"Sloppy,'' said Dirk of an apparently fateful mid-game moment that would put the Dallas Mavericks in great jeopardy. "A veteran team like (the Lakers), they make you pay.''
But what are the Mavs if not a veteran team, too? And now this edition of the Dallas club is the first one to ever win a playoff road game at Los Angeles with a dramatic 96-94 decision that provides the underdog with an improbable 1-0 lead in the series. Yes, "improbable.'' Because aren't the Lakers supposed to be better? Isn't The Drama Queen supposed to be a closer? Doesn't Phil JackZen always reign supreme in this things while overseeing them by his oil-rig-high chair?
The Mavs surrendered a 21-2 Lakers run that bridged the second and third quarters, lowlighted by the exact sort of mental cramping their brains had warned them against. … with two such examples coming within a fraction of a second, allowing LA four made free throws to close the first half.
"Keep our composure.''
"Don't go crazy.''
Dallas was behind just 49-44 a moment before intermission, with both teams seemingly willing to go to the locker rooms with that score. Lamar Odom did push the ball up a floor a bit for a desperation heave from beyond half-court … and inexplicably, the 6-2 Jason Terry decided he should rise to challenge the 6-10 Odom's prayer.
Terry's play defied all basketball logic – and frankly is the sort of BBIQ mental lapse that Mavs observers have witnessed the fan favorite commit too many times.
Hey, for a second there I wondered if Jet was also going to find a way to push Steve Blake, to leave Steve Nash unguarded and to think a missed free throw sealed a win, you know?
The dumb foul meant three free throws for Odom, who made all of them … and as the third one was swishing in, The UberMan wrestled for position with Ron Artest and issued a retaliatory elbow that was detected by the officials. ... providing the Lakers one more free point.
(The TNT boys opined that Dirk was "trying to prove he's tough,'' or some other lame implication that he is something other than that. Fact: Dirk let an elbow slide not because Dirk is tough, but rather because he lost his cool. Period.)
It all added up to a 14-2 Lakers run to close the first half, followed by their 7-0 sprint to open the second half, giving them a lead as large as 16.
If the Mavs didn't believe in themselves, the situation allowed them a soft spot to land. (The word "soft'' is used purposely, Dear Attentive Reader.) And at tht point, Dallas could've taken solace in the fact that it answered in the third with a 19-6 run of its own. The Mavericks could also staked a claim to being just a few points inferior to the Lakers here, maybe giving the West's No. 3 seed hope of stealing Wednesday's Game 2 against the second-seeded LA and keeping the series competitive. ... and there's no shame in that, eh?
But they didn't do that.
Id listened to Ego. Maybe Superego got involved, too.
The Mavs, with a life-of-a-franchise-long inferiority complex to the Lakers (admit it, sufferer of MavVirus), looked at the scoreboard and looked in the mirror and realized that maybe there is a reason these teams won exactly 57 games in the regular season this year.
Maybe they ARE fairly evenly matched … and maybe they realized this was a decidedly winnable game if their BBIQs kept up with their physical skills.
"We said in the huddle, ‘Let's stay with it,''' Dirk said. "Let's keep plugging.''
Dallas did so, led by Nowitzki (28 points and 14 rebounds) and keyed by a defense that collected a series of stops against LA stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Bryant scored 36, and as always, his work is the stuff of history – even as TNT's Charles Barkley is saying that Kobe is now inferior to Dirk. (Among Barkley's reasons: He noted that Kobe is more elderly that Nowitzki; in fact, both superstars are 32, and Dirk was born two months earlier.)
But Dallas' 38-year-old Jason Kidd put the stops on Kobe three times in the late-going, getting inside help defense from Tyson Chandler on one play, busting through a Kobe/Pau pick-and-roll for a steal, and then chasing Kobe on a desperation 3 that missed at the buzzer.
"Kobe was on fire from everywhere,'' said the ever-respectful Nowitzki, but in fact, Dallas comes away feeling good about surviving The Black Mamba.
Bryant attempted 29 field goals and made 14. But he never got to the rim, had only one basket from inside the paint, collected zero assists, and was victimized by the Kidd philosophy of "keeping the game close until the last six minutes and then taking our chances.''
And indeed, the Mavericks trailed just 92-87 with 3:32 to play when they "took their chances'' and finished on a 9-2 run that rendered the mid-game goofiness immaterial.
Carlisle said you "may never again, ever'' see a sequence like the one Jet and Dirk involved themselves in during that silly second. (Geez, I hope not!) Also never seen before: A Dallas playoff win at LA.
And one more thing never seen before: While these Mavs haven't played those Lakers in the postseason, those Lakers haven't seen these Mavs, either.
And now Dallas has a rare and notable win to go with its traveling companions, its Ego, Id and Superego.