum drastically overplayed Dirk on a pick and roll, giving Ellis a wide open layup to the lane. This would turn out to be an auspicious start to the game. Kind of.
For the majority of the first half, both team's pick and roll coverage was atrocious, but only one team capitalized. Every time the Mavs ran a pick and roll, the Blazers kept tight on Dirk and gave Monta a path to the lane, or they dropped back and gave Jose an open jumper; the Blazers just didn't know what to do to cover the Mavs, and the Mavs got whatever they wanted.
The Blazers, on the other hand, were getting great looks for all the first quarter - and even most of the second - but they weren't capitalizing. Sometimes they missed open jumpers, sometimes they missed the chance to pass to the open man, and sometimes they would just stop a play entirely to dump the ball to LMA in the high post. Either way, the Blazers, for no great reason beyond bad look, couldn't catch a break.
As a result, the first quarter ended with a 30 point Mavs lead, 40-10.
But, as with every Mavericks lead, it was hardly safe. The beginning of the second quarter looked a lot like the end of the first, except suddenly the Blazers were hitting the shots they were supposed to make, and Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis were no longer blazing gods of destruction. The game began to look a lot more even.
Then something happened that was really bad for the Mavs: the game became defensive.
Spurred, perhaps, by their intense energy in the first quarter, and the fury of playing against this team, the Mavs started to actually play defense. They actually defended things. It was great.
Unfortunately, just when the Mavs started playing defense, Portland decided that they would, too.
When the Blazers started hounding the ball on their side of the court, the game became much less offensively driven, and much more defensively driven, which isn't a game that the Mavs can win. The Blazers aren't great defenders, they're bottom 10 in the league, but they have the right pieces.. If the game comes down to two sub-par defenses trying really hard all of a sudden, the super-old Mavs will always lose.
As a result, the Blazers went on a ferocious run to end the second and third quarters, as the Mavs tried - and failed - to get stops, and the Blazers tried - and pretty much succeeded - to stop the Mavs (especially against offensively challenged Harris-Vince-Crowder lineups). Dirk, as usual, was the one bright spot on on the team while he was on the court, but Portland did a good job defending him, even.
As a result, the Mavericks ended the third quarter having squandered their entire 30 point lead. The ended the third quarter only up one, 75-74.
The beginning of the 4th was much the same story. The Mavericks couldn't score with Devin Harris-Vince-Jae all sharing the offensive duties against a suddenly-ravenous Portland squad, and even with Dirk joining the group, they couldn't get enough going. They were trying: Jae looked hyper aggressive tonight, scoring 8 points on the night, including 6 free throws, and Dirk was Dirk, but they couldn't defend a single position. With 8 minutes left in the 4th, the Mavs were down 8, and it looked grim.
All of a sudden, though, the Mavs started doing just enough of the right things: they just kept charging at the basket and dumping the ball into Dirk, forcing double team after double team and foul after foul. Jae got a tip in, Monta drew a foul, Dirk drew a foul, Devin Harris got a tip in, and Dallas eschewed their zone in favor of their man defense and bizarre rotation system.
Only 1 minute after being down 8, the Mavs found themselves up by 1 point, again, 90-89.
From there, the Mavs traded bucket after bucket with the Blazers, keeping the game within 5 points for the next 4 minutes, until the 4 and a half minute mark, when the Blazers pulled ahead by six. It looked done.
The Mavs made another comeback, though, finding themselves down only 2, again, with 2 minutes left in the game. A steal and a breakaway for Monta later, and the game was tied again, 98-98, with a minute and a half left to play. There was hope. The game was really close. Though, the game had no right to be that competitive, one way or another.
Three incomplete possessions later, and the Mavs had the ball - with the game still tied at 98 - with 30 seconds to play. Off of the rebound, Harris streaks up the court and takes an ill-advised, wild floater...and hits it. And-1. Devin gives the Mavs the lead, 101-98, with 24 seconds left.
On the next possession, though, the Blazers went for the quick two, but LaMarcus Aldridge overthrew a pass to a cutting Damian Lillard, giving the Mavericks possession. Monta missed both free throws, but Vince Carter collected the rebound and hit both free throws, making it a 5 point game with 15 seconds left. Ellis, however, stole the ball immediately into the Blazers' next possession, and the Mavs won the game, 103-98.