Monday, April 25, 2011

Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trail Blazers 82: Plumb, Mad-Dog Mean

Box Score                                             Shot Chat

Angry. That was absolutely angry. In one of the most defining games of the franchise and if you don't believe it, then you don't get on the Internet much. Cries of a lost fan base, a tortured city and failed promises rang throughout various forms of media since Saturday's heartbreaking Game 4 loss.

Was Dallas mentally tough enough?

Were the demons of past Mavs' failures still too fresh in the minds of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry?

Can Dallas rise to the occasion?

Check, check and double check. The Mavericks throughly dismantled the Blazers in Game 5 in the second half, after taking Portland's best punch throughout the first. It was an ominous start, with both teams engaged in some quality defense and missing shots from all over the court. The Blazers even took a 23-15 lead at one point, with the AAC crowd audibly upset. Is this really going to happen?

Luckily, Dirk, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion turned up their intensity to 11. The Mavericks made a concentrated effort to get to the rim (40 paint points) rebounded like hell (49-37) and displayed a physical toughness on the defensive side of the floor that would make the December Mavericks blush.

Dallas has shot under 42 percent in two games this series...and won both of them. Can't say I didn't expect that to happen in February.


  • Can we bottle this Dirk Nowitzki and keep him forever? Don't get me wrong. I love the awkward one-legged fadeaway as much as the next guy, but Dirk relentlessly attacked the paint at will. In the third quarter, by my count, Dirk didn't attempt one unassisted isolation jumper as he scored 11 points in the third alone. The constant agression wasn't always rewarded, but 9-of-11 from the free line is justification of Dirk's focus to attack, attack, attack. Dirk also threw in three offensive rebounds and just for kicks, three assists (and would have more if not for some hacks to Chandler and Brendan Haywood.)

  • Amazing what staying on the court does to your game. Chandler played just under 35 minutes tonight, and boy, were those minutes huge minutes. 14 points, 20 rebounds (13 offensive) AND holding LaMarcus Aldridge in check. Aldridge put up 12 and nine, easily his worst game of the series and he's now posted back-to-back sub-50 percent shooting games. Credit Chandler for being more physical in Aldridge and, like I've been saying, forcing Aldridge out of his comfort zones. In the first three games, Aldridge was catch the ball extremely close to the basket, requiring a simple turnaround or hook shot for the easy two points. Now, Chandler is forcing Aldridge to get paint buckets by facing up and trying to drive on him, rather than catching close to the rim with his back to the basket. It's a subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. 

  • Before the series started, I made a note of how important it was for Chandler to be a presence on the offensive end. Well, that only took five games. Chandler's 14 points was easily his most in the series and it was in classic Chandler fashion -- just four shot attempts. When Chandler was in full force before February and March, it wasn't unusual for him to post single-digit-shot attempts, double-digit free-throw-attempt-nights. With 12 free throw attempts, Chandler actually had the most attempts of any player in the game. 

  • Another benefit of Chandler scoring: offensive rebounds. We know Chandler lacks the offensive polish of say, his counterpart LaMarcus Aldridge. So Chandler has to create shot attempts for himself in three ways: Pick and roll, rebounds and running the floor. Chandler certainly took care of the rebounding part, helping the Mavericks corral 20 (!) offensive rebounds. All the extra possessions meant Dallas had more shot attempts (78-74) and free throw attempts (35-19).

  • If Jason Kidd channeled his shooting from Games 1-3, the Mavericks might have been up by 25 or 30 in this one. Kidd only made one shot (a layup!) finishing 1-for-7 as he's clearly setting his feet back down to earth after being in shooting heaven for the last week. Kudos to Kidd for continuing to make an impact, as he controlled the offense well after a couple of early, uncharacteristic turnovers in the first quarter. Portland thrives on their opponents mistakes and Kidd made sure the Mavs weren't fueling the Blazers offense. 14 assists and two turnovers. Incredible.

  • Jason Terry (8-for-18, 20 points) had an interesting game. And by that I mean it was up and down. After attempting hero mode in the fourth quarter in Game 4 (and taking shots away from Dirk) Terry picked his spots a bit better, but still had a few questionable heaves from distance (including a eye-rolling 1-on-4 transition jumper.) Still, Terry's biggest role right now for the Mavs is to provide complementary scoring while not crapping the bed of defense. To that credit, he succeeded tonight Brandon Roy and Andre Miller spun by Terry a couple of times, but all in all, a vast improvement on defense from Terry as he really held his own in the post more than all the previous games in the series.

  • Speaking of the bench, Rick Carlisle might have finally figured out that J.J. Barea is just not meant to be for this series. Barea played a hair under 15 minutes, his lowest total of the series and just about every one of them was ineffective. I didn't expect much from Barea with Portland's size all over the court and those queezy feelings are being fully realized. What's worse, Barea isn't even off-setting his horrible defense with any offense, now shooting 27 percent for the series. He can't finish among Portland's bigs and his jumper has traveled back in time to November. During the regular season, it's easy to hide Barea's shortcomings (no pun intended) due to the grind and less time for game planning and scouting. But playing the same team five times? There's nothing to hide, and with no other real alternative to the back up point guard, we're going to have to live with at least 15 minutes of Barea for the rest of this series (and playoffs)

  • Barea aside, the rest of the bench had some very good moments. Peja Stojakovic knocked down some threes and Brendan Haywood grabbed five rebounds and had two blocks in his limited time. I've been really impressed with how Haywood has handled Aldridge and bodied him up so far. This series has shown that Haywood still has the tools and smarts to be a capable defender and his performance in this series when Chandler has been bugged with foul trouble has been absolutely invaluable. He may still not be living up to that contract, but he's playing with a pulse, something we couldn't say just a few weeks ago. Now, about those free throws...

  • Last but not least, I would hope that we don't ever have to read about Shawn Marion not seeing enough fourth quarter minutes. Marion's line won't wow you (14 points, 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds) but the overall contributions add up: three assists, four steals, two blocks and one turnover. Marion had his hands everywhere in this game, from tapping offensive rebounds out to poking the ball away in the post to playing what was easily the best perimeter defense on the night. 96.24 defensive efficiency rating for the Mavs.

Game 6 is Thursday in Portland as for the first time, this series gets two off-days. Interesting to see if how many minutes the starters will get with the extra rest. No soft talk for two straight days! Incredible!

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