It’s hard to properly explain the amount of pressure the Dallas Mavericks faced going into Game 5 against Portland back in 2011. They just massively choked away Game 4, with Brandon Roy having an out-of-body experience to tie the series. Every soft label the Mavericks rightly or wrongly picked up over the last five years was loud and clear in the 48-hour build-up to Game 5.
The Mavericks couldn’t lose this game. They just couldn’t. It’s weird to look back now, but if the Mavericks lose that game...does the title happen? Do the Mavericks meekly bow out in Game 6 against a ravenous Portland crowd? It’s hard to think about, but it was a very real possibility, despite the fact that the Mavericks were absolutely an elite team and title contender, despite their sluggish end to the 2010-2011 regular season.
So in my head, I built up my memory of this game of the Mavericks just using brute force to pound their way past the Trail Blazers. That didn’t really happen! The Mavericks started this game like absolute ass. Dirk Nowitzki had two shot attempts in the first seven minutes of the game, Jason Kidd was avoiding open layups like I avoid roaches and Dallas was down an alarming 20-15 after the first quarter.
It goes to show the type of turnaround mid-game the team did. Tyson Chandler and Dirk basically refused to let the team lose, despite the slow pace and lots of whistles. The Mavericks just kept coming after the sluggish first quarter, slowly but surely chipping away at the Blazers spirit with continuous hard drives to the basket or offensive rebounds.
In the end, it wasn’t very close. Dallas had a 20-point lead at one point in the fourth. The Mavericks only made three 3-pointers and shot 35 free throws. Even back in 2011, that was still a little out-of-whack for that team. They definitely played that game like they had a point to prove, and they did — seemingly the soul of that team was called into question. I think this win answered it and sort of set the tone for the type of playoff run they were going to go on.
Onto the notes.
- Watching this game nine years later only makes me more mad about what went down in the 2011 off-season with Chandler. He was an absolute monster in this game — he had 20 rebounds, 13 on the offensive end. Almost single-handily he willed this team through possessions just by beating up every Trail Blazer that tried to box him out. That energy persisted throughout the whole team and damn, it’s absolutely wild the Mavericks found the perfect frontcourt partner for Dirk and thought “eh, we can do better.”
- Kidd somehow had the wildest statline of the night despite sharing the floor with a teammate who grabbed 13 offensive rebounds — he had two points and 14 assists. He passed up multiple layups, was awful from deep but still couldn’t be taken off the floor because he was such a calming presence in the half-court. A lot of Chandler’s offensive rebounds were tap-outs to the three point line. Kidd was always two steps ahead on the floor and he knew where the ball needed to go in those scramble situations. He was invaluable in keep the Mavericks offense humming during those hectic extra possessions.
- There was a moment in the third quarter where Dirk decided “OK, we’re winning this game.” He basically caught the ball and immediately made a move to the basket every single time. He finished the game with 11 free throws and only took one three pointer. Again, different era. There’s a lot to say about the lack of threes Dirk took during his career compared to what could have been in this current era, but Dirk was so great at getting by flat-footed bigs and getting smaller defenders on his hip, you really can’t blame him for collecting the fouls he did. They were literally free points. It was really fun to watch “I’m sick of this shit, let’s win” Dirk again.
- Remember Shawn Marion post-ups? I sort of did, but boy, the Mavericks went to that well a lot back in the day. The first opening moments of the game featured a lot of Marion at the expense of Dirk. Marion was incredible and had a really good game in Game 5, but it was just so odd to see the Mavericks start the game with a lot of Kidd-Marion pick and rolls while Dirk just sorta hung out.
- This is a fun thing to type about watching a nine-year-old basketball game in 2020: the game changed when Chandler got the Blazers center out of the game with foul trouble, forcing the Blazers to go small. Chandler abused Marcus Camby on the glass and got him out of the game with foul trouble in the second half, with LaMarcus Aldridge playing center and Gerald Wallace at the four. That sounds like modern basketball! The thing is, this wasn’t modern basketball yet. Dirk and Chandler ate up the Blazers small-ball lineup.
- Brandon Roy scored just five points on seven shots, which really stressed how crazy his fourth quarter in Game 4 was. Roy scored 56 points in this six-game series and he scored 40 of those points in Games 3 and 4. Just a wildly random streak from a great player hobbled by injuries. If Roy doesn’t go nuclear out of no where, the Mavericks not only win the series sooner, hell they probably sweep it. Basketball is just like that.
- Unsung hero of this unsung win? Brendan Haywood, who I remember hating with a passion throughout that season. He only played 13 minutes but he made his only bucket and had five rebounds and two blocks. After the Mavericks lifeless first quarter, he blocked two shots in the second and woke the AAC crowd up a little bit as the Mavericks closed the half with a lead. I forgot how big he was and Portland had issues scoring at the basket when he was there.