The Dallas Mavericks – for their entire existence a homely stepchild in comparison to the regal Lakers – have outdone their haughty foes at every turn in this series. Here, before a boisterous, blue-clad, and record audience of 21,156 at the American Airlines Center, the turn belonged to:
*Reserve Peja Stojakovic (scoring 11 of his 15 in the fourth quarter), who showed as much emotion in one late-game bench exchange than his has in his lengthy and stoic career;
*The 38-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd, chuckled at in this series by Kobe Bryant yet putting a lid on The Black Mamba, who totaled an innocuous 17 points and failed to score in the final four-and-a-half minutes.
*Scorer Jason Terry (23 points), who was 7-of-10 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the line. He led the Dallas bench to a 42-15 scoring advantage, an extension of what in the series is a 112-42 edge.
*And of course, Dirk Nowitzki, by his 7-foot-high head (and shoulders) the dominant player in this series. … and maybe in all of the NBA postseason.
The UberMan scored 32 points, overcoming the Lakers' new-look lineup of three bigs across the front line and continuing to close the gap between the perception of him and the legendary Bryant.
The separation, as Dirk is quick to note, includes championship rings. But with a 3-0 lead in this series – of the 98 NBA teams to take a 3-0 lead in a series, none has ever failed to win it -- Bryant's chance for another, as well as the retiring coach Phil Jackson's chance, is almost dead.
Nowitzki's chance lives on for Sunday's Game 4 in Dallas … and beyond.
In Game 1, the Mavs had to overcome their own miscues and a 16-point deficit just after halftime for the win. In Game 2, Dallas was dominant throughout and won while allowing just 32 second-half points. This one came in a different fashion yet again, as L.A.'s trio of Andrew Byrum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom (the usual sixth man forced into an elevated spot due to the one-game suspension of Ron Artest) dominated points in the paint.
And with five minutes remaining in the game, Dallas trailed by seven. Maybe if the Lakers opted to continue to pound the ball inside, they might've extended or at least held that lead.
Instead, Kobe Bryant attempted a series of swings at single-handed heroism … and the man who after botching three straight offensive possessions to end Game 1 sarcastically said "I'm not clutch'' … was once again not clutch.
While Bryant almost stubbornly continued to try to rise above Kidd to make plays, Dallas' ball movement on the other end continued to free up Nowitzki and Stojakovic on the perimeter. Starting at that five-minute mark, the pair of foreign-born marksmen hit consecutive 3-pointers to trigger a 20-7 Dallas rally to close the game that likely propels the Mavs to a Western Conference Finals appearance against the winner of the Thunder-Grizzlies series.
"Dirk Nowitzki made it happen,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a direct result of him either scoring the ball of making a play.''
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 – winners of five straight postseason games – is now 5-0 when at least four players score in double-figures.
"That's what it's all about,'' said Marion, who relinquished some crunch-time minutes to Peja due to Stojakovic's knack for spreading the floor on offense. That presence alone was a nightmare for L.A., with Gasol already reluctant to go outside to chase Dirk and Kidd centering the offense to quick move the ball to the open guy. "We've been preaching unselfishness all season long. This is nothing new. Everybody gets a turn.''
As the night turned into morning, Marion was preparing to celebrate his 32nd birthday on Saturday. After this three-course meal, I asked him if he was ready for that dessert yet. Like, maybe, cake?
"No time to celebrate yet, because the hunger is still there,'' Marion said. "I'll let you know when the meal is done.''
The way this series is going, the Mavs – who now not only want to "Beat LA'' but have a chance to "Sweep LA'' -- might get their appetite sated as early as Sunday's Game 4.
More Mavs coming all night and all day ... including Video Visits in the locker room, Your All-Access Pass, Quoteboard, "The Dirkie'' and all the notes, stats and analysis ... keep checking back on DallasBasketball.com!