DALLAS -- Nothing Dallas could do on Wednesday would make DeAndre Jordan become a Maverick. That ship had sailed in a maelstrom of Twitter emojis and broken promises last summer.
Instead, in Jordan's first trip to Dallas since his summer reversal, the Mavericks had a couple lesser options. The first was obvious: beat the Los Angeles Clippers, satiating a raucous crowd in the American Airlines Center that booed Jordan every time he sniffed the ball. The other was more subtle but potentially much more satisfying, even if they'd never know for sure: the Mavericks had to make Jordan think, even for a moment, that he had made the wrong decision.
Nobody but Jordan himself can say whether Dallas accomplished the latter, and certainly he'll never admit it if they did. But when Doc Rivers subbed him out with 1:23 left in the game and didn't reinsert him until 35 seconds were left, you have to wonder what went through Jordan's mind. What about when Jordan looked at the box score, realizing seven teammates took more field goal attempts than he did? Or seeing the second-bit Zaza Pachulia outplay him in minutes and stats?
"My job is to be a defender and a rebounder and a stopper for our team," Jordan said after the game. "I feel like I did what I was supposed to."
Jordan knew all along, for better or for worse, that he would have been something more than that in Dallas. That was the reasoning behind his original commitment to Mark Cuban's franchise. In the end, he decided Los Angeles made more sense, that it was safer. If any regret or second thoughts flashed through his mind on Wednesday, then there was nothing he could do except watch the team he nearly played for beat the team he ended back up with.
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The American Airlines Center represented itself well. It fell short of rock concert amplitudes, sure, but Jordan was booed religiously every time he touched the ball.
"This is going to take a few years to get over," one fan told me, holding a sign that read, "DeAndre, your word is as terrible as your free throw percentage." Another fellow named Keith, who also had signs, said he planned to come out the next time the Clippers came to Dallas, too. DeAndre Jordan's elbow to Dirk's head in the two team's first matchup had fired him up, you see, as if the broken commitment wasn't bad enough already.
Not every Mavericks fan felt that way. Some said that this game would serve as Jordan's penance and hoped Dallas would carry on without the summer baggage going forwards. But everyone agreed on one thing: Jordan earned every boo cast his way on Wednesday. And Cuban certainly wasn't one to stop them.
"I hope they boo the hell out of him," Cuban said before the game. "People come, not to be serious, they come to games for fun. That's what we sell: experiences, fun. You can't walk into work when you're having a bad day and boo everyone. You do it at a game."
Jordan's pre-game introductions? Boooo. Jordan catching the ball in the high post? Boooooo. Jordan at the free throw line, all nine times: Boooooooooooooooo. It's no wonder he hit just three of them.
Even the ever-conscious Rick Carlisle couldn't stick to the it's-just-another-game script that must have been rehearsed before the game. When asked about Zaza Pachulia's impact, Carlisle allowed a zinger to slip out.
"Our guy is a 90 percent free throw shooter," Carlisle said, then a long pause. "And we love him."
Parsons, heavily involved this summer, was honest, too.
"He's not a priority to us, and by the looks of their team he's not to them either," Parsons told ESPN's Tim MacMahon, dropping a quote with the heat of 1,000 fire emojis.
Even the reserved Pachulia -- yes, the Pachulia who when asked on media day about his favorite summer movie responded with game film -- had to speak his mind about the constant comparisons to Jordan.
"I don't think it's the right thing, even for me, since everyone knows I'm the next player, to keep talking about DeAndre and how he didn't come," Pachulia said. "I'm here, you know. So let's just worry about our team. I kind of take it personal, too, if you ask me."
Rhetoric and cliches aside, the Mavericks cared deeply about this game. They knew the storylines. They wanted to prove themselves, not to Jordan, but as a team without him. They wanted everyone to know that yes, the Jordan breakup hurt, but they're OK and they can function without him.
When Dirk Nowitzki capped his vintage 31-point night with a banked 3-pointer over Blake Griffin to all but seal the game in the fourth quarter, you could almost feel this summer's skeleton lift off of the team.
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The Clippers could very well win a championship this summer. They were a huge collapse away from reaching the Western Conference Finals last year and they're deeper this season, if made up of somewhat unreliable players. Jordan certainly wouldn't have had that chance with the Mavericks right away, although they've got a feisty team still getting healthy that seems prime to overachieve this season, especially if the Western Conference isn't quite as tough as expected.
Even with his quiet 9-point, 11-rebound evening, Dallas still would have preferred a roster built with Jordan at center. As he said before the game, Cuban wanted Jordan because of "what we think we can do with players" with development. But Jordan's decision has been made and nothing can change that.
Perhaps Jordan recalled those conversations about player development with Cuban on Wednesday. Maybe he's completely content with where he's at with the Clippers. Regardless, leaving the American Airlines Center with a nationally televised win had to be a satisfying enough outcome for the Mavericks.
"We responded the right way and showed some character and fought for each other," Nowitzki said after the game at his locker. The subtext was clear. This team has moved past DeAndre Jordan for good.