THE RIGHT START: Before the game, coach Rick Carlisle stressed that the Mavs needed to come out swinging.
"It's going to be a physical game. We have to be ready to hit first." Carlisle stated. "If we don't, we're going to get smashed in the head."
The Mavs lived the message and came out swinging at the bell. Riding an early surge from Roddy Beaubois, who matched (and passed) his season-high in points in the first half for the second consecutive night, Dallas quickly built a lead that would stretch to as much as 18 in the first half.
In the first quarter, Memphis hit only 9-of-23 shots, or 39.1 percent. Things only got worse in the second, as they would hit 6-of-20 (30 percent), for a total of 38 first-half points.
Yet, the Mavs still managed to get "smashed in the head."
ALMOST TOP BILLING: With under 10 seconds to play, we all knew who the Mavs were giving the ball to. Jason Terry is their proclaimed closer, and had contributed eight of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, but there was little doubt it would be Dirk Nowitzki carrying the fate of Dallas' final offensive possession in his hands.
It's stressful and comfortable all at the same time, and we've seen this show before: Dirk catches the ball at the top of the key, lets the blood drip out of the clock, and calmly drifts into his patent-pending One-Legged Euro Fade-Away as the defender (in this case the savvy Shane Battier) stands helpless to alter the course of the shot … and we erupt as the ball finds nothing but net, putting the Mavs up 103-102 with 3.1 seconds to play.
We've seen this, perhaps even come to expect it.
And still, the hammer hovered above waiting to "smash" down. …
Zach Randolph is a known thorn in the side of the Mavs. Whatever the reason, Dallas continues to falter in its attempts to find a consistent method of deterring him. With 3.1 seconds remaining, and the ball finding its way into his hands, suddenly comfort was a scarce commodity in the AAC … for good reason.
Z-Bo scored nine of his game-high 27 points in the final period, none with more weight than the shot that arced over Brendan Haywood's outstretched hand and slipped with an arena silence-inducing rip … banishing the eruption of cheers from the AAC crowd only moments earlier when Dirk had drained his apparent game-winner.
"He (Randolph) was kicking our ass," Carlisle said later. "He's active, and we just didn't do a good job."
There was 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock, but the hammer had fallen, and Dallas had been smashed in the head. Jason Terry would badly miss a desperation heave – Dallas' first option appeared to be a back-door alley-oop lob to Shawn Marion but Memphis took that away -- and the game was lost. For the first time in their history, Memphis had taken the season series from the Mavs (3-1 … with two of the wins coming by one point).
"That was definitely higher than I normally shoot it," Randolph said. "I can hit a lot of shots like that. I felt comfortable when I released it. So, I felt real comfortable with the shot."
He certainly does seem to hit a lot of them against Dallas. And thanks to this, the Grizzlies can be added to that (silly?) list of bottom-rung West playoff contenders someone will insist "Dallas doesn't want to play in the first round.''
ACTUAL TOP BILLING: Carlisle sold all of us short (certainly the DB.com Mavs Premium Member) by reminding that the final few seconds of the game we not the true determining factor.
"The whole game,'' Rick said, "is the third quarter. … "The magnifying glass goes on the last play, but it shouldn't. It should go on the third quarter."
Coach, we know that. We were there.
For all of the emotion of the final seconds, this game was lost in the third quarter. Leading up to that moment, the Dallas defense had rediscovered itself and made life difficult on the Grizzlies.
The third brought a new ballgame. … and an old bugaboo.
Mike Conley and Randolph scored 12 points each in the period, and Memphis crushed all signs of Dallas' first-half defensive respectability for 41 points in the quarter on 18-of-25 shooting (72 percent).
"(In the third) we didn't take the challenge at either end," Carlisle said. "The whole game is the third quarter. You give up 41 points, turn it over six times, and basically don't take the challenge – you get what you deserve. That's really the bottom line."
Was it only six turnovers? We noticed in the third Dirk Nowitzki angrily gesturing at teammates after every lazy pass, sloppy catch and absent-minded move … and he angrily gestured way more than six times.
Dallas allowed 38 points in the entire first half and ruined it by allowing 41 in one quarter.
In 12 minutes, memories of a strong first 24 were washed away … and the loss was invited in.
It's certainly Jason Kidd's view that this was a team loss ... He talks about that and more ...
CRUNCHING NUMBERS: Here's your Happy-Face note:
*The Mavs have lost twice in 20 games. Both came after losing fat leads, yes, but both losses also came on unlikely desperation makes, from Afflalo in Denver and from Randolph here.
* Dirk put up 23 points beside 26 from Terry. The Mavs had been 20-2 when at least two players scored 20-or-more points. They had also been 34-2 when reaching the century mark in scoring.
We can add a loss to each of those totals.
*The Mavs blew a primo chance to make hay in the West. As it stands, the Spurs have a 5.5 lead on No. 2 Dallas, which has a one-game edge on No. 3 LA.
*Oh, and the early record-setting that made it seem like a positive tone was being set? The Mavericks upped their NBA record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer to an even 1,000, and Jason Kidd took over No. 3 on the NBA's career steals list, breaking a tie with Gary Payton.
QUOTEBOARD: "It could've gone either way down the stretch, and they made a good play to win it. But it shouldn't have come down to that." – Dirk Nowitzki.
Stay tuned for more McKinneyDentist.com Quoteboard coming up … but for now, Dirk's locker-room presser:
MAVSELLANEOUS: A neat sight to see: We snuck a peek behind the Mavs' locker room before the game and there was Caron Butler, engaged in a full-out weight-lifting session. Upper-body stuff, work involving his knee. Maybe? … There was no crying in the Dallas locker room, that job having already been claimed by the Miami locker room … The Mavs losing a one-point game? That's one for the ages, kids. … Said Dirk: "That's what happens sometimes if you give up big leads all the time - at some point, it's going to come back to bite you.'' … The swing: Memphis trailed 55-38 at the half but opened the third on a 42-23 run ... The Grizzlies ended the Mavericks' eight-game win streak and the Mavericks' nine-game home winning streak. … Jason Terry is averaging 24.2 points per game over the last five … Said Mavs owner Mark Cuban of his team playing four games in five days, followed by a game against the Lakers: "That's crazy. Are you kidding me?'' Well, sir, we'd have more sympathy had your team handled the one it should've handed and not lost an 18-point lead at home. … Z-Bo quote: "This game was important. The Mavericks are one of the best teams in the league. It is real important that we showed we can compete with Dallas and come here and compete.''
DOUBLE-DOUBLES: That is unofficially the least effective double-double of Shawn Marion's career. Yes, 10 points and 12 rebounds, but … well, maybe we're expecting him to make more of those bunnies.
Meanwhile, a trio of Grizz put numbers together, Zach Randolph with 27/9, Marc Gasol with 16/10 and Mike Conley with 11 points and 11 boards for Memphis.
HELP DEFENSE, BUT …: Before Randolph's upstaged Dirk's big shot, there was one small play that could have been huge, if not for the bounce of the ball.
Brendan Haywood, who was forced into 38:46 of playing time with Ian Mahinmi fouling out in just nine minutes (and of course with Tyson Chandler out with the ankle problem), made a nice help-out block (one of six for Haywood) that could have helped seal the victory … only the ball fell straight into the waiting hands of Shane Battier, who quickly put it back up for the score, thus setting the stage for Dirk's last second heroics that weren't meant to stand.
Haywood had an eventful night. To the untrained eye, he seemed to play with energy for the majority of the night, including battling with Randolph and keeping him from finding an early rhythm.
Big Wood would finish with five points, eight rebounds and six blocks.
But when Carlisle noted that Randolph "kicked our ass'' … it almost felt like the coach was saying that Randolph kicked the ass of the guy who was mostly responsible for guarding him.
Memphis scored 66 points in the paint. We suppose that's everybody's fault.
AND HERE'S THE ‘BUT': There's enough second-guessing to go around for everybody here. And there is enough personnel depth to feed the second-guessing.
Here goes, offense then defense:
Offense: Roddy B scored 15 points in under 11 minutes during the first half, and in what is already becoming an all-too-familiar event, would play only four minutes more.
It is only his eighth game back from an extended time away with injury (is his stamina still an issue?), and Roddy B turned in his best performance since his return, with 12 of his 15 points and seven of his 14 minutes coming in the first period. The speed and athleticism we longed for in his absence was on full display. And, for the first time this season, he would find his way to the free-throw line … where he would total a career-high five attempts, making three.
He finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 attempts, with two steals and one assist in 14:34 minutes of action. He looked damn-near un-guardable to us. And, we think, to Memphis, too.
Did he commit a turnover that caused him to be chained to the bench again? Did he do something lazy or stupid? Because if that's the crime and that's the punishment, no Mav should've been allowed to survive after that third quarter.
We saw plenty of evidence of Roddy B last year as a "point-a-minute'' guy. This weekend, we saw it both outings. And then we saw him spend virtually both second halves as a towel-waver.
Roddy B himself seems to accept this better than we do …
"For sure you really want to be on the floor when you get off to such a good start, and try to help the team win the game," Beaubois said. "But we've got a lot of tough players that can play. There's never a bad (coaching choice), so we need to share for each other."
Let's make this real clear: We're not asking that Roddy B get "crunch-time minutes.''
Just minutes. Of any sort.
Defense: Previously, we mentioned that the wealth of depth on this team (in particular the addition of Brewer) would open Carlisle to additional avenues of critique for his handling of minutes. In that vein:
In addition to being forced to ask why Roddy B can dominate early, contributing the third-most points (15) in the game, and still not manage to crack 15 minutes of playing time …
We're also left to wonder if things could have been different if either of the two players with reputations for being defensive stoppers (DeShawn Stevenson and Corey Brewer) had left the bench in the final minute when the game was being stopped between every possession by timeouts … making offensive and defensive substitutions possible.
That Battier lay-in? It occurred because Haywood had to jump out to help (and block) a shot by O.J. Mayo. Why? Because the 6-4 Mayo had easily shed himself of defender Jason Terry to earn a temporarily open look.
If Mayo doesn't get away from Jet, Haywood doesn't have to help … and Battier isn't free underneath for the garbage catch.
Jason Terry was left on the floor to guard O.J. Mayo?
Honestly, this isn't second-guessing. We wondered it on press row twice when Rick opted to skip the idea of a "defensive platoon'' and left Dirk and Jet on the floor in the final seconds.
Wouldn't DeShawn on O.J. and 6-9 Corey (instead of Dirk) on 6-9 Darrell Arthur been a superior matchup opportunity?
THE FINAL WORD: Now all involved will try to shake off having been "smashed in the head" on the opening night of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch and await a rebound performance Monday when the Mavs travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves and Kevin Love (who has a chance to post his 51st consecutive double-double).
"It's on the schedule,'' Carlisle said, "so we've got to play."