FOLLOWILL 5: Press-Row Preview Of Game 2

After two days of cussing and discussing, watching the rest of the great first weekend of games, re-watching the game on the DVR, crunching numbers and hearing some sudden ‘expertism' on the Mavs, I figured it was time to weigh in on what I see as the definitive word on went down Saturday night. … and what happens next.

1 The Whistles: The biggest story coming out of game 1 is Nate McMillan's post game rant on officiating. Now, Nate is doing what any coach would do; he's working the system, lobbying for his team and I'm sure that if the calls go his way going forward he'll feel the $35,000 fine was worth it.

However …

I'd love to sit down with Nate or anyone and watch the fourth quarter of G1. I've done it three times since the game and here's the rundown on the fouls:
*Dirk fouled on a drive to the basket
*Dirk fouled on jump shot in the paint (hit on the wrist by Rudy Fernandez
*Jason Terry drives baseline, pulls a CP3 and gets a defender to run up behind him (Roy). At worst for Dallas a no-call, certainly not an offensive foul as some have suggested.
*Dirk fouled on a back-door cut to the basket
*Dirk fouled out on the floor by Gerald Wallace, definitely a debatable call, a non-shooting foul but the fifth of the quarter.
*Dirk fouled on another back cut to the hoop
*Dirk gets an and-one on jumper on the paint
*Terry fouled on a drive by Andre Miller
*Jet and Dirk fouled intentionally late in the game for the last four free throws.

So the key words you see about most of those plays, "to the basket,'' "in the paint,'' "driving.'' For the first time in the game, the Mavs were consistently aggressive and other than a couple of those fouls there
really is no argument. Meanwhile Portland's fourth quarter featured jump shots, some they made, some were forced up late in the shot clock and they missed and Portland hit some shots around the basket where the Dallas defense frankly wasn't in much of a position to commit a foul.

I've seen the pro-Blazers video that Fish has in the Mavs Morning Donuts and we all know that every game a video can be made to make a case on calls. The thing to remember about basketball and officiating is that basketball is not a non-contact sport. The question about contact is, "Is it marginal or illegal?"

Games are not officiated in super slo-mo and still frames, either, so at the end of the day, I guess this is nothing we haven't seen before. One team and their fans are pissed and complain after a loss and if it works they get a win because of it then I guess some enterprising MFFL who reads can make a YouTube video after Game 2, depending on how Danny Crawford's crew blows those whistles.

2 D-Steve: Since there seems to be some discussion as to the merits of starting Stevenson let's kick that around. I think anyone who closely watched the first two months of the season and the last two months of the season knows what this is about.

The Mavs played their best basketball in the first two months of the season and Stevenson's defensive presence, his outside shooting were not small contributors to that, not to mention he played well enough to solidify the rotation. Then of course things went south for three weeks with injuries, Dirk came back and Stevenson while not shooting nearly as well then continued to hold down the spot in what we
almost agreed was as a stopgap until Roddy B returned.

When Roddy B came back, again the almost universal opinion was that the Mavs needed to get him ready for the playoffs because of what we saw last year. So Roddy B's the starter, Terry gets his normal dose of minutes and the rest of the 2-guard minutes are sprinkled amongst Barea and Stevenson.

So fast-forward to the last week of the season. Roddy B, for whatever reason, hasn't worked
out -- too raw, last year was a fluke, teams were more prepared for him, he isn't as explosive because of the foot, who knows. All possibilities and probably best debated another time … but what isn't debatable is Roddy B as a starter and winning in the playoffs didn't seem like a mix.

As Rick said after the Hornets finale, "It was time." He rode with the kid as long as he possibly could, some might say too long, until it was obviously time to pull the plug. The Mavs went back to Stevenson as the starter, a move I was on the record as liking, before Game 1. So what did he do? He hit a couple of early shots and drew a second foul on Wesley Matthews … and the Blazers'second-leading scorer never recovered from that. And D-Steve helped set a tone of defense, toughness, grit etc in a game where those elements were clearly needed to win.

Was he perfect? Of course not. But they don't need him to be perfect, they need 15-20 minutes of tone-setting toughness, hard-nosed, don't-back-down defense and smart shots and decisions on offense.

Anyone in tune with the team this year should know why Stevenson was there to begin with, why they went away from it and now why it was time to go back to it.

3 Number-Crunching: As was discussed in my series preview here, Portland plays the slowest game in the league and so it was no surprise that the Mavs-Blazers turned out to be the lowest possession game of the first weekend. There were 83 possessions; the other games were high 80s to mid 90s. The pace was definitely in Portland's favor; however, the Mavs played that pace successfully (at least in the second and fourth quarters). In addition, Dallas' defense posted the second-best defensive efficiency of the
opening weekend allowing .976 points per possession, compared to Boston's .966.

I still think the Mavs are better served by trying to increase the pace in spots… using the flow game.

4 Statistical Anomalies: A lot has been made of Jason Kidd's six made 3s and not to expect that to happen again (fair point) and of Portland going 2-for-16 on 3s and not to expect that again either (also a fair point).

However there are ton of them on both sides and how those even out to the norm will obviously play a big role going forward. Dallas shot an incredibly poor 7-of-23 from inside of 10 feet. Terry-Marion-Barea-Chandler, who average 48 combined a game, managed only 24 combined. Gerald Wallace, who has been on a tear as a starter, managed only eight points. The aforementioned Wesley Matthews was 14 points off his average. Dallas, which shot well over 47% for the season, shot only 41%.

I could go on, but both teams had areas where they exceeded expectations and failed to meet expectations. So how that corrects to the norm going forward will of course bear watching.

5 Key Plays: I thought there were a couple of key swings in the fourth quarter, down 72-66 Jason Kidd threw the ball away to Gerald Wallace. With a fast break developing, Brandon Roy fumbled a pass out of bounds and the Blazers missed a chance to go up 8. The dead ball brought about the under six minute timeout w/ 5:47 to go, a timeout which Dallas needed to regroup.

Out of the timeout, Jason Kidd hit, of all things, a stepback jumper. And Dallas' run started. Rick said after the game he thought the key play was Dirk's 3 that put the Mavs up 75-74 and I bring this up because it leads me to something I have thought about all year.

Dirk is shooting more corner 3s and fortunately I finally found evidence. NBA Hotspots has not been updated with a shot chart this year but NBA Stats Cube does have one and I'll be damned there was my proof.

In the last two years, Dirk shot a total of 10 corner 3s, making 2 of them. This year, he is 21-of-38 on corner 3s ... including a huge one the other night.

I'm still sticking with my feelings about how pivotal Game 2 is. It won't be an easy win. Portland has had two days to stew over how they felt they were wronged in game one. They'll be mad and they'll come out looking to hit first. If the Mavs can hit back and beat Portland in that type of game then I feel great about where their heads are and the series going forward. Remember, all of our games are on TXA21 (8:30 tip tonight) and covered like a blanket here on!

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