Sunday, February 12, 2012
Saturday night the Dallas Mavericks slugged out a double-overtime victory against a spry Portland Trailblazers squad, 97-94, making one thing perfectly clear: any talk of this team being too old, too slow, too impotent to defend the 2011 NBA Championship is unfounded and premature. Reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki drilled the dagger in the second OT after newcomer Delonte West started the second extra session with Dallas' first six points to put the Mavs on the inside track to a win. In front of a go-crazy crowd, the Mavs matched the noise in the AAC with a playoff-like victory, intense and down to the wire.
Yes, some of the faces are difference, but the outcomes are incredibly similar to last season. Rather than J.J. Barea serving as the spark plug this season, West has brought a increased level of toughness while presenting a constant scoring threat. His play at point guard isn't at a level of Jason Kidd -- to be fair, throughout the history of the game, few have ever performed at that level -- however, West has been able to set up scorers in position to finish when the moment demands it. Saturday against Portland, West called his own number, sinking three jump shots from the left elbow extended as Dallas pulled out in front in the second overtime.
Jason Kidd's long-awaited return from injury may have been the pregame focus, but West played the entire second overtime period, forcing his way into the post-game headlines.
And that one constant? The one thing that makes you realize this team is and will be just as dangerous as it was last season and in years past? The Big German who drilled the game-winner. He had a chance in regulation to put away Portland on the game's final shot, but Nowitzki hit the back iron, sending the game to overtime. In double OT, Dirk got another look and didn't disappoint. As long as he is there to take the final shot, the Mavs are capable of putting away any opponent. With each attempt to end the game, Dirk spins and falls away, hitting a shot that suckers fans into thinking "not a chance," an off-balance big man fading away on one foot. And more often than not it seems, the result is a beautiful bucket.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers with 33 points, and late in the game, Mavs big man Brendan Haywood seemed overmatched trying to stop Aldridge by himself. Dallas stayed the course and worked to deny the Blazers' big the ball in overtime. In the extra 10 minutes, he took five shots, making two, after going 12-for-21 in regulation (57%).
Another constant for Dallas over the last five years, Jason Eugene Terry, a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year led the Mavs off the bench with 19 points and played most of the extra 10 minutes. JET scored eight of his 19 in the 4th quarter to keep Dallas afloat after the Mavs blew what had been an 11 point halftime lead.
Even Lamar Odom, often criticized for ostensibly wishing he was back in LA rather than hustling down the court for Dallas, got in on the action, nailing a three-pointer in the 4th quarter to buoy the Mavs' chances of success. He did not, however, play in overtime. Neither did another newcomer in Vince Carter.
When the Mavericks acquired Odom, Carter and West before the season, the back up point guard might have been the most overlooked of the three, but throughout this year he has performed the most consistently for Dallas. Head Coach Rick Carlisle entrusted the guard to lead the Mavs in the second overtime, and Dallas outscored the Trail Blazers 10-7 in the period to a seal a big win over a playoff-bound Western Conference foe. With the Mavericks up by three and Portland bringing the ball up with a chance to force a third OT, it was West's smothering defense on Jamal Crawford that forced an errant three-pointer to end the game.
As for Nowitzki, he simply continued to do what we all know he can do, what we all know he will do: knock down the shot the Mavs need to close things out. As long as he is here, Dallas will always have a shot.