Well, this wasn't unexpected. Coming in, I think most of us expected this to be the last game of the season. After all, the Mavs have like three fully healthy players, and their opponent has two of the top ten players in the NBA.
But then the Mavs did that stupid, annoying, absolutely fantastic thing that they do: they gave us hope. So this loss ended up hurting a little more than I thought it would. But dammit if it wasn't fun and exciting and enthralling there for a while.No one can say that the Mavs didn't fight.
So yes, the Mavs' 2015-16 season is officially over. It was a weird year. And this game almost kind of perfectly encapsulated that. Weird rotations. Unfortunate injuries. Unexpected contributions. Glimpses of promise in between Rick Carlisle's stubborn devotion to his vets. And Dirk, just plugging away--as legendary as ever.
So this one last time, let's talk about a Mavs game for a bit.
Hey Cuban, don't poke the bear
I mean, come on. Mark Cuban should know better than this. Let's just skip pass the part where he is flagrantly, unforgivably wrong: you may not like Russell Westbrook, but holy hell he is DEFINITELY a super star. Hey, you know what superstars do when you talk shit about them? They go out of their way to prove just how insanely wrong you are.
And that's exactly what happened tonight. Mark Cuban is a smart, savvy guy. Surely he had to know that by stating before the game that Westbrook wasn't a superstar, he was just asking for Russ to demolish the Mavs tonight. And demolish them he did. Russ was one assist short of a triple-double, dropping 36 points, 9 assists, and 12 rebounds on the Mavs. No one could do anything against him. He was raining threes of the dribble, running fast breaks like the Millenium Falcon going to hyperspeed, and just out-jumping and out-athleting everyone. He also had several possessions where he served as a sort of anti-Dirk, in that he affected the spacing on the floor merely by his presence, only he did it while driving into the paint rather than hovering around the inside of the arc. He had several great assists that functioned purely by sucking three defenders into the paint as he barrelled in, only to pass out to an open shooter.
In short, Russell Westbrook is a superstar. And one who responds angrily to people publicly calling him out.
Cuban should've known better.
Justin Anderson's coming out party
The rookie can ball. Which isn't exactly news to a number of us who write for and read this blog. But this game marked the first real "whoa" game for Justin Anderson. He started, and for once Rick Carlisle trusted him with serious minutes. And he responded in spades.
In almost 24 minutes, Simba had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, an assist, and a block. There was a really fun for a while where Anderson and Dwight Powell were teaming up to go at the Thunder by themselves. It was a brief but glorious part of the game. (Powell looked up and down tonight, but had 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.)
And then there was that play where he blocked Kevin Durant, then immediately stripped the ball when KD grabbed the ball back. I may have jumped and shouted and run around my apartment.
Justin Anderson was all over the place, skying for rebounds, throwing down alley oop slams, and even knocking down a couple of threes. He was feeling it, and more importantly, he was confident and downright fiery tonight. I can't wait to see the player this kid develops into.
If this was Zaza's last game as a Mav, it was a damn good one. Kirk summed it up well:
we all wondered what would happen when Deron went out. little did we know Zaza would emerge as a point guard when the night was darkest.— Mavs Moneyball (@mavsmoneyball) April 26, 2016
With Salah Mejri and David Lee out, Dallas desperately needed a big man or two to step up. Zaza did just that (shout out to Dwight Powell one last time as well). Zaza didn't quite make the triple-double he got Mavs twitter excitedly jabbering about, but he did finish with 12 points, 7 rebounds, and a team-high 9 assists.
Zaza looked like the Zaza from before the all-star break. He was gritty and smart and just kept working and working and working. With a few minutes left in the second quarter, the Mavs were within two points of the Thunder, and Zaza was a huge part of that.
Unfortunately the loveable Georgian just ran out of gas. But dammit, this is a guy who has been a backup his entire career. He was asked to step up as a starter this year, and he fucking gave it his all. Tonight was a perfect example of that. Whether you come back or not, I love you Zaza Pachulia. Keep doing you.
Dirk is Dirk. Long live Dirk.
Just like always, our lord and savior Dirk Nowitzki fought his heart out and carried his team. Dirk was the heart and soul and fire of this team tonight. Just like every night for the past decade and a half.
This was just vintage, legendary Dirk. Backing down Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for contested but perfect fadeaway jumpers. Cussing out refs on blatantly bad calls. Dropping strategic threes that quiet the home crowd. Dirk flattened Kevin Durant on a screen. And goddammit if he didn't almost dribble around Steven Adams for driving dunk. He doesn't quite have the lift he used to, but I believed for a half second that he was gonna throw it down like it was 2007 again.
Tonight Dirk passed Scottie Pippen for 14th on the all-time playoff scoring list. With one more playoffs in the rear view, Dirk is still one of the only players in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds in the post season. I have no idea how much longer Dirk can keep doing this. Maybe this was his last year as one of the NBA's best. Maybe he's got several good years left in him. Dirk is mysterious in that way. I, for one, will never doubt him.
But we all have to grapple with the fact that we're watching Dirk in his twilight. Even in series like this, when only the most optimistic fan hopes for a win and most of us just hope for some competitive games, Dirk is Dirk. This is a zealous competitor who loves the playoffs. The post season is where Dirk lives. As great as he has been throughout his career, he is always his best in the playoffs. I hope you all enjoyed these five games we got of playoff Dirk. Hopefully we'll get more next season.
As Rick Carlisle said, no Mavericks fan could be prouder of this team tonight. OKC thoroughly outmatched Dallas in talent, athleticism, and health. But when it comes to heart, no one was beating the Mavs tonight.
The offseason will be here before too long. But for now, at least for tonight, just be proud of your Mavs. It's been a weird year--sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating. These Mavs were an odd bunch who proved a lot of doubters wrong, sometimes seemingly through sheer force of will. And at the heart of it all was Dirk.
Goodbye 2015-16 Dallas Mavericks. It's been a hell of a ride.