In a Nutshell
The Dallas Mavericks make a concerted effort to score inside, putting pressure on Portland's defense. The Blazers respond well enough early, riding Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum for offense and keeping Dallas' field goal percentage modest despite the interior attack and resulting points and fouls. Portland's Achilles' Heel early proves to be rebounding, as Tyson Chandler creates second chance points and easy shots for his team. Down only one after a rough and tumble first half, the Blazers let their small problems become big ones in the third quarter. Dallas forces turnovers, runs for early offense, and turns the offensive rebounding stream into a full-fledged flood. Even when the Blazers play defense well they can't finish the stop. Unable to run, force turnovers, or control the ball in any way Portland wilts on the vine and Dallas destroys the Blazers in the second half.
The Mavericks announced their intentions early in this game. Instead of the National Anthem they might as well have begun the game by huddling around the painted area and serenading it. From the earliest moments of the game the Mavs developed an intimate relationship with the key. Jumpers from Jason Kidd? Gone. Turn-arounds from Dirk Nowitzki? Gone. In their place were spin drives from the post, darting lane attacks from the top of the key, and baseline cuts. They attempted but two threes in the quarter. Other than that pair of shots their farthest attempts by far came from 16 and 17 feet. Most shots happened at the rim. Along with this came maniacal offensive rebounding from Tyson Chandler who was more involved in the first quarter than he had been in the entire two previous games in Portland. Chandler had 3 offensive rebounds in the first 4 minutes of the game...a foreshadowing of things to come. Still the Blazers managed to forge ahead, collapsing on the Dallas attack, forcing some turnovers late, and running out. Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews started out the scoring and Nicolas Batum would pick up late in the period. LaMarcus Aldridge, once again guarded by centers, looked unsure of how to move his defenders and ended up rushing shots for an inauspicious start. Still Portland, matching Dallas' energy, led 20-15 at the end of one.
The Mavericks began the second period running the ball through Dirk Nowitzki. He drew fouls early but otherwise they had little success scoring. Sadly outside of a Rudy Fernandez three to open the proceedings the Blazers had no success scoring themselves. If Dallas was committed to the paint on offense they seemed twice so on defense. They just hunkered down against everything the Blazers tried to do in the lane, at times daring Portland to shoot a five-footer over four people. Portland found only blocked shots and missed jumpers as a result. Midway through the period two guards--Jason Terry and Andre Miller--took over the game. Terry shifted gears and started splashing jumpers. Miller adopted the Dallas plan and drove the lane to great success. This sparked the scoring for both teams. LaMarcus Aldridge finally came alive and hit a couple shots. Wallace and Batum added in their own. Portland surged ahead by 6 with 2:00 remaining but Nowitzki and Shawn Marion finished the period hitting a couple of jumpers and 3 free throws. Dallas came out of the half ahead by 1, 44-43. The only clear lessons drawn from the opening two quarters were that both teams came to fight hard and nothing was decided yet. The third quarter would certainly be pivotal.
And so it was, sadly for all the wrong reasons from the Portland perspective. The key names in the quarter were two: Nowitzki and Chandler. After a half of messing around with different players the Mavericks finally went to Dirk again in the third and he would respond with 11 points on jumpers, layups, and the obligatory free throws. Chandler, meanwhile, brutalized the Blazers on the boards. A large part of it was his own size, talent, and effort, for which he deserves to be commended. He owned the paint like a man, throttling any hope of Portland staying with the Mavericks by denying them the ball and making their defensive stands go for naught. Part of it was also Portland bigs either getting stuck on Nowitzki or having to defend smaller perimeter players on switches and thus being out of position for the board. Either way, Dallas' rebounding dominance neutered the Blazers in the quarter. But the misery wasn't over. Nowitzki going off was bad enough. The rebounding was worse. But when Dallas started beating Portland at their own game--forcing turnovers and running or, when that failed, simply getting down the floor quicker for open shots before the defense could set--disaster struck. As a result of Dallas defense and a little home cooking the Blazers had shot but 1 free throw in the first half. Complaining vociferously they drew 10 in this period. Adding insult to injury, they hit only 6. At that point the game was over. Portland was capable of more effort and probably one or two adjustments but the flight panel was lit up with multiple master warning lights and the plane was going down. Dallas led by 14, 76-62, after three. And this time they made sure there was no comeback, not that the Blazers could have rebounded their way into one anyway. The lead stretched to 22 with three minutes to go in the game before some largely meaningless buckets cut it to the final margin, 94-81, Dallas. Mavericks lead 3-2 going into Game 6.
Dallas' paint attack was well-executed but was not, in itself, enough to take this game. In fact they ended up shooting only 41% from the field on the night. The differences were two: 20 offensive rebounds robbing Portland of extra shots and Dallas shooting 35 free throws to Portland's 19. The Mavericks didn't do everything they wanted to do in this game but those two were enough. And of the two, the rebounds were by far the bigger killer. As always, folks will want to point to the refs. There were probably fewer missed calls in this game than in a couple of the others (Games 1 and 4 come to mind). It's worth noting that at the times the free throw disparity was most imbalanced--the first half wherein Dallas shot 13 free throws while the Blazers shot 1--Portland hung within a single point. The whistles blowing for Portland as well as the Mavs in the second half, particularly in that third quarter, didn't help a bit. The Blazers got owned, pure and simple. In contrast to Dallas, Portland was unable to bring out any of the best facets of its game. Turnovers were dead even at 12. Portland had but 9 offensive rebounds. The Blazers had only 13 assists. The margin in paint scoring was only +6 for Portland, and that's lessened even more because many of Dallas' paint points came from the free throw line on interior shots they were fouled on and didn't convert. Fast break points were knotted at 14 too. LaMarcus Aldridge scored only 12 to Dirk Nowitzki's 25. In almost every conceivable area in which Portland would seek advantage Dallas either matched them or actually outplayed them. That made the rebounds and free throws fatal.
Instead of kicking down the door the Blazers rode the wave to shore tonight, bowing in Dallas and hoping the surf stays up for their own victory on Thursday night. Provided they can win the home game they have one, last chance to seize the series. For now though the story remains the same: Backs against the wall...they give it their all. Chance to excel...what the hell?!? The backs will be against the wall in Game 6. We'll see if they can get off the mat one more time.
LaMarcus Aldridge did try to get in the lane tonight. He received plenty of attention for it as well. He was rushing his shots early and, as mentioned above, never seemed to get comfortable going up against Chandler and Brendan Haywood, settling for contested jumpers against them as the night wore on. Those didn't fall, nor did many of his open jumpers. It was one of those nights when everything looked like a prayer and there were no alley-oops to bring a slice of redemption. 6-15 shooting, 0 free throws, 12 points. On the other end Aldridge did a nice job defending Nowitzki and/or anyone else he came up against one-on-one on the perimeter. Straight-up blocked shots on a jump shooter usually mean you're in tune defensively. But that same defense kept him away from the boards. He did end up with 9, an impressive number considering. But he was usually nowhere to be found when Chandler started mauling.
Andre Miller lead the team with 18 points on 8-14 shooting with 7 assists. As is often the case he looked like the only Blazer unconcerned with the people in the other uniforms. He wasn't intimidated and he didn't stop driving. He made mincemeat of the Dallas defense at one point, leading one to wonder why his teammates weren't as successful. Part of that was the people defending him and part of it was Dallas intentionally concentrating attention to Portland's bigger scorers, but it's just 'Dre too. He's going to do what he sets his mind to. The rest of the Blazers need a little bit of that.
Gerald Wallace scored 16 with 9 rebounds but don't be fooled...plenty of those came after the game was long decided. His meaningful production was slight. He was often hanging around the rim for those defensive rebounds but didn't seem to get many of the contested ones. He got 2 steals and 2 blocks and looked brilliant as always on the run but this was not a good game for him. It hasn't been the expected series from him, really. For better or worse, in control or out, Wallace is supposed to dominate. It's been the other way around.
Wesley Matthews scored 8 points but zeroed out the stat column otherwise except for a turnover. It's hard to take complete issue with him, however, because he was one of the guys attacking the rim on offense early in the game. He drew a team-high 4 free throws. He missed 2 of them though.
Marcus Camby got 8 rebounds in 20 minutes but also picked up 4 fouls in that short time. The way things ended up going that could have been the loss of the night for Portland. That said, even Camby wasn't turning the tide on the boards.
Nicolas Batum had a decent night, scoring 12 on 5-12 shooting, but only 2-7 from distance with no free throws. He had 4 rebounds but that was over 31 minutes. Double that would have been nice. He had a spectacular block of a J.J. Barea break-away and finished with 2 blocks and 2 steals overall.
Brandon Roy played 26 minutes and looked like he might be sparking on the drive after missing a couple of instant-heat-check jumpers as soon as he came into the game. Alas it was short-lived. Roy went 2-7 for 5 points with 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
Rudy Fernandez hit a three! But as with Roy, that was a brief spark in an otherwise blah evening. He ended up 1-4, 2-3 from the foul line, for 5 points in 12 minutes. For all of the Rudy-defense-watchers out there I paid extra close attention to his defending tonight to make sure I didn't miss giving him credit for anything. It's the same story. He creates pressure on certain plays, particularly against Barea, but he also misses plays and loses people he's trying to defend. It's better than he used to be but nothing that Matthews doesn't deliver more effectively and with fewer mistakes on a nightly basis.
Chris Johnson had 2 rebounds in an energetic 6 minutes.
Stats of the Night
- Tyson Chandler 13 offensive rebounds, 20 total boards, 8-12 from the free throw line
- Dirk Nowitzki 25 points, Jason Terry 20. LaMarcus Aldridge 12 points, Brandon Roy 5 (Or Nicolas Batum 12, if you prefer. Come to think of it, take both. 5+12 still doesn't make 20.)
- Dallas 49-37 rebounding edge when the Blazers missed 4 fewer shots than they
- Dallas 26-35 from the line, Portland 14-19
- Blazers 13 assists on 32 made baskets. They let the defense set a little.
- Props to Dallas for winning this game in a different way. They went 3-17 from the arc tonight (17.6%). Jason Kidd scored 4 points. He did have 14 assists though...
- Blazers 82 points total. Not scoring much in this series.
- Portland faces elimination in Game 6.
Odd Notes and Links
Boxscore (It's a fairly unhappy sight.)
Jersey Contest Playoff Form for Thursday's game for the invited participants.