An Example of Playoff Basketball

There's been plenty of debate in the Game 1 recap thread, along with words from Coach McMillan and Coach Carlisle, about officiating, how influential it was in the game, what calls were good and bad, etc., etc., etc.  I'm not as interested in talking about the officials as I am in talking about a playoff-level response to them, something the Blazers failed to evidence in Game 1.  I'm going to repeat something I said at the tail end of that earlier recap conversation for wider consideration, exemplifying how the Blazers will need to develop on the court in order to deal with situations like this.

In my view the most egregiously arguable calls in the entire game were non-calls, occasions when Portland forward Gerald Wallace got knocked to the ground--a couple of times by straight-up, arm-extended pushes--and nothing was whistled.  I'm remembering especially an under-the-bucket shove by Dirk Nowitzki that sent Wallace flying.  Dirk's message was clear there.  Right or wrong, good or bad, I'm willing to do anything, including throwing you to the floor, in order to prevail here.  That's a nastiness and desperation born of multiple early playoff exits combined with a contempt for any opponent standing in his way.  Was the shove illegal?  You bet it was.  Should it have been called a foul?  Absolutely.  That doesn't matter.  That's beyond anyone's control but the referee's.  It happened...period, end of story.  The only question remaining was how Wallace would respond.

All in all, Gerald's response wasn't too bad.  He popped up, shook it off, and returned to his defensive position, albeit one trapped too far under the basket to be effective...no doubt Nowitki's intent.  Gerald's resumption of defense was immediate, his reaction impassive.  It could have been worse.  

I want to acknowledge here that I am not in the heat of the moment as I type this.  I am not Gerald Wallace.  It's easy to say that any player should have done something different in a given situation, especially when one has not been in that situation oneself.  I am therefore going to avoid the "should" label.  Wallace's reaction was fine.  But Wallace's reaction was also not the epitome of playoff basketball...rather the game within the game of playoff basketball that Nowitzki was playing.  A different response to Dirk's offending shove could have changed the tenor of the game.

In essence when Wallace returned to the play he shrugged off the blow.  That's manly and appropriate but also subtly conveyed that it wasn't that big of a deal.  But you know what?  It was a big deal.  It contributed to the shift in momentum that eventually downed the Blazers.  It's possible Wallace was waiting for the referees to take care of the situation.  He did look at the refs several times during the evening.  Portland fans are now taking up the cry on his--and the team's--behalf.  Consider this, though:  neither shrugging it off nor waiting for somebody else to take care of the issue matched the will and power of the initial act.  Nowitzki wasn't waiting for anything when he sent Wallace to the ground.  Dirk issued a challenge through that act--yes, an illegal one, but one that wasn't caught--and Wallace's response was neutral at best.  That might be appropriate to the regular season, but this is the playoffs.  You have to be ready to do ANYTHING to get the victory, or at least to show the opponent that you're not giving it up for any reason.

The first time Wallace hits the hardwood without a whistle (and there were several) maybe you shrug it off.  The second time it happens it's time to take matters into your own hands.  Overtly shoving back probably would have been too extreme, likely to draw a retaliatory call from the refs and perhaps ejection.  But there would have been nothing wrong with a little forearm followed by an angry stare-down of the "somebody better hold me back or I'm going to take this guy out" variety.  Had Wallace jumped up, immediately squared off against the offender, and told him that if he did that one more time he'd be carrying his head home in his gym bag, play would have stopped.  Both teams would have jumped in to separate and/or jaw.  The officials would have gotten in the middle, perhaps assessed a tech on Wallace, perhaps given Double-T's had they seen the original infraction and decided not to whistle it for whatever reason.  Either way, the near fight would have made the refs realize they were losing control of the game and would have resulted in them calling it extremely tight for both sides from that point onward.  The roar of the crowd, heretofore Dallas' ally, would have only convinced the officials that more violence would be dangerous, perhaps riot-inducing, tightening the reins even more.  They would have gone way out of their way to make sure no cheap stuff slipped by.  Even if the Mavs weren't intimidated directly by Wallace's response they wouldn't have gotten away with any more shoves.  The game would have changed if Portland had been willing to go there...if that had been their instinct instead of just playing on.

This is what the Blazers, for all their talent and wanting to win, have yet to internalize.  When somebody pushes you around in the playoffs you don't pass it off or wait for anybody else to take care of it, even the guys in grey.  You get it back and you stop it then and there, sending notice to everyone--including the refs--that this won't fly.  When someone shivers you, asking whether you're willing to do anything it takes to win, you come back with "YES" and leave no doubt in your wake.  That's the playoff way.  Dallas understands that.  That's the way Dallas is going to walk and talk during this series.  If the Blazers don't develop that same mindset they're going to have a hard time wresting a series from the Mavericks or any other playoff-experienced team no matter what whistles blow or don't.  

Will Portland do anything necessary to defend their turf (defined by any court they put their sneakers on no matter what the location) against any challenge:  opponents or missed calls or hostile crowds or David Stern or fate itself?  The answer in Game 1 was "no" and Wallace's reaction was but one example.

Hopefully they are quick studies because Game 2 is Tuesday and last I checked, Nowitzki will be back on the court.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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