Well, they tried.
That seems weird to say. We're talking about a professional basketball team, playing in the playoffs. Trying should be expected. Yet, that's all I could think when the buzzer sounded and the Mavericks 130-128 Game 3 loss was in the books.
The roster is a mess. Remember, Rajon Rondo was traded for three rotation players. Regardless of how you feel of the pre-Rondo Mavs, those were capable bodies. When Rondo was properly kicked to the curb after the Game 2 fiasco, the Mavs were essentially down three rotation players instead of one, in a sense. And that's not even talking about Chandler Parsons.
Raymond Felton and Richard Jefferson started a playoff game in 2015. Charlie Villanueva was playing meaningful minutes. J.J. Barea was part of the closing lineup. These are all things that none of us would have even thought to imagine would be the case of a playoff game back in November, December or hell, as late as March.
But that's what happened. And somehow with the cobbled rotation the Mavericks gave the Rockets everything. It wasn't good enough to win. But it was good enough, in a way. I can live with it, at least. I'm not happy, but I'm at peace.
The game started off rough. Houston seemingly couldn't miss in the first quarter as James Harden finally got on track. After a rough shooting first two games, it was inevitably that Harden would finally start putting in buckets from the floor as opposed to just the free throw stripe. His hot start set the tone for his eye-popping 42 points. Houston led 42-36 after one with Dallas showing no defensive fight as Felton and Jefferson mainly flopped.
SURPRISE but the second quarter turned around when Al-Farouq Aminu checked into the game and Jefferson sat. I said pregame that the Mavs only shot was if Aminu played at least 30 minutes. He had 34 tonight. Aminu was spectacular. But he's not a cure-all magic tonic.
That showed in the third quarter. Even with Aminu on the floor the Mavs roster was just stretched to the limit. It was impossible to plug all the holes at once. Too many times the Mavs had just too many bad defenders on the floor at one time (which is sorta the case when you probably have just two above-average defenders on the roster). Houston exposed Dallas' fatal roster flaws that even a full-healed Dallas squad would have had a major handful with.
That's why when it looked so bleak in the fourth quarter, I just hoped for one more run. One last time, unto the breach. Dirk and Monta delivered. Dirk couldn't do anything on defense all night, like most of his season had gone. But he left everything he had out there. I honestly didn't think Dirk had another 30-point playoff game left in him, let alone against a good defensive team like Houston. That final Dirk three gave me goosebumps as I actually thought "shit are they going to pull this out?"
They didn't. After using the brilliant Dirk-Monta dribble handoff to get a quick two to cut the Houston lead down to two with less than 10 seconds left, the Mavs went to the well one too many times. I guess you can't blame Rick Carlisle for going down swinging with the Mavs' best play, but Houston clearly snuffed it out again when the Mavs had a chance to tie. Josh Smith forced Dirk's catch way farther out than the previous play and they contested Monta well knowing Dirk was there to hand it off to him. Monta got an awkward jumper instead of a driving layup. Clank.
This has been one of the weirdest seasons in recent Mavs' history. I wasn't sure what the expect from this team tonight. All I wanted was a chance. I got that. This series is mathematically over and that's a sobering reality for a team that showed so much flash and potential at times this season. That's a shame.
But they're going to go out fighting. That much I know for sure.
Onto the notes:
- Dirk started rough but finished about as strong as you could have hoped. 16 points in the fourth quarter (along with five boards) and ended up with a 34-8-4 line. From the 36-year-old with even older knees. It makes me terribly sad to think of this game as Dirk's potential swan song. He was absolutely magnificent tonight.
- That said, he was his same horrid self on defense but a lot of that is out of his control. Dirk is smart enough to know where to go but his body won't let him get there quick enough. The Mavs finally started Dirk out on Ariza and while it was definitely better than the alternative, the Rockets wisely ran a lot of actions to get Ariza some spot-up threes and driving attempts. Houston would not let Dirk rest on defense all night, no matter who he guarded.
- Can we bring Rondo back to the team so we can kick him off of it again?
- As many others have noted, this team desperately needed one more offensive option. Parsons was sorely missed as Harden was free to reign down his 42-points without having to check anyone on the other side of the ball.
- AMINU AMINU AMINU. Low and behold, the Mavericks had their best game of the series and he played 34 minutes. Like I said earlier in the recap, he's not a cure-all magic potion. But he's the Mavs best wing defender on a team full of non-defenders. He has to play. It's sad that Jefferson still had to start and we all had to watch the Mavs fart around and drop down early. In fact, Aminu only played 34 minutes because Jefferson got hurt in the second half as Carlisle tried to get him back into the game but he said he couldn't go. Aminu has to start Game 4 and help the Mavs make up the difference in their poor first quarters.
- Devin Harris wasn't good tonight but he has a respect of the defense on offense that Rajon Rondo can't even dream of. By playing a guard that actually knows how to score a bucket next to Monta all night, it's not surprise that Monta exploded for 34 points, a good amount of them in the paint. Driving lanes that weren't in Games 1 and 2 were there in Game 3, all because the Mavs weren't playing a historically awful shooting guard next to Monta.
- Like I said though, Harris wasn't right. He was a staggering -21 in his 21 minutes and missed all four of his three-pointers.
- Still too much Dirk and Amare, There were even times when Carlisle played the duo without Aminu on the floor and it was as disastrous as it sounds. Charlie V's 11 minutes were purely to give guys a breather. The Mavs didn't do much with him on the floor.
- The worst part is there isn't much alternative. I think Carlisle could start Aminu and slide him to the four when Amare checks in, but Amare is still terrible on defense regardless. What else is there to do? Play Bernard James and Dwight Powell? There's only so much you can do with this roster and hoping a second-round rookie acquired mid-season and a guy who a year ago couldn't stand out in a summer league game can turn a series around is wishful thinking. I'm super high on Dwight Powell and I'd like to see what he'd do with some minutes in Amare/Charlie's place, but I don't want to get carried away.
- Josh Smith has been pretty good this series and has made the plays presented to him. It's gonna be a harsh reality though in the next round when he's getting checked by DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin or Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter instead of Dirk and Amare.
- Another reminder that Dirk's performance was historic tonight. Don't ever forget.
- Looked like there was some nice off-ball action between Devin and Dirk on the final play after a few replays. If Monta would have pushed it harder toward the rim there might have been options there for a better shot. Seems like he panicked into that long jumper. Sigh.
- Terrence Jones had 0 assists in 25 minutes -- a big win for the Mavs, considering how much damage he's been as a passer this series out of the pick and roll.
- Tyson Chandler is just incapable of making a big impact in this series. It's just a lot of things -- he hasn't been super great and he's responsible for cleaning up the dozens and dozens of defensive mistakes from his teammates. It's tough to watch and Tyson has to play ultra conservative knowing how much slack he has to pick up for everyone else.
- That last Harden shot -- tip your cap. That's a great shot against about the best defense the Mavs could throw at him without a double.
- Every time I'm ready to bury J.J. Barea, he does something like this. He has no business being a contributor on a playoff team at this point of his career, but he keeps at it. 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds! His defense is still killer but hell, so is everyone else on this team save for Chandler and Aminu. He was finding guys when Monta didn't have the ball and pushed the tempo wisely.
- A reminder for how much Rondo sucks: even when Carlisle let Rondo call plays, he still preferred to walk the ball up the court and get into a set in the half-court. The Mavs totally looked like a different team tonight whenever they could push it.
- Rockets shot 51 percent from the floor, 52 percent from three. That's really hard to overcome.