FOREWARD: The second round has begun, and with it, the testing of the constructs Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson's best laid plans have built. For years, they've maneuvered through eyes trained on this very moment, this very series and this very Los Angeles Lakers' team. Inevitably, if you want to be a champion, you must vanquish the best to claim that flag as your own. The Lakers are at the top of the food chain, but the Dallas Mavericks made quite an impression with a 96-94 victory in Game 1.
THE TOP STORY: We can throw away the 48-0 series record for Phil JackZen's teams when they take the first game. Instead, we're left with the fact that they are 8-8 in series after losing that opening game … you have to like those odds a little more, right?
We'll backtrack in a moment, but let us first reflect on a gift from the basketball gods in the final minutes of this game where we were delivered the sight of two NBA immortals sharing the stage. Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki each had their chance to dazzle the eye and tickle the fantasies of basketball junkies everywhere.
There were two of the best "closers" in the game today ... (who ranks with 'em? It's a very short list) ... battling it out in a contest that would be decided in the final moments. The memories of a 16-point Lakers lead quickly faded into irrelevance. Dallas had pulled within one on multiple occasions, but had yet to lead in the second half.
With the Mavs down only three, Kobe rose with 3:32 to play and calmly flicked at the heart of Dallas fans by sinking a jumper (a common theme for Kobe, more below) and pushing the lead to five.
Dallas responded with a powerful alley-oop in a crowd from Jason Kidd to Tyson Chandler, followed by a short Shawn Marion flip-in (technically, a jump shot) ... and the lead was trimmed back to one.
Once again, it was time for Kobe to cause a rash of palpitations throughout the Metroplex, and he reminded us of who he is (The Black Mamba, blahblah) hitting another jumper to put the Lakers up three with 1:00 to play … the final points Los Angeles would find.
Closer No. 1, great show. Closer No. 2, what say you?
WHAT DIRK, KOBE AND RICK SAID: The video:
OK, Dirk, say it on the court. ...
With 40 seconds on the clock, The UberMan drove hard into the paint in the face of Lamar Odom, used his momentum to create some space, rose and drained a 9-foot jumper to again close the gap to one.
Your turn, Mr. Bryant … and here's the difference in this year's Mavs.
Kidd was up on Kobe, playing him as physically as the game allowed, yet Bryant found his crease and turned the corner to head into the paint … where Tyson Chandler stood waiting after a perfectly timed help rotation.
Without an alley to toss up a shot, Kobe turned quickly to fire the ball back out to the perimeter … only Jason Terry had cut off the passing lane, stole the pass, and drew a foul from Derek Fisher. This was Tyson Chandler with one of the biggest plays of the game simply by arriving where he needed to be in time to influence the play.
Pau Gasol would then foul Dirk on the inbounds, and The UberMan would sink both free throws (though the first one flirted with the notion of rolling out before submitting to the net), giving the Mavs their first lead of the second half.
Jason Kidd went on to steal the Lakers' inbounds pass (a play many L.A. fans may be clamoring for a foul call on) as Kobe stumbled to the ground. And then J-Kidd split his free throws to put Dallas up one.
But, you could feel it coming. There were 3.1 seconds on the clock and Kobe would get his shot. When he rose over Jason Kidd's outstretched hands, you knew the story before the words were written. Your heart was already slinking towards your ribs, waiting to be ripped from your chest. Only, it wasn't meant to be on this night. The shot was long … only inches long, but long nonetheless. It connected with the back of the rim, bounced out and to a waiting Jason Terry, who tipped away the rebound and sealed the game.
CLOSING TIME: Kobe truly shined in the third quarter, when he single handedly seemed to quash every push the Mavs made by scoring 15 of his 36 points. But, the fourth, the closing time belonged to Dirk.
Dirk's fourth quarter stats: 11 points, five rebounds and zero turnovers.
Kobe's fourth quarter stats: six points and one costly turnover.
"We went in the locker room and felt like we gave a game away," JackZen said, adding that the Lakers believe they lost this more than Dallas won it.
That's probably bulletin-board material for Mavs fans. Mavs players? We think it wise to avoid getting into a mild-melding battle with Phil, OK?
KIDD'S REQUEST: This is headline news in a few papers across the country.
If you are a Mavs fan, you are not surprised.
"I said I would guard (Kobe) and I wanted to guard him and make it tough," Kidd said of a late-game request he made to the Dallas coaching staff. "I'm a competitor. Maybe being old too is just hard-headed and naïve, thinking I can slow him down."
That's not really it, of course. Kidd can't hang with Kobe for 48. Nobody can. But for two minutes here and three minutes there?
BBIQ has a chance.
WRESTLING CENTERS: As we mentioned in our preview, Andrew Bynum has faired extremely well against the Mavericks, including averaging 16.7 points in his three games versus Dallas, more than he averaged against any team this season. Making those points all the more punishing was the fact that Bynum reached them while hitting 70.4 percent of his shots.
In Game 1, Bynum totaled eight points and five rebounds … both season lows against the Mavericks … and he reached those points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Kobe can get his 36 points, Lamar and Pau Gasol can combine for 30 as well, but if Bynum is kept in check, the playing field has been leveled. (The Mavs, by the way, were greatly concerned about keeping Bynum off the offensive glass. Mission accomplished, as he was limited to one offensive board.)
Tyson Chandler finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks. Still, his biggest play of the night may only find its way to the boxscore as a Jason Terry steal, when he cutoff access to the rim to a driving Kobe with 20 seconds to play.
There were moments of "chippiness," note the double technicals assigned to Chandler and Gasol as the two shared words after multiple wrestling matches under the rim. And, there were brief instances when we feared his emotion could be getting the best of him … before we were certain of just who had earned the tech in the final second of the first half. Had it been Chandler, it would have been his second and yielded an automatic ejection.
But this is a fact: Dallas would love to have Gasol try to do his offensive thing while being guarded by TY. That is a Mavs' win, in the minds of the Dallas coaches. (We saw that in play when Gasol tried to work inside for a late-game shot and had the ball stuffed back into his mug by Chandler.)
Brendan Haywood may be nothing more than a blip in the stats (two points, one block), but he contributed to rendering Bynum relatively harmless and setting a tone in the paint, such as a solid, hard foul to send Bynum to the line rather than granting an easy dunk, and Big Wood deserves a pat on the back as well.
Frequently, Bynum tried to bull his way into offensive position, either with the ball or while awaiting an entry pass. Big Wood gave no ground.
Against the vaunted LA bigs, we'll take this kind of effort from these two Mavs anytime.
YOU'VE HEARD THE GOOD, NOW THE BAD: DeShawn Stevenson once again got the start at shooting guard … and had a night to forget.
He was ineffective at the defensive end and unable to stop Kobe or even force him to exert a great amount of effort, and that was DeShawn's strength.
On offense, he had two turnovers (the highest number he would tally in any statistical category) to go with zero points, one rebound and … well, nothing else.
Listen, we love what Stevenson has provided this season, from the locker room to the disposition, and often to the court, but you can't deny how poorly he performed here. It was a disaster from the opening tip until he was mercifully pulled for good in the third quarter for Corey Brewer.
The next question, of course: Does Brewer get to slide up the totem pole? Does Carlisle tinker with a starting lineup that, overall, works very well?
THE RIGHT CHOICE: Carlisle has made it clear that the choice for who will be inactive is down to Roddy Beaubois and Corey Brewer on any given night. It's safe to say he made the right choice in Game 1.
After a pair of sloppy turnovers, Stevenson was pulled from the game and replaced by Brewer. Instantly, the game changed as the Mavs went on a 17-4 run to trim a 16-point deficit to only three.
Brewer played only eight minutes and his modest stats (five points, one rebound, one assist, one steal) may not gather praise … but his energy denied the undercurrent threatening to drown the Mavs hopes for a win. He didn't fare much better against Kobe, but something clicked for Dallas.
Something worked. So much so that after Corey made a 3 (rare!) and finished on the break (a specialty!) he decided to launch another 3 too early in the shot clock (stop it!).
BACK TO THE BAD: In the final seconds of the first half Dallas lost their composure, their mental awareness and did their best to bury themselves … or at least dig their hole quite a bit deeper.
First, it was Jason Terry (who, other than a very important late steal, was not a positive on the defensive end … to be polite) fouling Lamar Odom on a half-court heave and sending him to the line for three free throws … with 0.7 seconds left on the clock.
This is an amateur mistake. This is the kind of move that gets lesser players hidden on the bench for the rest of the series. This is the kind of mental miscue that can remove all hope against a team like the Lakers.
This is the absence of BBIQ on the part of Jet that's been discussed in these parts since Jason replaced Steve Nash as a backcourt leader.
It doesn't mean we don't love Jet The BBIQ Sinner. We just don't love the sin.
To make matters worse, Dirk then picked up a technical swinging an elbow into Ron Artest as Odom made the third of his three free throws. Whether or not you believe Artest was fouling him first is irrelevant. The elbow from Dirk was retaliatory, ill-timed and ill-advised. The tech went against Dirk. ... meaning the victory went to Artest for doing nothing.
The TNT cameras caught Mavs owner Mark Cuban fuming, wanting to protest ... something. But in the same shot, you saw coach Rick Carlisle. He wasn't upset at the refs.
As Rick said later:
"We needed to forget about that," said Carlisle of the screwy end of the first half. "We needed to concentrate on the fact we had given up five offensive rebounds, that we'd been blown by six or seven times, particularly late in the shot clock. We said one of the keys to the series was to be persistent and play out possessions, and that's what pissed me off about it. That was the reality of our situation."
In 0.7 seconds Dallas had gifted four points to the Lakers. Had Kobe hit that final shot, this would be the moment we all returned to when defining the loss. Perhaps it never happens again, it was a one-in-a-million event … but it's almost unforgivable … well, if you lose it is.
NUMBERS CRUNCHING: Calculators at the ready ...
*Over the course of three regular-season games, Dallas held Kobe Bryant to 40.7 percent shooting from the floor and 10 percent behind the arc. In Game 1, these trends didn't hold as Kobe hit 48.3 percent of his attempts, including 44 percent from 3-point land.
*The Dallas bench scored 40 points while shooting 55.2 percent from the floor and 46 percent from deep. Compare this to the 25 points on 43.5 percent shooting from the Lakers' bench, including 0-of-5 behind the arc, and you have the picture of a clear bench advantage through one game for the Mavs.
*Kobe Bryant scored one basket in the paint all night, and it came in the first quarter. He was scoring, but he was scoring without attacking the rim.
Depending on how you look at it, this can either be comforting (the defense dictated this approach) or frightening (why attack if you are getting
anything you want outside?).
This deserves further study. Not that Dallas "let'' Kobe shoot from the perimeter, but maybe that the Mavs' alignments coerced him into doing so?
NO BUCKET BOY, NO RICH KID
Is it possible?
Possible that someone has informed Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that their decade-long sniping has become one of sports' most tired bits?
Each fellows declined to bait the other before the game. In fact, JackZen actually said something flattering about how Mark has vastly improved the Dallas franchise and would do the same if he ever bought the Dodgers.
Phil's only crack was about not wanting his owner sitting behind him on the bench.
But otherwise, bravo, gentleman. This series required no artificial hype. Indeed, it requires not one word from a coach about an owner, or from an owner about a coach.
QUOTABLE: You've got to make plays, and you've got to dodge some bullets. We did both." -- Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.
MAVSELLANEOUS: Worth nothing: This is the way the Lakers started the last playoff series, too. But doesn't being down 1-0 two weeks ago against New Orleans seem like forever ago? ... Rick said Corey Brewer entered the game and helped Dallas out of a "dire situation.'' This is that "Be Ready'' deal again, you know. ... What did the Lakers do to "let'' Dallas win? "Stopped playing defense and stopped playing offense, basically," JackZen said. ... Remember "The Peja Presence''? Listen to Bynum: "Definitely we gave up a lot of buckets because they spread the floor," said Bynum. "We just got beat on both sides." ... We're not sure which team gets to call this a good sign, but here goes: The Mavericks were outscored by 10 points in the paint and still won. ... In case you are wondering, The Drama Queen's ankle is just fine. ... You know that Ron Artest that Cuban predicted would goof up LA's offensive flow because he's a ball-stopper? That Ron-Ron showed up Monday ... As much as we cannot figure out what Jet was thinking on his end-of-half foul, we're equally mystified at Pau's reach-over foul on Dirk that sent Dallas to the line for pretty-much-clinching FTs. Dirk was 25 feet away from the basket and moving further away t receive the inbounds pass. What did Gasol think Dirk was going to do? What did Gasol think Gasol was going to do? ... Once somebody calls you "soft,'' we're not sure how -- short of winning a title -- you ever overcome it. But Charles Barkley certainly is doing his part to help the Mavs' image. And no, these aren't, at this moment, "The Same Ol' Mavs.''
CELEBRITY APPRENTICES: It is just us, or is the breathless work of TNT and AP reporting on the sideline celebs -- Jack Nicholson! Eddie Murphy! Justin Timberlake! David Beckham! Gordon Ramsay! Will Ferrell! John C. Reilly! January Jones! Jennifer Carpenter! Seal! Mekhi Phifer! Anthony Kiedis! New York Jets TE Dustin Keller! Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis! -- a bit bloated?
We're not sure we know who, say Jennifer Carpenter is. We don't care who Dustin Keller is. And if Gordon Ramsay ever attends a Mavs game, I bet we don't bother reporting it. ...
January Jones at a Mavs game? Yes. We'd be all over that. We'd be happy to escort "Betts'' to her seat.
BENCH MOB: We've heard different arguments in favor of both teams' benches.
The Mavs just made their argument by outscoring the Lakers' reserves 40-25.
Jason Terry had his 15 points, JJ Barea scooted inside and out for eight, and Peja Stojakovic had 10 (and would've had a bunch more if he could finish a layup on the break).
Dirk also specifically mentioned Big Wood and Brewer, too. "I thought Brewer came in and really made some big plays for us, really tried to get into Kobe," Nowitzki said.
Bryant made it clear to separate his performance from the work of the other clowns.
"It had nothing to do with me," he said. "I'm going to do what I do. I think the second unit, we've got to make a conscious effort to get the ball in to Pau and get the ball in to Andrew."
THE FINAL WORD: The Mavs, as an organization, have spent four basketball lifetimes as a "stepchild'' to the regal Lakers. The Western Conference Championship duel in 1988 is one of two greatest-ever Mavs accomplishments. In LA, they barely remember it.
But Monday night? They might remember that.
"This team,'' Kobe said, "can beat us. It's clear."
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