DONUT 1: LOVING YOUR ‘BOYS IN BLUE'
Dallas fans have been cautious with their hearts and guarded with their optimism, but that excitement is approaching levels increasingly impossible to contain.
Let yourself go, people.First, c'mon into Victory Tunnel with DB.com:
With their 98-92 victory over the Lakers Friday night, Dallas is rendering the notion of perceived implausibility obsolete as they stake claim to a 3-0 series lead.
Is this the way it was supposed to happen?
People are questioning the "clutchness" of Kobe Bryant, his arrogant finger-wagging turning into unintentional self-parody. Andrew Bynum has had his way for stretches, but been unable to stem the rising tide of a defense that constricts in the game's biggest moments, or impede an offense that clicks into its highest gear at those same times, all while he mistrusts his team's level of trust. On a night when Spanish golf great Seve Ballesteros died, a big hunk of Spanish basketball great Pau Gasol's reputation passed away, too.
Meanwhile, the world has begun to see what most of us in Dallas have known for some time … this Dirk Nowitzki guy is pretty good and "The UberMan'' nickname is more than a t-shirt. Oh, and his teammates have made a fairly convincing argument that your "Same Ol' Mavs'' cynicism is as tired as as the act of the front-running DFW Lakers fans who failed to show up in droves to compete with the AAC-record 21,168 Mavs fans who uncharacteristically banded together for a Sea of Blue.
Let yourself dream, people. … Dream as big as your Dallas Mavericks are playing.
DONUT 2: THE TOP STORY
Your Dallas Mavericks are now up 3-0 on the back-to-back defending champions. Despite headlines that continue to be drawn to what has been accepted as a bigger story, the collapse of the Lakers, the Mavs have pressed on in taking this series.First, look for yourself at the highlights, courtesy of your league:
You can read volumes on how the Lakers are "giving this away.''
What say you, Phil JackZen? "If we come back and play the same way, we're going to win a another game. We played too well to lose.''
And you, The Drama Queen? "I might be sick in the head or crazy, because I think we're still going to win the series. I might be nuts."
And you, Shannon Brown? You say you "beat yourselves''?
(Our buddy Ben Rogers popped the Question of the Night when he responded to Brown's claim that LA is "beating itself'' by asking, "Is it possible to ‘sweep yourself'?''
There is no denying that The Decline of Western (Conference) Civilization is a major storyline. Just one wrinkle: This figures to be an awful way for JackZen to go out (though he'll have 11 rings and Jeanie to cheer him).
Still, as you sift through all the Lakers-centric crap, a realization must dawn on you … and maybe even dawn on outside observers, too: Could it be possible the Lakers are appearing to "give this away" because the Mavs are taking it from them? Go right down the LA roster, and start with Kobe: Which Laker isn't being outplayed, or at least matched, by his opposite number in blue?
There's still one game to go, meaning this series could be far from over … though 98 times in NBA history a team has gone up 3-0 and all 98 times that team has settled things as the victors. But you can't deny the beauty stretching out before you from this vantage point. So we say it again, before we get to the players and the X's-and-O's, swept up in 21,000 people chanting "Beat LA!'' as we are:
Perhaps it's time to make vulnerable your hearts again, to invest in your hopes once more as tangible currency.
And, as we do so, the Mavs themselves must embrace the opportunity they've earned, and not see it as anything that's been handed to them.
"We're not good enough to coast or relax or anything," Dirk said. "We've got to go for it on Sunday with the same hype from the crowd."
We bet The UberMan gets that wish in Sunday's 2:30 start for Game 4. This team has earned that.DONUT 3: PLAYER OF THE GAME With the shining lights that surround any encounter with these Lakers, Dirk is quickly becoming more than the jewel of Dallas sports. He's becoming a national commodity. Charles Barkley may have shoved the ball rolling, but other eyes are being pulled this way … and finding the majesty in what we've seen for some time now. Dirk Nowitzki is more than a good player. He's a great player. The days of him being compared to Pau (always insulting in this corner) are done. Comparisions to The Black Mamba are now in order. (The White Mamba?) With 32 points on an extremely efficient 12-of-19 shooting and nine rebounds, this was The UberMan's game from the start. Note his 11 points in the opening quarter … and then for fun, while you are justing "Closers,'' his nine in the final frame. Late, when much of the team had fallen into a rut of settling for long, and often contested jumpers, it was Dirk who reasserted himself … both inside and out. He pushed his team, with some help from a suddenly red-hot Peja Stojakovic, over the final hump standing between an eight-point deficit with 7:05 to play and the victory. "It was a slugfest game, we were down eight, with six or eight minutes left, but we hung in there and kept battling," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Dirk Nowitzki made it happen. Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a direct result of him either scoring the ball or making a play to get somebody a shot or make a pass for an assist for a three or a two or whatever it was." Dirk stands … and he's not alone … finally. DONUT 4: THE SERBIAN SNIPER We've already tipped our hand as to our vote for "The Dirkie.'' You go ahead and vote your own conscience, though, because Peja deserves some polling-booth attention. Through three quarters Peja Stojakovic had four points and had struggled to find his shot, hitting only one of his five attempts, including 0-of-3 behind the arc. We noted at the time that Dallas' strategy in utilizing The Peja Presence was proper ... and that if "Stoyo'' was hitting, the Mavs would be in command of the first half. It wasn't happening. But eventually, against these same Lakers that crushed and then haunted the dreams of some very good Sacramento teams of which he was a part, Peja emerged from that shadow to blossom in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 deadly launches behind the arc … and he was the one placing the heavy foot on the Lakers' exposed throat, helping to fuel a 20-7 run to close out the game. "I can't think about (it being those Lakers)," Peja said. "It's been nine years ago. The Lakers are champions, they are led by Kobe, and they were led by Kobe back then … I guess if you want to achieve something, you know, you've got to go through the best, and the Lakers, the last three years, are really playing the best basketball, they won two championships in a row." Peja was pressed, and he didn't always conceal the grin lingering beneath, but he wouldn't take the bait. "This (game) is over. Get ready for Sunday's game." Peja said. "Be focused, I think bring even more intensity." He's just one in a chorus of Mavs saying the right things. And like the others, just one unable to always hide what's rising within. The chance to put away the Lakers will soon be at hand, this Sunday, and this team doesn't want to give a single breath to their drowning hopes. We should note this, though: When Peja exited the game in favor of defensive sub Shawn Marion in the final moments, Peja initiated an embrace between the two that is the most emotional thing we've ever seen him do. So RoboPeja isn't fooling us.
DONUT 5: THE JET AS FIGHTER PLANE
Peja had 11 in the fourth. Dirk put up nine. Right there with them, sinking all four of what were easily the most pressure filled free throws of this season, was Jason Terry … and, interestingly enough, Terry tied with Brendan Haywood, Dirk and Pau Gasol with the most fourth-quarter rebounds at three.
Much like Dirk, Terry set the tone early by attacking the rim on his first offensive touch, quickly earning two free throws. This wasn't the Jet hunting for and finding contested jumpers that may destroy the "flow" of the Dallas offense.
No, this was a fighter plane launching precision-guided missiles. This was the Terry that makes this team much better.
He finished with 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-4 behind the arc and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line … to go with two steals.
With the struggles of his recent playoff past, it's hard not to feel good about every solid performance Terry throws out there.
Through nine games in these playoffs, he is now averaging 16.8 points on 49.1-percent shooting, with a 38.2-percent conversion rate from 3-point distance and a PER hanging around 20 … a far cry from the painful three of the past four postseasons.
DONUT 6: NUMBERS-CRUNCHING
*No team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series in NBA history, though, in 2003, the Mavs needed seven games to close out the Blazers after quickly jumping to a 3-0 series lead … just one more reminder to this team that the series isn't over until that fourth game is won.
*The Dallas bench owned a 42-15 scoring advantage, an extension of what in the series is a 112-42 edge. Moving Lamar Kardashian into the starting lineup (because Artest keeps swinging his Citizenship Trophy into people's noses, chins and necks) means 57 percent of LA's bench scoring during the series is shifted elsewhere.
With Kidd contributing 11 points (and nine assists), the Mavs benefitted from the sort of balanced contributions that Carlisle has touted all season long. In fact, Dallas is now 5-0 when at least four players score in double-figures.
*Kobe Bryant surpassed Shaquille O'Neal to move into third place on the all-time postseason scoring list … though we doubt he's in the mood to ask Shaq how his a** tastes.
*The Mavs are now winners of five straight postseason games.
*The Lakers outscored the Mavs in the paint by a brutal margin of 56-20. That hurts to even type. ... but in a sense, it must hurt the Lakers even more. In those final minutes, guided by Bryant, LA went away from trying to use Bynum and company inside. Instead, Bryant went into familiar hero-mode ... and his failure was familiar, too, as "The Closer'' didn't score in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game.
DONUT 7: QUOTEBOARD
*"We played hard and we just gave it away at the end." -- Andrew Bynum.
*We have a long way to go, and getting one more game from Los Angeles is going to be a lot of hard work, and we're going to have to stay humble and stay hungry." - Rick Carlisle.
*"No time to celebrate yet, because the hunger is still there. I'll let you know when the meal is done.'' -- Shawn Marion to DB.com, as the clock turned to midnight and he began the Saturday celebration of his 32nd birthday.
More 'Trix, with the media at-large:
DONUT 8: YOU AS 'THE SEA OF BLUE'
The fans -- you know, y'all -- definitely deserve some credit here. This was easily the loudest crowd of the season, and a vast majority of them rolled with the "blue-out" theme. The "Beat L.A." chants near the end of the game were something to behold (behear?), as 21,156 fans belted it out in complete unison. The players and coaches noticed, as did we. It was hard not to get swept up in the emotion swelling to tremendous levels in the game's biggest moments.
It'll be a long time before we let anyone say a Dallas crowd always sits on its hands, or is too concerned with its Botox and boobs to care. We were talking on the court with Mavs founder Don Carter before the game, and doing so as Mr. C was pulling his blue gimme t-shirt over his head.
We can say this having attended Mavs games from press row on up to the nose bleeds for 21 years: From Mr. C on up, Jason Terry was right: This crowd is capable of being as loud and proud as any audience in the NBA.
Maybe it just took one of the most special nights in North Texas sports history to bring it out.
DONUT 9: STRATEGIC VICTORIES FOR DALLAS
Let us count the ways:
*Stojakovic's knack for spreading the floor on offense created a nightmare for L.A. -- one it survived in the first half when Peja wasn't hitting. But Carlisle was wise in staying with him; LA is demonstrating that it doesn't have the defensive speed to rotate quickly enough with Kidd centering the offense. Peja eventually made them pay.
*Speaking of Kidd: LA chose to go full-throttle with its Game 2 strategy of sometimes assigning Kobe to guard Kidd ... only here, it wasn't sometimes.
Kobe guarding Kidd was a centerpiece of what LA did defensively, the idea being that Kobe's skill and length might clog up J-Kidd's passing angles. But in fact, maybe all it did was wear down Kobe, who finished with an almost meaningless 17 points.
The other team is using its best player -- maybe the NBA's best player -- to guard "this old guy who can't score.'' What's that tell you?
*Gasol is screwing up the Lakers, but in fairness, the Lakers are screwing up Gasol, too. LA is repeatedly asking the guy to roam out 20 feet away from the basket to guard Dirk and diagnose pick-and-rolls, and more often than not Friday, Nowitzki ended up uncovered near the arc. Phil ripped into Gasol at least twice that we saw, and if it was do to pouting and lethargy, fine. But if it's about being lost on defense, that's on the Lakers coaching staff. It was established in Game 1 that Gasol was uncomfortable as a perimeter defender; that wasn't going to be cured in five days.
Said Gasol: "I'm upset I'm not performing as well as I should," adding that he feels "tension inside of me."
DONUT 10: MAVESELLANEOUS
"We've been preaching unselfishness all season long,'' said Marion, cool with Peja's playing-time elevation in his stead. "This is nothing new. Everybody gets a turn.'' No rag-dolling talk, you'll notice. ... Stojakovic was able to stay on the floor in part because of his passable defense on Kardashian, work that earned Carlisle's praise. ... Meet "blueprint designer'' Matt Barnes, once again pretty much a Boxscore Trillionaire ... Follow Fish on Twitter at FishSports! Oh, and get hooked up with other DB.com staffers like Michael Dugat and Kevin Brolan, too! ... We're surprised that when an angry Phil JackZen poked Pau in the chest, Gasol didn't collapse in agony. ... "I'm not clutch'' doesn't seem so funny in SoCal right now, eh?
DONUT 11: HEART AND SOUL
We talk about the business-like approach in the Dallas locker room. C'mon in ... and see what we mean, courtesy of Tyson Chandler:
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD
We were a little nervous when we wrote it after Game 2 ... just as the Lakers Coffin illustration above gives us the fingers-crossed jitters. But let's go ahead and say it again: "Beat LA!'' is a chant that can easily morph into "Sweep LA!''
While the Mavs seem abundantly loose, calm and humble to a fault (Kidd is killin' us with his feigning ignorance regarding the job he's done on Kobe) ... the Lakers' denial marches on as they whistle past the graveyard, so to speak.
"I might be sick in the head,'' Kobe said, "because I still think we're going to win the series.''
But ... no he doesn't. Kobe Bryant isn't even a basketball player in this scenario. He's an actor now, playing a role. His role is that of a corpse waiting to be embalmed.
And the Dallas Mavericks are his funeral directors.
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