Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Still Alive for 2 more days. Still a chance to save your reputation. Still a chance to make right what has gone so wrong.
Because of the great work that they did Tuesday night in a game that was over very, very early, the Mavericks now have a chance to go down to San Antonio in Game 6 and not only keep their season alive, but also to actually have a chance to take the odds of the series and put them back in their pocket.
I have said this a number of times, but it remains appropriate to say again this morning: When the Mavs play basketball the right way - attack the basket, play with urgency, and do not settle for less-than-ideal shots - it is so much easier to conceive that this team has a championship caliber team. The problem is that they do not often play like this. It is not their default setting. They have to be threatened or scared into playing that style. The other thing that remains annoying about the Mavs is that when they do something so right, it actually frustrates those of us obsessed with this team more, as it shows that when they do things the proper, high-percentage way they become a much more able squad.
Like the kid who brings home a report card full of "A's", he now demonstrates what he is capable of all of the time. Same with the Mavs. They demonstrate that they are capable of so much more - not settling on offense, not indifferent in the paint on defense - so when they do show this ability, some of us cannot enjoy it as much because we wonder where this has been hidden for so long.
Regardless, they did win a Game 5 without any shred of resistance from a San Antonio team that has very little reason to panic at this juncture. The Spurs will be favored to win Game 6 in front of their home crazies and then we will know what to believe about a potential Mavericks resurgence. Was this just a typical desperation effort with one final defense of their home floor before starting their summer? Or, are the Mavericks mad-as-Hades-and-they-aren't-going-to-take-it-anymore?
They showed plenty of resolve. They needed to get to the rim and they got there. They needed to compete for every loose ball. They needed to contest shots and show some physical strength. They had to show that they weren't willing to go quietly into the night.
But, is it just a mirage? Can they be counted on to field an effort like that 3 games in a row? Forgive the suspicious amongst us.
The Truth shall be told on Thursday. Because I don't see the Mavericks losing on Saturday if it gets there.
Notes and Observations from a Game that was over early in Dallas:
* Caron Butler's 35 points and 11 rebounds represent the finest performance of his NBA career. He was the obvious leader last night who set the tone by taking the ball hard at the rim on a regular basis and showing the Spurs a relentless attitude. So, can we count on that in Game 6? Are we seeing him grab part of the steering wheel from Dirk at this most crucial moment in the franchise's journey? I cannot imagine it is easy to come to an established team and feel comfortable about knowing your place. Especially if your team needs your place to be right near the front of the line. But, hopefully he now understands that if he constantly defers to Dirk and Jet then this team's personality is pretty much the same as it ever was. For this team to be a "new and improved" Mavs team with an attack the rack mentality then it must be a result of guys who can do that forcing their way into the offense. By hanging out on the perimeter, they simply join the launch party. And, Caron surely can do that, too. But, hopefully, Rick Carlisle understands that so many good things happen when Caron, Barea, even Marion (occasionally), and, of course, Dirk himself do not settle. Well done. So, will the history books suggest that Caron Butler's performance was because he was benched in Game 3, or that his benching in Game 3 proves that Rick Carlisle was badly outcoached in San Antonio? I suppose that will be determined by the remainder of the series.
* Manu Ginobili is not right at the present. Of course, I would caution anyone to assume that he can't snap out of this in the post-broken-nose era, but, wow, his handle is gone. I have never seen him just hand the ball to the opponent over and over like he did last night, and I am not sure why a broken nose affects your ball handling skills. He is almost to a point where Popovich looks like he is yanking him out of the game. We know the Mavs do not fear a Manu-less Spurs team, so this is a very vital detail in this series. Shocking to see him playing so poorly.
* If Spurs fans are shocked to see Eddie Najera acting like a goon, allow me to admit that I am just as surprised as they must be. This is new to all of us, San Antonio, and I don't really know what to make out of it. It appears that Carlisle has asked Najera to go out there and start something. His routine in Game 4 was absurd, and honestly, if you keep a camera on Eddie in Game 5, you will see that he was surely trying to get Tim Duncan to punch him. On a few occasions, he came in after the play and just plowed Duncan from behind. And of course, we haven't even mentioned the rake to the eyes on Tony Parker. I don't think he has been a dirty player much in his career, but I guess someone decided they needed that element to keep DeJuan Blair from upsetting the whole contest. It seems so out of left field that I am still not sure what I think about it. But, it is sure odd to see the Mavs with someone capable of annoying the other team for once. I would imagine he will need a police escort in and out of the arena on Thursday.
* DeShawn Stevenson looked very odd without his beard.
* By the way, back to Najera's night. His nonsense surely killed all momentum in the late 2nd Quarter as he helped the Spurs get the lead down to 7 at the break after his flagrant foul. Hi-jinx are funny until it cost you the flow of the game, son.
* I enjoy a fine Dirk finger-roll like we saw midway through the 2nd Quarter far more than a beautiful fadeaway. His offensive game as been flawless in most of this series, and I thought last night demonstrates that 100% blame falling on his shoulders is silly in a series like this. The Mavs won last night, but it wasn't because Dirk "refused to be denied". It was because he had plenty of help. 5 men on the floor at the same time, folks. This isn't a 1-on-1 contest.
* Is it just me or has Tim Duncan had his shot blocked more in this series alone than the rest of his entire career? It sure seems like it is happening twice a game.
* Speaking of Duncan, you may have missed Erick Dampier last night. By that, I don't mean you missed him, but rather that he did not play. No offense, Erick, but I think most of us have known for a while that Brendan Haywood brings more to the dance than old, docile Damp. Actually, I had enough of him last year in the playoffs when he stood by and let Parker run by him over and over (while talking about getting physical) and then turned the other cheek when Kenyon Martin buried Dirk. I am not saying that "DNP-CD" is the best way to deal with him (although I might argue with it), but the fact that Haywood and Butler sit so Dampier and Barea and Jet can keep playing over the weekend is enough to get a coach fired. Haywood was awesome, and Dampier played less than Matt Carroll. Expect more of the same on Thursday, right?
* For the Mavs to win down there, they must not forget why they were successful. They pushed the tempo, ran the court, and did not fall into a half-court execution contest with the Spurs. 17 point quarters will not get it done. High pick-and-rolls will not survive. And surely the Mavs half-court defense cannot hold off the relentless dribble penetration of the Spurs down there. You must make it a track meet. You must! But can they dictate the speed of the game? There is the true test, and the winner of that battle likely wins the series.
C'mon, do you believe a little more today?