If you have watched any playoff basketball this year, you may have noticed a difference in energy in the arenas around the league. This is because more fans, and in some places many more fans, have been allowed into the buildings around the NBA for the postseason. The Knicks allowed 16,254 fans in to watch game two of their series against the Hawks, only to be topped the next day by Miami when 17,000 fans watched the Bucks take a 3-0 series lead in South Beach.
It has been five years since Dallas has hosted a playoff game in American Airlines Center, and when the largest capacity crowd for an NBA game since March of 2020 (17,705 people or 92 percent capacity) was admitted for Game 3 of Mavericks and Clippers, the city of Dallas was ready to explode. I was in the arena, and want to give a little insight as to what it was like if you didn’t get a chance to go.
To say that this was a perfect storm would be selling the buildup for this moment short. The 2020 NBA fan experience ended with a game in mid-March last year between the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets. It was only fitting that the largest crowd since (as of May 28) would descend upon American Airlines Center to watch the Mavericks once again. The Mavericks also haven’t held a home playoff game in five years, meaning this was Luka Doncic’s first playoff game in Dallas. The opponent, the Clippers, is a team that neither the Mavericks nor their fanbase have much love for, so the eagerness to support the Mavericks at any volume was at an all time high. It is safe to say that this was the Mavericks’ biggest playoff game in 10 years, and it was only fitting that fans would return for it.
The buzz was apparent way before the ball even tipped. Chants of “Let’s go Mavs!” echoed throughout the concourse an hour before the game started. All of the food options were open again, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was a sign of normalcy. As you walked throughout the building you could overhear comments like “It’s good to be back”, and “Let’s get this thing going!” Everyone, including me, was filled to the brim with excitement.
Every seat was dressed with an “All In” royal blue shirt, a Mavericks mask, and a commemorative ticket. Periodically, before the Mavericks took the floor, public address announcer Sean Heath would start chants of “Let’s go Mavs!” to prepare for the moment Dallas came out to warm up. When they did finally come out of the tunnel, the chants were as loud as they had been:
It is hard to portray just how loud it was after the Mavericks came out for warmups in a video, but to get a better idea, try to listen for Sean Heath’s voice announcing things as the Mavericks take the floor. His announcements are hard to make out, which is significant considering how loud the public address volume is in the arena. The building was rocking, and tipoff was still 20 minutes away. Goosebumps were forming on my arms.
After so much time away from crowds of this size, it is easy to forget just how loud an NBA arena can get. The crowd cheered, almost violently, during the starting lineups, and was standing for a good 50 percent of the game. Fans were instructed to stand until the Mavericks made their first basket, and after an anxious crowd witnessed Dorian Finney-Smith miss the first Mavericks attempt,
The crowd was more than ready for Luka to do this:
The first bucket last night... you woulda thought it was a game winner the way the crowd was going pic.twitter.com/nj36Oxowgq— David Trink (@palejustice55) May 29, 2021
The video I took does not even do the moment justice. I was at the game in the 2014 playoffs when Vince Carter hit the game winning shot to bury the Spurs. The noise level that night was rivaled by the volume of the crowd after Luka Doncic made his second consecutive three and forced the Clippers into an early time-out on Friday night.
With the return of a near-capacity crowd and playoff basketball, it was expected that there would be some familiar faces in attendance. With about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, J.J. Barea was shown on the screen above the court, and received a warm ovation. Shortly after, Dirk Nowitzki was shown, and given a standing ovation. At this point, the Clippers had come back and the crowd was settled down. The showing of Dirk injected a new wave of energy into the building.
When Dallas went up 20-6 after a Kristaps Porzingis three, the hysteria hit a peak and as the Clippers came back, the energy was slowly sucked out of the arena. But even that was beautiful to see. Just having the players able to control a big crowd, whether it be the home team lighting them up or the visiting team silencing them, was a great feeling to experience again. The boos every time Rajon Rondo touched the ball, the different chants of “Lets go Mavs!” and “Rondo sucks!”, the scooting past people next to you to get in and out of your seat, the feature presentation (which was reused from last year), were all things we as Mavericks fans have not experienced in over a calendar year. The players feed off the crowd, and the crowd feeds off the game, and as more fans return to arenas, this symbiotic relationship will continue its progress towards the way it used to be.
Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.