In a Nutshell:
The Blazers play gamely, posting a fantastic first period and a good fourth but once again fail to play a complete 48 minutes, allowing Dallas to dominate in the middle quarters. Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki step up huge for the Mavericks. Gerald Wallace, nursing an injured back, plays amazingly for the Blazers but LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and the rest can't muster enough game to overcome Dallas' polished attack.
After a slightly shaky start that saw a turnover and two rushed misses from LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers settled down to a heck of a first period. Their defense was stellar. Their rebounding even more so. Keeping hands in the faces of Dallas shooters encouraged them to miss. When Portland grabbed the ball off the rim and ran the Mavericks couldn't set quickly enough. Gerald Wallace looked like a superstar in the period, beginning the proceedings with two offensive rebound tips off of more Aldridge misses. When he followed that with a layup, a made three, and an assist on a Wesley Matthews three Portland led 12-5. Matthews and Wallace would continue to score from the field and the line, eventually aided by a now much freer Aldridge hitting jumpers. Dallas finally made a couple jumpers of their own mid-period which cleared the lane for some late-quarter layups but Portland still led 27-19 after one. Emotions rode high.
These would be tempered by Portland's hero, Gerald Wallace, heading to the locker room for treatment for a seized back. He would not return in the second period. Dallas began the second period shooting jumpers and missing again. Portland looked poised to stick a sword through their liver as Brandon Roy came off the bench and hit two jumpers and a layup. But the Mavs deflected the stroke with a familiar parry: foul shots. Rudy Fernandez fouled Peja Stojakovic on a corner three and Peja made three free throws. Dirk Nowitzki attacked the lane, getting a feed from Jason Terry and converting an "and one" off of a feisty foul from Chris Johnson to which Nowitzki took exception. Dirk took even more exception to the facemask grab Johnson put on him after a rebound on the other end of the court, raking Dirk's pretty mug and causing him to fall to the ground. Sadly the referees also took exception to that one, calling a Flagrant 1, sending Nowitzki to the foul line for two shots and the ball back. Dirk converted both shots and then hit a jumper, followed by another make the next time down the court after an Aldridge layup. Suddenly the sweet first quarter lead looked small at 35-31, the Mavericks having scored a dozen points in 2 minutes. Portland would score only sporadically in the final 6:00 of the period while Dallas scored in torrents with an inside-out game. Layups led to a couple of open threes which in turn led to 2 layups and 2 dunks for Dallas in the final 1:35 of the period. Jason Terry hit a three at the buzzer to add insult to the injury. Down 8 after one, Dallas led by 9, 52-43, at the half.
As was so common in this series, the Blazers needed a strong third quarter start to boost themselves into contention. As was also common, they did not get it. Gerald Wallace started the half and did his best to get inside. Wesley Matthews followed suit, attacking when he could. Andre Miller added a jumper. But the pace was slow, turnovers non-existent, and Portland never mounted a steady charge until the 2:30 mark of the period. Dallas was shaky early, mixing in missed jumpers with some nice Shawn Marion buckets, but Jason Kidd found his passing range and Jason Terry his cold-blooded shooting touch as the quarter wound down. Starting at the 5:30 mark Kidd assisted on a Terry jumper, a Tyson Chandler layup, hit a jumper of his own, then found Marion for another layup. Terry hit 3 jumpers in the final 2 minutes. Aldridge made a couple of strong drives (among his few of the night) and Roy hit a hope-inspiring three, but it wasn't near enough. Dallas still led by 13, 75-62, heading into the final quarter.
Still the Blazers had one, final run in them. Wallace and Aldridge played strong defense in the opening minutes. On the other end the Blazers finally got the memo to attack the lane and started drawing foul shot after foul shot. Wallace, Aldridge, and Matthews netted 8 free throw attempts between them in the first 6 minutes. Rudy Fernandez hit a three, Aldridge went on a three-bucket mini-run...things were looking good. Except no matter what the Blazers did, Dallas seemed to squeak out a response. Portland had major trouble dealing with screens, ending up with Matthews getting burned guarding Nowitzki on consecutive plays, allowing Dirk to match LMA's three-basket spree point for point. J.J. Barea got wide open for a made three. Portland made headway but still trailed by 7 with 7:00 to go.
Still the Blazers kept attacking. Gerald Wallace drove like a madman, snagging a layup and a dunk. But Dallas hit a three and another bucket. And Wallace really started with the defense, stealing a pass (leading to that dunk). After he drew 2 foul shots at the 3:00 mark Portland trailed by only 4, 91-87. Then things got really exciting when Wallace forced a backcourt violation, one of two he would cause in the closing minutes. But that's when the air came out of the balloon. After snagging an offensive rebound off of his own badly-missed jumper Aldridge was fouled for two shots. He stepped to the line with a chance to pull Portland within two and...missed them both. It was as if the girl of your dreams was finally in your arms, you were making your move, put your arms around her, leaned in and sneezed right down her blouse. Marion would hit the slap-in-your-face jumper on the next possession and Portland was down 6 again with 2:00 left. From this point on Aldridge looked like he was running away from shots, leaving Portland without the heart of its set offense. Wallace tried to compensate, drawing more free throws and attempting a comeback-reviving three which sadly missed. Jason Terry didn't miss his final jumper attempt and Nowitzki didn't miss a single one of the 8 free throws Portland gave him trying to play catch-up with the clock dwindling. Leaving themselves needing a comeback they only manufactured 80% of one. Or more accurately Dallas was too experienced and too good to give up a game like that twice. Portland bows out, 96-103, losing in 6 to the Mavericks who now go on to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semi-finals.
I'll have more on the series as a whole and what it all means tomorrow morning. For tonight's game, suffice it to say that it was Games 1-5 in a nutshell. Portland surged on the tide of emotion, played tough, made a few heroic stands, but over the course of time Dallas played better, executed better, and knew how to win in moments when the Blazers were still guessing where their next bucket would come from. Portland took little or no advantage in areas they were supposed to dominate: points in the paint, offensive rebounds, turnovers. They played Dallas fairly evenly in most areas but let the Mavericks shoot 50% from the field. Dallas also had a more bankable star and more reliable supporting cast around him than did the Blazers. Portland had to do something extra to overcome that gap and never managed to do so consistently.
In the final analysis the Blazers looked like what they were: a 48-win, 6th seed playing a better team. Portland showed some nice ability and some resilience. They never said die in the critical moments of their home games. They just didn't realize soon enough that hidden moments in Games 1 and 2 would eventually prove just as telling as the amazing comeback in Game 4. Dallas didn't exactly put together 48 minutes of beautiful basketball each outing but they played better more often and for longer stretches than did the Blazers. That won out in the end.
Gerald Wallace deserves a standing ovation for his Game 6 performance. He was the only Blazer who played like a bright-lights, big-time star in this game. And what a star! He scored 32 on 10-17 shooting, 11-12 from the foul line, only his 1-6 from distance marring the stat line. He grabbed 12 rebounds, forced turnovers, attacked the lane, and did much of it with a back brace on and/or a free-swinging bad back. The critique of Gerald, if there is one, will be where this was very early in the series. But that may be attributable to adjustment to the new situation in this yet-nascent acquaintance. It'll be interesting to see what he can do with a full year (and hopefully good health) under his belt.
LaMarcus Aldridge went the opposite way in this series, starting strong and then fading. He bounced back tonight, scoring 24 on 11-25 shooting with 10 rebounds and playing some strong defense during that second half. But when the lights shone brightest he wilted instead of flourished. He started this game rushing every shot in the lane and missing his jumpers. He looked comfortable for around 10 minutes of his 43 on the court. Those two missed free throws were killers. If that weren't a familiar story for Aldridge it wouldn't be worth a mention but given his status and his propensity to miss at the line late, it's an issue. Almost everybody screamed to high heaven about LMA not making the All-Star team this year, including perhaps Aldridge himself. That doesn't matter. That never did matter. Those critical free throws mattered. No honor can take the place of a win, which is what Aldridge was tasked with leading his team to tonight. He didn't look ready. Before anybody, including LMA, makes waves about him being slighted or under-appreciated this team needs to see playoff success with him in the prime position. Until that happens, there's nothing meaningful to be said. He's going to have to wait a year (at least) to get a chance to earn those stripes. This summer should be spent working towards that goal.
Wesley Matthews gets credit for trying to get into the lane. He shot 7-7 from the foul line and helped lead the second-half charge, notching 19 total. His 5-14 overall shooting was less than beneficial and his 2-7 from the arc, including an open shot late that could have offered a last chance at redemption, was disastrous. The defense was decent as long as he didn't get picked off onto Nowitzki. All together it was good but not great.
Marcus Camby had 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 42 minutes. He helped solve the dominating Dallas center play from Game 5 but still looked a step off in the offensive flow and at times defensively as well. We never saw the best of Marcus after he came back from injury late in the season. Still he gave Portland a better chance than they had against Dallas without him.
Andre Miller got into early foul trouble, throwing Portland's plans askew. Despite gathering but 1 foul after being reinserted into the game he never found a rhythm and ended up 2-7 for 5 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. His teammates did a decent job pulling the game out of the frying pan but never got away from the coals without him.
Brandon Roy played 26 minutes and shot 4-6 for 9 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds. The operative words for him tonight were "not enough". Not enough scoring, not enough aggression, not enough driving, and WAY not enough defense. Marion and Terry both scored easy isolation buckets on him. It wasn't a horrible night. It just wasn't what the Blazers needed.
Nicolas Batum played but 12 minutes, drawing 4 personal fouls in the process. He had 2 assists and a block but didn't hit a shot, going 0-3, 0-2 from distance. Wallace's presence accounted for some of this, of course. Still Nicolas, like the Blazers, went up and down in this series and ended up on a down.
Rudy Fernandez played 13 minutes and hit 1-3 shots, the aforementioned three. He was generally a positive factor, though not a game-changing one. 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and more nice watching of J.J. Barea. He just needs to imagine Barea's face on every opponent the way public speakers imagine their audience in their underwear.
Chris Johnson played 5 minutes and scored 2 points. More importantly finally...FINALLY somebody took some decent fouls on Dirk Nowitzki. It's too bad it came so late and it's too bad that it woke him up in this case. This showed the basic difference between the Mavericks and Blazers. Punch Dallas in the face and they respond. Punch Portland in the face and they get all confused. But serious credit to Johnson for mixing it up with Dirk. Let everybody else take note.
Stats of the Night
- Nowitzki 33 points on 11-17 shooting, Terry 22 points on 9-16.
- Wallace 32 points on 10-17 shooting, Aldridge 24 but took 25 shots to do it.
- Rest of the Mavericks: 19-45 (42%) for 48 points Rest of the Blazers 14-37 (38%) for 40 points
- Dallas shoots 50% from the field, Portland 44.3%
- No other stat besides assists (23-16 Dallas) and made field goals (39-35 Dallas) varied by more than 3. In other words, Dallas played Portland to a standstill and shot better (or defended better, depending on how you look at it). Portland had no edge anywhere to make up the difference.
- Portland fails to top 100 in any game of this series.
Odd Notes and Links
As I said earlier, I'll get up some analysis about Portland's playoff performance, what it means, and what questions it raises after Ben's Media Row Report on this game. Check back for that overnight and in the morning. Obviously we'll have much more on the 2010-11 season including the overall arc of the year, individual player evaluations, and much more as the days pass.
For now, it was nice to see one more performance of The Greatest Hits of Crash Wallace tonight. It was nice to see Portland mount a comeback and give the fans one more wave of euphoria to ride. But it's clear that Dallas played better in this series and Portland could do nothing about it so final tally ended up as it should have. Portland exits the playoffs after a 4-2 playoff loss in the first round for the third straight year. Blazer fans have plenty to be proud and excited about but ultimately Portland failed in the only way that mattered. They did not win and that's the end of the story.
If you go to Mavs Moneyball be gracious. It was one heck of a performance by Dirk Nowitzki and those guards.