The German Michael Jordan strikes again. Two points? Check. Tongue out? Check. Vertical leap? Uhhhh...did I mention the tongue was out?
In a Nutshell
The Blazers alternate between gritty play in the paint and running the ball, keeping even for a half but Dallas comes out in the second half playing to their strengths: playing through Dirk Nowitzki, hitting open threes, and taking care of the ball. Throw in taking care of the ball, cutting off Portland's transition game, and getting to every loose ball first in the fourth period and the Mavericks end up taking this game easily.
The Blazers started out this game doing exactly what they planned to do, making the predicted adjustments from Game 1. Portland scored 24 points in the first period. All but the final 3 with 28 seconds left were scored by Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge. They came out looking to get off those three guys and they did it. Wallace was particularly impressive: drawing fouls, getting to the rim, even hitting a three. Portland seemed ultra-cognizant of size mismatches, letting the Mavericks betray themselves on defense. Matthews' quarter was cut short by a nasty head-on-head collision with Jason Terry as Matthews tried to poke away a steal but he would return. Meanwhile Dallas struggled on offense for most of the quarter. The Blazers put hands everywhere, slapping away the ball and getting up in shooters' faces. The jumpers weren't falling for the home team and Portland was grabbing rebounds. Dallas trailed 17-9 with 3:00 to go in the first when a blitz of three-pointers pulled them back to 24-22 at the end of the period. The good news was that Portland played well and led. The bad news was that the Blazers had only eked out a 2-point margin while shooting 50% to Dallas' 42%. The Blazers' work was still cut out for them.
Outside of Nicolas Batum Portland's second unit was unable to score or even run a coherent offensive set. The score mostly flat-lined for both teams during the opening minutes of the second quarter. The Blazers were still running and playing hard though. Running with the second unit was clearly part of their game plan. Had they been able to get organized it might have worked. As it was the starters had to return quickly, leaving Batum as the bench representative. Batum and Aldridge alternated scoring in the middle minutes of the quarter as Dallas had a hard time containing either. Batum's scoring would be assumed by Matthews in the latter parts of the period while Aldridge continued to produce. The Blazers still concentrated on Aldridge inside, peppering in jumpers when wings were available. It sufficed. Dallas, on the other hand, went outside-in, assaulting Portland with the twin cannons of Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd. Stojakovic was this game's "Guy the Blazers Leave Open and Don't Get Back To". Kidd looked like an early candidate for that award as well but would blow it later in the game, as you will see. With Portland scrambling to stop the gunners, Nowitzki predictably had a field day. All of that nice scoring by Aldridge, Batum, and Matthews added nothing to the margin in the end. The Blazers escaped the quarter with a 52-50 lead. Portland was still ahead in fast-break points but another ominous shadow crossed the court, as Dallas was beating them handily in second chance points. As a result the Blazers were having to work hard just to stay afloat instead of dominating the way running and paint play usually provide. As if that weren't enough, from the other side of the court came a steady drizzle of missed free throws, eroding even more of the theoretical margin the Blazers should have had. Though things were going well enough on paper, these little extra opportunities were keeping Portland in a precarious position.
Precarious became downright treacherous in the third quarter as Dallas came to play for real. Their opening salvos came from Kidd who decided to abandon the "Guy the Blazers Leave Open" award race and just plain score on his own. A couple of well-placed picks were enough to send him on a shooting rampage. He'd score 9 points in the first 3 minutes of the period and propel Dallas from a 2-point deficit to a 7-point lead by the 7:30 mark. The Blazers were still going with their Aldridge-Wallace offense but now every missed shot seemed like a dagger since the Mavericks were swamping the nets on the other end. Portland started shooting jumpers to get back and predictable failing. Thankfully the Mavericks also missed a few J's and the lead grew no larger than 7. Then the Blazers smacked their collective foreheads and remembered they could score in the paint against this team. Attacking the rim led to positive results that not even a resumption of the Peja barrage could deny. (Though one started to wonder at this point how the Blazers were managing to leave Stojakovic so open so many times.) When Andre Miller made 2 free throws, hit a three (!), and hit a streaking Gerald Wallace for a layup the Blazers were back within 1 with 1:30 remaining and the battle looked to be on. Dallas finished the period ahead 73-72, bullet dodged.
Sadly that bullet made a U-turn in the fourth period, coming back to strike down the Blazers almost immediately. Portland's initial problem, inexcusably, was Jose Juan Barea. He scored 6 on the Blazers in the first 4:30 and assisted on 2 more. On the other end the Blazers utterly failed to take advantage of him in the post, first bungling those post attempts badly then turning over the ball, making revenge impossible. When anyone on the Dallas side starts going off you know what's coming next. Portland's defense has to account for the hot guy leaving Dirk free to pin somebody on an island. Two points. Or maybe three. Dallas continued to rebound well throughout the period. Dallas committed no turnovers. Portland, therefore, was locked in halfcourt sets, some particularly ugly ones at that. The Blazers worked against the clock the entire period. Portland high moment was having Marcus Camby hit a three (!) with 1 second left on the shot clock on an inbounds play. But that's not bread and butter, that's going to the circus. Peja hit another three, the final 6 minutes featured plenty of Dirk. Dallas got to every loose ball first. Dallas' defense worked harder. Portland's only alternative was once again dominant offense, of which they were in short supply. Yadda-yadda-yadda, blah-blah-blah, Blazers go down without so much as a credible whimper, having been taken out of their game utterly for 75% of the second half. Portland 89, Dallas 101.
The Mavs were pretty brilliant, figuring out when and how the Blazers were going to help on Dirk and then putting their shooters in the right spot to capitalize. Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, DeShawn Stevenson...these guys did nothing in this game. But they didn't have to because Peja and J. Kidd did it all. Bottom Line: Portland has serious trouble containing Nowitzki to the point of not being able to do it without extra men. Dallas gets clean shots from the resulting rotations and they're hitting them.
The Blazers looked like they were ready to strong-arm this game early. When Tyson Chandler went down with two early fouls you thought the Blazers should be able to muscle and destroy the Mavs. Instead the lead stayed small. If anything Dallas was still committing the harder fouls and grabbing the contested rebounds. Things got way worse in that fourth period. Perhaps Portland's starters were tired from having played massive minutes, the result of the poor performance of the bench players on balance. Whatever it was, the Mavs had way more energy than the Blazers when the game counted and that's disturbing. Portland's guys are younger, bigger, and in most ways more athletic. Jason Kidd was throwing up in a Dixie Cup on the sideline from having exerted all that effort shooting jumpers. Yet the Mavs still outrace and outplay Portland? Seems wrong.
Surprise, surprise...the Blazers still deal with screens like second graders reading Shakespeare. Dallas has figured that out just a little. Portland has mobile guards and mobile bigs. You'd think they could get it together.
One item we've barely mentioned: the Blazers shot 18-27 from the foul line tonight. That's 66.66666%. This team shoots 80% on your average night. Missing free throws isn't unheard of but it's untimely. It was a subtle knock to the knees of a team trying to reach its stride and widen a margin that already seemed too small. Hit 23 of 27 and this ballgame might have looked different. "In It to Win It" used to be the motto in the Drexler years. "If It's Not One Thing, It's Another" would be more apropos over the last three playoff series. You play well enough, you get the right guys going, you get Dallas on the ropes a little, then you don't convert the easiest shots on the court. It's subtle, almost mental, things like this that indicate the proper mindset or lack thereof...the difference between a professional dancer and a guy on Dancing With the Stars who looks like he's just trying to get through his routine without screwing up really bad on national TV. The Mavericks look like they've done this playoff thing for a living. The Blazers look like they're thinking their way through the steps still.
LaMarcus Aldridge did his usual job, scoring 24 and grabbing 10 boards with 3 blocks. Once again the Blazers went other directions during solid spurts of the game...probably a mistake when those other directions are ending up with long, contested jumpers.
Gerald Wallace came hard tonight, forcing his way into the lane for 6-11 shooting, 5-8 from the foul line, 18 points plus 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He kept Shawn Marion capped while doing so. He was one of the guys having trouble getting back to Peja but that's a team-wide thing.
Wesley Matthews also shot 6-11 for 13 points. He was the guy Kidd really torched though...part of the aforementioned pick problem. Also 1 rebound, 0 assists, 0 steals.
Nicolas Batum had his moments. He shot 4-7, 2-5 from distance, and netted 10 points. Like Matthews the rest of his stat line was non-existent: 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 rebounds. Also either the Blazers stupidly changed plans or he forgot that his main strength in guarding Dirk Nowitzki is FRONTING Dirk Nowitzki. Against Batum Dirk catches and Dirk kills. That's it. It's perfectly possible that the Blazers wanted to play behind Dirk in order to cover the weak-side shooters better but if so they have to put someone else on him. It might be time to just let Aldridge try, foul potential be damned. This is especially true since the Blazers are coming home where the whistles should be more favorable.
Marcus Camby had 8 rebounds in 36 minutes and hit that three. Otherwise his game was so-so.
Andre Miller once again knew what he was doing, hitting 5-10 from the field, 6-8 from the line, scoring 18 with 8 assists and 6 rebounds. The Blazers tried to hide him on defense to some success. The Dallas off-guards aren't really attacking at this point so 'Dre can tuck in against them. He's also the only guy smaller than Gerald Wallace who got in the lane at all tonight.
The rest of the roster got a DNP-DBIP. Did Not Prosper, Don't Belong in Playoffs.
Stats of the Night
- Dallas 6 turnovers in the game.
- Portland 7 offensive rebounds in the game.
- Those two stats explain why, though overall field goal percentages were nearly dead even and the Blazers were within 1 in three-pointers and free throws made, Portland couldn't generate its customary extra opportunities. Dallas got 10 more field goal attempts than Portland tonight.
- Portland led 14-6 in fast break points but only 38-36 in points in the paint.
- Blazers down 0-2. That's the most critical one.
Odd Notes and Links
I liked the TNT commentating team, especially Kevin McHale. He's seen both the Blazers and basketball before and it showed. However after a fine season where they had eliminated many of their annoying tendencies, TNT has apparently reverted to buffoonery for the post-season. To wit: David Aldridge interviews Rajon Rondo following the Boston-New York game and then the network runs commercials and cuts to the Portland-Dallas game LATE. I understand that the commercials equal money so I won't hit too hard on that, but seriously? A post-game interview when there's basketball going on? It's the NBA on TNT, not Oratory on TNT. If I wanted to see public speaking I sure wouldn't opt for a basketball player. You should get President Obama or have Eminem rap or something. At least we'd get an interesting spiel while we missed the actual game. Rajon Rondo hasn't gone multi-platinum nor does he have his finger on the Big Red Button. So get him off my TV and let me watch hoops.
More buffoonery: full-screen cut-aways from the active game to update the alternate game running on NBA TV even though nothing spectacular happened in that other game. This is 2011. We all have dishes or cable. Everybody who is interested in that other game is already watching that other game. Give the rest of us updates during free throw shooting or at the quarter break or halftime, not during LIVE PLAY. Hey...we all have high-def big screens now too so at the very least you could leave the current game in a picture window while you update that so-and-so actually hit a shot in that other game we're not watching FOR A REASON.
If you're going to show the game and want people to care enough to tune into the game, respect the game.
Mavs Moneyball will let you know how much they appreciate this series so far.