Can a sports team have a "good loss?"
The age-old query that feels almost philosophical in its rhetoric appeared again on Tuesday, asked to Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks' players after a 110-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime. As Dallas begins its toughest 10-game stretch of the season, it's disappointing that they lost in excruciatingly close fashion, no doubt. But you also remember that the Cavaliers are indeed the reigning champions in the East, and, Dirk said after the game at his locker, "it could have gone either way done the stretch."
Perhaps the question feels philosophical because your answer might just depend on your own personal beliefs. Wesley Matthews, ironman competitor, takes no joy in a game that doesn't end in victory.
"I think, when you say that, we're the team that, 'Oh, they almost had it,' like we weren't expected to even be in this game," Matthews said. "We're a damn good team. We are. We just need to be that all the time. We need to be that in the late stages. We need to know in a three-point game, one-point game, two-point game under a minute, this is what we do, this is who we are. We can't keep continuing to lose games like this because we're going to have to play good teams. "
Chandler Parsons, who errs more towards the happy-go-lucky side, seemed to appreciate the good things Dallas did a bit more.
"Going into this 10-game stretch we're playing some of the best teams in the league so this would have been a huge win for us," Parsons said. "They're definitely a tough matchup especially when they go to small ball, but we competed and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game."
That's not to paint the postgame locker room scene as black and white -- like almost everything in life, it's a much more nebulous grayscale. Neither Parsons nor Matthews were pleased with the results while both understand Tuesday's performance was nearly good enough if they could have avoided an error here or there.
"I can't just allow LeBron to just go into the lane and get a layup," Parsons said, taking the blame for a bucket that put Cleveland up 106-105 in the extra period.
Rick Carlisle's postgame dissertation took on a similar tone: "I am not mad. I am disappointed that we didn't make a couple of plays on both ends. We had some really good opportunities on offense and defensively we just couldn't hold our ground enough. We couldn't keep James out of the lane a couple of times when we had to and it's hard to overcome 17 made threes. That is an awful lot and yet we were right there and the guys battled the whole way. We had some really good performances, and some gutty performances, but now we have a plane to catch."
There were mistakes, no doubt, even ones Carlisle didn't mention. There was the Felton-led unit that undid a 23-7 lead that the starters had built in a matter of minutes, scoring just two points in the final five. There was 17 offensive rebounds allowed. There was Parsons matching LeBron James twice out of a timeout despite Wesley Matthews standing, you know, right over there. James, of course, bullyball'd his way into one layup, not to mention the game-tying dunk. There was Matthew Dellavedova hitting a triple, stealing the ball from Deron Williams and then draining another.
But against a team that was, just six or seven months ago, playing the NBA Finals, Dallas did a lot of things right. They got Dirk shots when he had mismatches, even on the final possession in regulation, even though he turned it over. Deron Williams set a season-high with 10 assists, really doing a beautiful job running the Mavericks' offense if you can ignore a few braindead turnovers. There was Chandler Parsons with a season-high 25 points with aggressive shots and more arc on his jumper -- something he's been working on, he said afterwards. Even Matthews made up for a poor shooting night with two huge fourth quarter three-pointers.
It was a performance nearly good enough to knock off one of the NBA's very best. But you can't ignore that word nearly. It was still a loss. Barring some religious syncretism that unites the two schools of thought, just how frustrated this loss makes you may come down to which basketball church you frequent.
But every denomination should at least agree with this statement from Matthews: "This was our game. We should have won it and we didn't."