Game Time 7:30 p.m. TV: TNT nationally, KGW locally
Having failed to seize control of the series on Monday night the Trail Blazers now face an ultimatum: find a way to wrest the steering wheel away from the experienced, talented, and driven Dallas Mavericks or bow out after a third straight opening series loss.
The good news for Portland: the home team has won every game so far. Even better news: with a win tonight the series would be truly even. Both teams will have spent themselves fully, the Blazers to get to that ultimate game and the Mavericks to prevent it. There's no telling what will transpire in that kind of environment. But the Blazers have to win tonight first.
Here's the question: Can a team that runs on emotion, on fighting back from adversity, on pulling off the unthinkable find a better way to win? Their Game 3 win wasn't comfortable. Their Game 4 victory was miraculous. They have yet to play head and shoulders over the Mavericks for more than 10 minutes at a time. They need extra mustard on the emotional hot dog to inspire their best. That's bad news in a couple of ways. The Blazers have already used up most of the condiment bottle. The Mavericks have seen this before and will be prepared. And as odd as it seems, the emotional win happening before makes the necessary emotional framework that much harder. How much will the Blazers take this game, or if not the entire game at least the chance to win it, for granted? If they come into this game assuming they'll be there to fight at the end no matter what Dallas could quickly disabuse them of the notion and rob any chance to extend the series. The emotion may not automatically be there for this game when the Blazers need it most.
The safest approach for the Blazers would be to beat the Mavs the old-fashioned way. They need to play well throughout, executing on both ends in all the ways we've habitually mentioned in this series: attack the lane, hit jumpers, rebound, pressure, force turnovers. They need to do this for four quarters, not one. Technical basketball will probably rule the night. Whichever team plays it most consistently should come out ahead.
There remain a couple of potential adjustments:
1. This is the final game if Portland doesn't win it. They have to throw everything at any Maverick who gets hot or starts dominating. If that's Nowitzki, double immediately. If it's Kidd, don't leave him. If Chandler starts rebounding out the wazoo, tackle him. Nobody hits three shots in a row in this game. After the second you've got to see it and stop it, forcing somebody else to win the game for them.
2. Several people have mentioned Dallas' zone defense in the second half. Portland has to be ready for it. If that means Andre Miller driving ten times in a row, so be it. Just as you do anything defensively to disrupt them, you do anything offensively to make bank. Forget automatically going to LaMarcus Aldridge. You had the chance to make that work and blew it. You now go with whoever is hot and ride them until they can't stand. If the Mavericks switch defenses to cope you better find somebody else. The winning team may well be the squad that can find more people to come through in the midst of crisis.
Unfortunately Portland's plays don't always fare well against a zone should Dallas again employ it, as the Blazers like to score in places the zone is strongest: right and left block, side three-pointers. They ultimately need to hit jumpers to thwart it but that can't be the only solution or Dallas has already accomplished their goal of keeping Portland out of the paint. The key to busting most zones is the middle. If the Blazers can get any mileage out of Aldridge in the high post (alternately Camby but he's less reliable) they should consider it. Aldridge in the middle up high would force the Mavericks to make decisions. They'd have to leave him open for a straight-away jumper or leave the lane open for baseline cutters and passes or leave the diagonals open for threes or drivers. This isn't Portland's M.O. but a wrinkle may not be out of order even at this late stages of the game, particularly since that elusive 90 point mark has so far been impossible to reach.
We've talked about will since Game 2 of this series. Save a 13-minute stretch embodied by Brandon Roy in Game 4 the Blazers have lacked it...or at least lacked sufficient quantities of it to succeed. Tonight we're going to find out if they have any. They'll not win by surprising the opponent. They'll not win with drama or runaway emotion. This isn't about gimmicks. It's about 48 minutes of doing what you're supposed to do: intense, tough, refuse-to-die basketball. The Blazers have to go toe-to-toe with the Mavericks in a straight-up slugfest and emerge victorious. No alternative will do. Play the best ball you can or this is over.
I don't think anybody could hold a Game 7 loss in Dallas against this team. But losing it on the home floor not having forced that final game will cast doubt on everything that the Blazers have done prior and confirm the Mavericks the better team beyond the shadow of a doubt. Hopefully the Blazers aren't ready to swallow that yet.
Mavs Moneyball forges with us into the fray one more time.
The Jersey Contest Form for invited playoff participants.