Game 4 First Impressions: A Joke. A Choke.

I've been a sportswriter for 29 years. (It was either that or be a plumber.) I've spent most of those 29 years arguing, among other things, against the concept of 'choking.' Twenty-nine years of conviction, flushed down the shitter in 15 Mavs minutes in Portland.



'Team A didn't choke against Team B,'' I've argued with take-it-all-the-way-to-The-Supreme-Court devotion. "Team A lost because it was inferior to Team B.'' Saturday in Portland, the Dallas Mavericks served as Team A -- and Exhibit A -- for how wrong-headed my life-long position has been.

The Dallas Mavericks choked.

""I think we let up a little bit,'' said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle after the improbable 84-82 loss. "I don't think there's any question.''

Sorry, but "let up'' is too polite. "Choke.'' In less refined circles, that's what this is called.

Jason Kidd? "We went to sleep.''

Shawn Marion? "We let our guard down.''

Dirk Nowitzki? "Bleep.''

Me? "Choke.''

"Let up'' and "fell asleep'' and "the dog ate our homework'' is all happy horseshit. This was the Mavs stuffing a sock in their own mouth, a loss going down the wrong tube in an epic way, the geeks at Elias Sports Bureau springing leaks in their ballpoints as they giggled through their "has-this-ever-happened-before?'' research.

The Mavs entered Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, a privately-held feeling of superiority, and late in the third quarter, a 64-41 lead. There is, logically, simply no way a Dirk Nowitzki/Jason Kidd-led team is going to lose a 23-point lead with a quarter-and-change to go in a gotta-win game.

But it happened.

Brandon Roy's incredible fourth quarter (18 of his 24 points) was capped by an improbable go-ahead bank shot with 39 seconds left. Dallas failed to find Nowitzki late, instead relying on Jason Kidd, who in the final moments allowed himself to get pickpocketed for a steal and then followed that up with a way-off 3.

The first-round playoff series is now tied at two games apiece, and Monday's Game 5 is in Dallas. Again, using logic, Dallas has reason to feel justification in being favored – to win that game and to win this series. But Dallas is perpetually a high postseason seed, and in three of the last four springs has been ousted by an underdog in the first round. Include the 2006 NBA Finals collapse at Miami in consideration, and while Mavs players can talk around it, Mavs fans cannot.

Jason Kidd? "We went to sleep.''

Shawn Marion? "We let our guard down.''

Dirk Nowitzki? "Bleep.''

Me? Why are we enveloping this bitter pill in a candy coating?

Choke.

There are precious few other explanations for why Roy, driven to near-tears by the frustration Dallas caused him earlier this week, is able to dominate despite having undergone arthroscopic surgery on both knees in January. Shawn Marion guarding that? It oughta work. … and not for a four-point play that made a huge impact.

Similarily, there are no other explanations for how Dallas could lose a game in which LaMarcus Aldridge was a non-factor and non-scorer for the first 22 minutes of the game. Limit L.A. to 6-of-16 for 18 points? That oughta work.

How does a team gag up a game in which Portland shot a pathetic 25 percent in the first quarter (4-of-16) and bottomed out further in the third quarter when it missed its first 15 field-goal tries?

How could Dallas go away from Nowitzki, held to a for-him-modest 20 points to lead the Mavericks?

"We had everything going there …'' said Dirk.

And then we had nothing.

We saw some record-setting crap here. Portland opened the game by matching the lowest-scoring quarter in franchise playoff history. The 37-35 halftime score was the stuff of 1960's girls high-school basketball. And then came 35 fourth-quarter points from Portland – yeah, as many points in the last quarter as it'd scored in the first two – for the biggest comeback in Portland playoff history. Oh, and Portland's comeback from 18 points down going into the fourth ties the second-largest such deficit overcome in NBA playoff history.

Elias Sports Bureau's ballpoints just had another inkgasm.

Smile

"Sometimes these things happen, and when they do we've got to stay the course, keep playing and move on to the next game,'' Carlisle said. "That's all we can do at this point."

I know some people predicted Portland would win this series. I know some people predicted Dallas would win this series. But right now, the only correct prediction came from anyone who foresaw that it'd be 2-2 because the Mavs got a basketball-sized obstacle lodged in their throats.

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