Before we forget everything we thought we knew about these two teams from when Dallas was up 2-0 …
What we wanted to know at 2-0:
The first two games of the series left us with two major strategic questions entering last weekend in Portland:
1 Would Portland continue to pack in the lane or will they begin to challenge the shooters?
2 Could Portland figure out a way to keep Lamarcus Aldridge involved in crunch time?
The answer to the first question is yes… and no.
The Trailblazers are still content to pack in the defense and force the Mavs to shoot from distance, but only after the ball is thrown inside. It is a subtle, but important, difference.
In Games 1 and 2, Portland was consciously laying back, trying to prevent drives and post-entry passes. This strategy forced Dallas to hit from outside, and hit they did.
But things have changed since the buzzer sounded and the Mavs packed a 2-0 series lead into their carry-ons and headed for Rip City.
Coach Nate McMillan's guys have amped up the defensive pressure by using, particularly against J-Kidd, a full-court press. They have also changed their doctrine of going under screens. In the first two games Blazers were constantly caught underneath a Dallas screener, but since the series re-located to Portland they have been much more physical in negotiating the screens.
The combination of these small changes puts a lot of pressure on the Mavericks' wings and guards on the perimeter. While that high pressure defense is being applied outside the interior is almost being zoned off until a drive or an entry pass is made, at which time the Portland defenders all sink back into the paint in an attempt to force the ball back outside.
The difference is night and day:
As for keeping Aldridge involved? They haven't. In fact he has become an afterthought to the sterling play of Brandon Roy, but we'll get to that in a minute. We still contend that in order to win this series, Portland and Coach McMillan will need to find a way to help LaMarcus be more effective in winning time.
Something Portland has had success with is a deep wing screen-and-roll between Miller and Aldridge:
This play has very nearly always resulted in a basket for the Blazers. If the big hedges up or switches Miller has been able to cross over and get to the rim or find Aldridge on the roll, and if he doesn't Miller has been able to turn the corner and hit 10-to-12 foot jumpers. We might see Dallas begin to trap the dribbler in these situations. However, that does put a lot of pressure on the Mavs to rotate quickly and effectively.
What happened to make it 2-2?
So how did Dallas lose these two games that we all think they "should have won''? We've already chronicled what happened at the end of Game 3in our Video Donut:
We stand by that sentiment. The Mavs should have won the game despite big-time performances from Brandon Roy, Andre Miller and Wes Matthews. It was there for the taking in the easiest way to "take'' a game. The free-throw line.
There is one thing we'd like to point out that, we think, negatively impacted Game 4: the play of Jason Terry.
His almost-other-worldly, super-efficient play in G3 did not carry over into G4, and neither did his attitude of "playing within the game'' and not forcing the action.
Sometimes Terry hitting a good shot can be like a gateway drug; he sees the ball go through the net and he does whatever he can to get that feeling again and again, often at the expense of his teammates. Check out the following video to see a sampling of the kinds of shots Jet was taking, and making, early in Game 3, and then you'll see that the same shots were being forced in Game 4 … he just happened to miss them.
The Mavs need Jet to go back to being that calm, cool, and collected player they saw in G's 1 and 2, not the over-anxious shot-hunter that plagued them late in G4. (Interestingly, in addition to the numbers that suggest the Mavs are more likely to lose when Terry scores, they are 1-5 in playoff games when he has five or more assists since 06-07).
There is an old saying that goes, "Everything that can go wrong, will.'' Well, on Saturday afternoon, starting with around two minutes left in the third, "everything" did just that to the Mavericks. From unforced turnovers, forced shots, bad defense, blown replay calls (again, and here's wishing good thoughts for tonights zebras Scott Foster/John Goble/Tom Washington ), all the way to the improbable Brandon Roy "Terms of Endearment'' sequel.
Let us address a couple of the questions that were asked in the wake of that debacle:
1 How did Dirk only get three shots?
In some cases he was too unselfish, and in others the mentality of his teammates was just plain wrong. Dallas needs the "Demanding Dirk'' as opposed to the "Deferential Dirk.''
2 Coach Carlisle claims that Dallas has game-planned against the All-Star version of Brandon Roy. We pretty much know this to not be true, to actually be Rick offering polite praise of Roy.
In all seriousness, if they did have a gameplan for Roy in Game 4, they didn't even try to execute it.
If in our clips you saw any discernable plan, other than let Roy work in isolation, please let us (and Carlisle) know.
The Mavs saw him take over in Game 3, and again in G4. His confidence, shot after playing just eight scoreless minutes in G2, is skyrocketing. The Mavs better have an actual gameplan for him tonight, even as they hope they don't need it.
So what now? What can Dallas do to get back in the win column?
*Solve the press. Dallas has to adjust to the full-court pressure being applied to J-Kidd and JJ Barea. Maybe some Big Wood picks in the backcourt. … something to upstage Portland's own disruption.
*Get the "flow" back. Quit forcing the ball to Shawn Marion. Dallas won two games without him scoring; why mess with what works? Quit letting Jason Terry "hunt" for shots. A good rule-of-thumb set for Jet should be, "Catch and shoot, catch and pass, or drive and dish.'' Please no more contested one-dribble pull-ups.
*Find Kidd and Peja more open looks. These guys are not missing, at all. Peja is shooting a tropical 43.5% (10-23) from three and J-Kidd is hitting at a down-right Saharan 48% (14-29). More please. But note our phrasing (especially with Kidd): They must be OPEN looks.
*Continue to keep Aldridge in check. Dallas has done an excellent job throughout the series, and must continue to do so. … if possible without Tyson Chandler picking up needless touch-fouls early.
*Remind Brandon Roy that he isn't supposed to be able to win games anymore. If confidence can rise, confidence can sink. We're not advocates of dirty play, but Roy has repeatedly waltzed through the lane at the ends of games and scored easy buckets and has paid no price. Hard fouls. Dallas has multiple big bodies. Use them. Oh, and the full-court pressure being applied to Kidd that might be wearing him down? Return that favor to Roy.
Before the series, we believed Dallas was the better team. After two games, the belief was reinforced. Then came two games that Dallas lost as much as Portland won. (And the emotional thoughts that go with that, as illustrated by the suggestion that the series is over because they're "The Same Ol' Mavs'' and that heads are about to roll.) Can Roy pitch two more perfect games? Is Tyson Chandler prepared to be a non-factor in a home game? Will Dallas find ways to ride Dirk Nowitzki?
Reviewing the tapes of all four games demonstrates reasons for us to believe the Mavs (with home-court advantage in what is now a best-of-three series) are the superior team.
The big question now vaults beyond "Coach ‘Em Up'' and video analysis. The big question now, is do they believe it?
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