The 2011 Mavericks get a bad rap in some circles as a “weak” champion. Some consider them a plucky underdog story that got hot at the right time, a blip between the Spurs dominance and LeBron’s ascension. The thing people forget about the 2011 Mavericks is that they were good as hell.
Dirk Nowitzki injured his knee on Dec. 27 and missed the following nine games. The Mavericks won that game, on the road against a good Thunder team and were 24-5. They were 24-5! With wins against the Thunder, Spurs, Heat (twice) and the Trail Blazers. Dallas was on a 60-win pace before the Dirk and Caron Butler injuries sent them into a 2-9 slide that warped the perception of their season. The Mavericks finished with 57 wins and they absolutely would have been around 62 wins if not for the injuries. Dallas was a sleeping giant headed into the playoffs, yet they still had their soft label.
The Portland series didn’t particularly help — The Mavericks were impressive in Games 5 and 6 but the Game 4 collapse is all the pundits really focused on. Combine that with the Mavericks so-so performances against the Lakers in the regular season and there wasn’t much hope against the defending champs. Hell, even after Game 1 I was still skeptical — Dallas rallied from a 20+ point deficit and Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open game-winner at the buzzer. Headed into Game 2 I distinctly remember at the time to just be happy they stole a road win and had home court advantage. Game 2 was free money.
So what happened? The Mavericks beat the absolute piss out of the Lakers. Watching that game semi-drunk in an Arlington bar that night, I knew the Mavericks team I saw back in December was back. These were the title-contending Mavericks.
On the re-watch, that memory still holds up, except in a slightly different way. It’s easy to remember the Mother’s Day Massacre and all the threes the Mavs hit in the series, but in Game 2, Dallas shot just 42 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three. Offensively, outside of Dirk and J.J. Barea late, they didn’t get too much from anyone. Their defense absolutely won them this game.
Dirk was fantastic when he matched up with Paul Gasol and Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood were monsters at the rim. The Lakers had no shooting and beat teams with their monster front court of Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom with a lot of Kobe, of course. Kobe didn’t shoot well, Haywood and Chandler engulfed the Lakers bigs, and that was that.
This game was a lot of fun. The Barea fourth quarter and the Dirk daggers always stuck with me, but watching how dominant the Mavericks were with the reigning NBA champions stuck with me nine years later. The Mavericks were good and this game really showed why.
Onto the notes.
- Did you remember that the Lakers didn’t make their first three-pointer in this game until Kobe hit one with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter? I did not! The Lakers shot a ghastly 2-for-20 from three and while the Mavericks weren’t that much better at 8-for-25, an 18-point difference at the three-point line in a 12-point win kind of says it all, right?
- My memory tells me Haywood was a bum during that 2011 season, with his bad free shooting and meat hook hands. Yet in the two games I’ve re-watched in this series, he’s been the dark-horse MVP. He played 17 minutes in Game 2 and had eight rebounds and three blocks. Tyson Chandler was huge as well, but the fact that the Mavericks basically didn’t lose much when Chandler went to the bench during this playoff run (until Haywood hurt his hip in the Finals) was absolutely key.
- The Lakers scored 13 points in the third quarter and 19 points in the fourth. Folks, that’s how you curb-stomp teams on the road. Dallas just smothered LA all night and I really can’t emphasis that enough.
- Barea’s magical fourth quarter where he put the Lakers defenders on ice skates was just as fun as I remembered but re-watching now it really was a sneak peak at the modern basketball we see today. In the first lineup Barea played with in the fourth, he was with Dirk, Haywood, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry. So that’s three dead-eye shooters and a roll man for a penetrating guard. Eventually Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion came in to replace Terry and Peja, but every single possession when Barea was on the floor in the fourth was high-screen and roll with shooters spaced and the big in the dunkers spot. The Lakers lumbering bigs, whether Bynum or Gasol, had no answer. Dirk would set the screen, the Lakers big would be stuck in the paint and the guard staying on Dirk to prevent the easy three. From there Barea just abused whatever helper was on him in the paint, either with a floater or a drop-off to the big. He scored two layups, got fouled at the rim for two free throws, had an assist for a dunk and a three, and had another hockey assist for a three in the 5-ish minutes he was on the floor in the fourth quarter. Just a masterful performance with a style that would go rampant across the league shortly thereafter.
- This was a monster Dirk game. He only scored 24 points, but it was a low possession, grinding-type game and he was 9-of-16 from the floor, 2-of-3 from three with two assists and just one turnover. His ability to pick and pop killed LA in this game and he was able to make clutch shots in the fourth as his teammates slumped. Terry shot 3-for-12. Kidd was 3-for-10. Dirk was a man on an island until Barea helped close things out.
- Here’s Barea’s fourth quarter for funsies: