Only four times in NBA history has a defending champion lost the first two games of a playoff series the next year they took the court.
But unless those other three teams lost two games by a combined four points, no one’s experienced more anguish and dismay than the Dallas Mavericks have in the last 48-72 hours.
After trailing by as much as 16 points at one point during yesterday’s game, Dallas once again showed the resiliency of a champion as they chipped the lead down point by point, and eventually took the lead in the third quarter by getting to the basket and drawing fouls.
Even when Dirk Nowitzki took his occasional three and four-minute breathers, the Mavs continued to get to the rim, earn trips to the free-throw line and stole the life out of the OKC crowd for a good majority of the second half.
But what’s been the motto for Dallas during a good portion of this season?
They can’t close games. And once again, the defending champs couldn’t do that last night.
Now, I’ve said that a lot over the last month or so. If this team wants to get where they wish to be, then they have to close. There’s no other way around it. By looking at this team, you don’t see many weaknesses.
But the biggest one of them all is closing games—something they were really good at last year.
Remember when it was mentioned earlier that Dallas was getting to the rim with ease in the beginning of the second half? Well, the Mavs had eight attempts within five feet in the third quarter compared to only six shots from 20-plus feet, the only make coming on a corner three-pointer from Shawn Marion.
At the end of the third, the Mavs trailed by two points and were in prime position to win the game and get the split of the best-of-seven series heading back to Dallas.
But then, the fourth quarter happened. Brace yourselves, because the fourth quarter shot chart may shock you.
In the final 12-minute period, the Mavs took five shots within five feet, and made four of them. But from outside 20 feet, Dallas took 10 shots—and made only one.
If you’re not good at math, that’s a decline of 70 percent.
You read that right. The only shot that Dallas made in the final period from the perimeter was a three-pointer from Jason Terry with 9:48 left. From that point on, anybody wearing a blue jersey that had “Dallas” on it couldn’t hit anything from the broadside of a barn from the perimeter.
Have you ever heard the old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Could someone please come up with a fathomable excuse as to why the number of shots from the perimeter doubled the amount from inside five feet?
Every time Jason Kidd threw up a three-pointer, each Dallas fan opened their chest and squeezed their heart in disbelief until they couldn’t breathe. If you were wondering, the future Hall of Famer went 0-for-5 from the three-point line in the second half.
Forget the fact that Dirk put up 31 points and did everything he could to give Dallas a chance to win. The better question is, why did it take almost four minutes before he took his next shot?
Nowitzki’s last make was a layup with 5:11 to go. The next time he took a shot in the fourth quarter, he missed that wide-open three-pointer that would’ve given Dallas a four-point lead and put the game out of reach. That came with just over a minute left in the game.
I’ll let you figure that out.
There aren’t many teams in the league that can turn the ball over three less times and take 32 free-throw attempts throughout the game. Unless the team they face takes 39 free-throw attempts. So the message is clear—get to the line, and stop settling for jump shots. It was obviously working for OKC, and at certain points, it was working for Dallas.
Until they decided that it was broken and didn’t bother to fix it.
The odd phenomenon about this series so far is that it’s not Kevin Durant beating Dallas—it’s Russell Westbrook, with a jump shot that’s polished better than a pair of penny loafers.
This series has a sense of us all in the Twilight Zone.
Now the Mavs head to the American Airlines Center in an unquestionable must-win situation. It’s not a must-win because of the fact that they’re down 2-0, because I’m still led to believe that this series is far from over.
But if this team can’t display the same type of closing mentality that they developed last year, the type of mentality that made them champions, then this will indeed be over quick.
Dallas has until Thursday to get that mentality back.
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