In a Nutshell
The Blazers ugly up the game for three quarters, containing Dirk Nowitzki at the apparently acceptable cost of letting Dallas three-point shooters free. In classic fashion Nowitzki explodes in crunch time, scoring from everywhere on the court plus the foul line. Portland can neither muster the defense to stop him nor the offense to keep pace, losing a six point fourth quarter lead while surrendering the crucial plays to the Mavericks.
The Blazers looked over-amped coming out of the gate in this game. There's prepared, focused, and aggressive and then there's just spastic. Portland tended towards the latter, rushing at half again their tempo on offensive plays/shots and reaching randomly on defense, giving the Mavericks plenty of fouls to cushion their landing into the playoffs. The Mavericks came out in standard fashion, scoring either through Dirk Nowitzki or via the three-point shots his presence for others. Dallas scored 21 in the first period. 17 came under the category of scored by Dirk, assisted directly by Dirk, or a made three. After their rough, rushed start typified by jump-shooting the Blazers called a timeout, regrouped, and started going to the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge was the main instigator, destroying the Mavs in the paint with post-ups and alley-oops. Andre Miller shook a few points into the mix and the Blazers led 22-21 after one.
In the second period the Blazers second unit fell into a pit and buried themselves. They started by chucking long jumpers even as Dallas continued to hit same. Lined up against the like of Jose Juan Barea and Jason Terry--both height-challenged--the best idea Portland could come up with was a 20-footer. Meanwhile Dallas' quick backcourt beat the tar out of Portland's big backcourt on the other end. When the Blazers did go inside on offense they faced instant double teams for which they failed to make the Mavericks pay (see also: those missed long shots). At times Andre Miller was the only Blazer who looked like he had a clue. He posted up Barea and made hay. Everyone else just made mistakes. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews both had 0-fers for the half. It got so bad that the Mavericks were feasting on offensive rebounds at one point, which is akin to saying Gilbert Gottfried won Mr. Universe. The Blazers slunk into the locker room down 47-37.
The third quarter started with a "no more of this crap" run from Portland. Gerald Wallace got a couple of easy buckets early, the Blazers forced turnovers, Aldridge started punishing the defense again, the Blazers struck with their own offensive rebounding and denied Dallas any more, and most importantly the Blazers remembered that their advantage lies IN THE PAINT. Dallas was criminally negligent in stopping the alley-oop, losing contact with Portland forwards like they were stuck on the old iPhone plan. Only a bunch of Jason Kidd jumpers saved the Mavs on the offensive side. They scored zero points in the paint in the period. Late in the quarter they went into a slump that would last well through the fourth. Dallas still led 61-57 at the horn but momentum belonged to Portland.
The Blazers tried to seal the deal early in the final quarter, assaulting the paint with a vengeance and spanking the Mavs with drives and post-ups. Whether it was Aldridge or somebody with a short guard on them, Portland's back-to-the-basket play shone brightly. The Blazers continued to dominate with turnovers and rebounds on the defensive end. With their last field goal coming at the 4:37 mark of the third, Dallas took until 5:28 in the fourth to stroke another. They subsisted on foul shots alone for 11 minutes of the second half. When Nicolas Batum slammed home a Brandon Roy pass with 6:07 left in the game the Blazers looked like they could do it. Even with all of the things going their way, though, Portland managed only a 6-point lead at that point. Dallas finished the game as they have in so many other successful outings against the Blazers: jamming a heaping helping of Dirkness down Portland's throat and watching the Blazers choke. Dallas scored 23 points in the final 6 minutes of this contest. 14 of those were Nowitzki. The other 9 came from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Nobody else but those three veterans even attempted a shot for them. Running lineups that always contained two of the Miller-Roy-Rudy Fernandez trio Portland didn't have the defense to stop them. Either one of the guards would break down or somebody would double Dirk and the rotations wouldn't cover. On the offensive end the Blazers got two solid layups from Miller, a great post bucket from Aldridge, and a miracle three from Batum and that was all. Dallas made every hustle play, got every loose ball, created all the turnovers, and bagged all the rebounds, leaving bald scoring as Portland's only appeal. Since 23 > 9 that's a battle the Blazers lost. Dallas leads the series 1-0.
In the pre-game post we talked about excuses versus winning...that winning is the ONLY currency in the playoffs. That is absolutely true here. After a rough start the Blazers had the Mavericks and their entire arena on the ropes and doubting. They let them off. The Nowitzki-fest is expected, but Portland succumbing to Dallas defense and hustle was not. You can talk all you want about good game, it was close, the Blazers have hope. Maybe all of that is true. But the reality is Portland had a chance to take this game and did not do it. They will probably regret it. The door may open more than once but it doesn't open often. Now they've made it that much harder to get through.
You also saw tonight in the deciding minutes the difference between playoff experience and less playoff experience. The Blazers have talent. The Mavericks had poise and control. Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry, even Shawn Marion somewhat...they all looked like they knew what they were doing in those final six minutes. The Blazers were back to hoping on offense and reaching on defense. Surety beat hope, as it almost always does. Dallas looked discouraged but at no time did they panic. The Blazers looked panicky at the front and back ends of this game with some excellent play in the middle. That won't get it done.
Portland wavered at a couple of positions where it needed to be solid. Gerald Wallace did not have a good game. He got thrown around the court several times. Some of those looked like possible whistles that weren't blown but even if that happens you can't get taken out of your game. Wallace couldn't hit a jumper, only drove aggressively a couple of times, and outside of 3 steals didn't look dominating. Wesley Matthews was probably worse. A little bit of defense was all that stood out for him. That was married with 1-3 shooting, 2 points, 3 turnovers, and not much else in 19 minutes. Matthews not being in the game late was a crucial loss for the Blazers. The Miller-Roy-Fernandez guard pool was flat-out bad for Portland on defense. As mentioned above, two of those three were in the game for the vast majority of the fourth quarter. The glaring omission was Matthews. With the offensive guards not providing a ton of offense you have to believe Wesley was the right move. (Unless there's an injury the ESPN feed didn't cover.) Matthews made that move hard with his earlier play and in the end the coach went with experience over skill. That was probably the wrong move regardless, but we've seen enough anemic outputs from Matthews over the course of the season that the risk probably seemed equal. The end result of this uncertainty and the need to make such decisions was a sub-optimal performance at a critical time.
Nothing is supposed to stop you in the playoffs...not the refs, not the opposition, not fatigue, not pain, not ups and downs, not anything. The Blazers half stopped themselves and Dallas happily took care of the rest, counting their good fortune as they did so.
LaMarcus Aldridge was all but unstoppable in this game. His jumper was on, the alley-oop was going, and he aggressively backed down anyone outside of Brendan Haywood (including Tyson Chandler), forcing them back into the lane and then scoring on them. He shot 12-20 for 27 points and up until the final minutes looked every bit as dominant as Nowitzki. 27 points, 6 rebounds.
Andre Miller also knew what time it was. His inability to defend Dallas' guards was his only black mark and that was one shared by his fellow guards and also his team which was slow in helping out the backcourt. He shot 7-13 including some of the only decent looking shots in Portland's down times. Many of his misses came from his teammates' impotence in the face of good Dallas defense, leaving him with the ball in untenable positions with the clock running down. 'Dre missed 2 threes in this game. That's about a month's worth. He scored 18 with 6 assists.
Marcus Camby also had a fine game with 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 5 assists in 29 minutes of play. He basically boarded as much as any two Mavericks.
Nicolas Batum did a heck of a job fronting Nowitzki for most of the game, keeping Dirk working hard and at times silent. Batum also hit a couple of pretty shots and one of his patented so-quick-the-cameras-didn't-catch-it dunks. He went 6-14 for 14 points and 4 assists in 34 minutes...the numbers being more remarkable for how hard he had to work on defense.
Gerald Wallace had moments in this game but really looked more like he was new to the Blazers again than the end-of-season Wallace we became accustomed to. The Mavericks were hyper-aware of his scoring, knowing that when he made a move to the bucket he would finish as directly as possible. They had men there to greet him every time. When his jumper failed to fall he almost retreated. I swear I didn't see him thrown to the floor as much in the last month total as he was tonight. Maybe he was trying to draw fouls. Maybe the Mavs just roughed him up. Either way, that's not Gerald. He had 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 8 points.
Wesley Matthews, as mentioned, played but 19 minutes, shot 1-3, and scored 2 points with a steal, a rebound, 3 turnovers, and 2 fouls.
Rudy Fernandez played 18 minutes, shot 2-3, 1-2 from distance, and had 2 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and 6 points. The good thing is he didn't look intimidated or less energetic and he didn't carry any of the symptoms that typified some of his teammates' play. The bad news is he played some of the most gosh-awful defense...ugh. Guys weren't just getting past him, he was offering them beverage service on the way.
Brandon Roy played 26 minutes and had 3 assists and 2 rebounds. He had far less good news than Rudy. His defense was just as bad as Fernandez's. He collected 4 fouls trying to keep up. He shot 1-7 for 2 points. And he was exposed by playing in crunch time.
Stats of the Night (prepare to be sick)
- Blazers shot 46% on 76 attempts. Dallas shot 41% on 66 attempts. The Blazers lost by 8. They wasted that field goal percentage and attempt disparity.
- Portland 46 points in the paint, Dallas 18. Wasted that too.
- Blazers 2-16 from three-point land, Dallas 10-19. There's some of the margin back.
- Blazers 9-13 from the line, Dallas 25-29. There's the rest. In a sense this explains the wide points in paint disparity though. It's not like the Mavs never went inside. The Blazers just fouled them every time they did and Dallas scored from the line instead of in the paint.
- Nowitzki 7-20 from the field but 13-13 from the line for his 28. Jason Kidd, though...9-14 from the field, 6-10 from the arc (!) for 24 points.
- Prepare to be sick again. Shawn Marion 2-6 from the field, Jason Terry 2-5, Jose Juan Barea 1-7, everybody else 6-14. Wasted all that too.
Odd Notes and Links
Mavs Moneyball will light up about this game.