Before Sunday's Lakers-at-Dallas meeting, a Game 4 that ended a Round 2 series completely dominated by the underdog Mavericks, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was asked to speak on the burgeoning respect the world suddenly has for his team. After all, the Mavs were not only doing their thing – erasing derisive notions of them as postseason underachievers, getting an erect-a-statue-of-him effort from Dirk Nowitzki and advancing to their third Western Conference Finals in the last nine years – but they were also in the process of dismantling a dynasty in the Lakers, who entered the day without a win and now exit this season without a coach.
So, Rick, your thoughts on the tables-turned perception of the Dallas Mavericks?
"We don't care,'' Carlisle said dryly.
After a record-setting 122-86 crushing of the hated and haughty Lakers, the largest margin of victory to cap a four-game sweep in NBA history, there was no confetti dropped at the American Airlines Center. No crowing (not even from owner Mark Cuban, who's muzzled himself all postseason). Nothing much more than the simple mathematics about having climbed halfway towards a target.
"We've got eight wins but we need eight more, and that's our ultimate goal,'' Dallas center and spiritual leader Tyson Chandler said coolly . "(But) that was an incredible day.''
Incredible in the sense that Dallas' manhandling of L.A. manifested itself in every manner. … Physically, intellectually and emotionally. To wit:
Physically: The Mavs' bench scored 86 points – the same number totaled by the entire Lakers team. Kobe Bryant scored 36 in Game 1 while getting to the rim just once. Since then, Dallas' 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd has been the man shadowing him … and The Black Mamba has been a slug, with 23, 17 and 17 points, respectively. Astoundingly, Bryant was very literally never a factor in the series or in this game. He made just seven buckets on Sunday, was 0-of-5 from the arc, and managed one assist to five turnovers.
Dirk Nowitzki scored "just'' 17 points, too. But these were vastly different 17-point afternoons; in what might be the ultimate physical measure, Dallas was so much better than LA that The UberMan was barely even needed. … and said he plans to celebrate his relatively easy day by cheating on his diet and scarfing pizza.
And forget Dirk-vs.-Kobe (a great argument for another day … er, year). Try Ron Artest vs. J.J. Barea, a matchup the clueless Lakers took a stab at, thinking their 6-7 Defensive Player of the Year perennial might be able to accomplish something against the 5-10 Barea, but no. JJB scored a career- playoff-high 22 and all that Artest did was get himself stuffed by rim on a breakaway attempt.
Intellectually: I've seen broken merry-go-rounds rotate better than the Lakers did, and that part of that phenomenon that belongs on Jackson's shoulders in that the Lakers slogged and jogged through four games without ever fixing this issue. Dallas' perimeter ball movement was crisp and assertive in setting up Jason Terry (9-of-10 from the arc and 32 points) and Peja Stojakovic (6-of-6 from the arc and 21 points), and as the Mavs were tying an NBA record for most 3's in a playoff game (with 20), setting a record for most 3's by two teammates (15), and tying a record for most playoff 3's by a player (Jet's nine) …
"Breathtaking,'' Carlisle said of Jet.
And what did Phil ever do about it? Some Lakers (Pau Gasol) didn't want to roam out there. Other Lakers didn't hustle to where they needed to be. And just as damning, still other Lakers didn't seem to know where they were supposed to be.
Late in the game, during a timeout, the Lakers huddled on the floor, making plans. I don't know … "Punk ‘Em'' plans blueprinted by the invisible Matt Barnes? Dinner across the street in Dallas at traditional Lakers team hotel The Crescent? Whatever … the entire time, Jackson remained aboard his elevated bench throne. … uninvolved and maybe not offering any answers for the simple reason that he had none.
Emotionally: The two-time defending champion Lakers responded to their adversity with an embarrassing assortment of misbehaviors. The lowlights included cartoonishly dangerous assaults by Lamar Odom (attempting to blindside superstar Dirk Nowitzki in the open court) and Andrew Bynum (who attacked the midsection of J.J. Barea while the diminutive driver was airborne on a layup. Both moronic actions earned ejections for the perps.
Why, Lamar? "I was embarrassed … I didn't mean anything by it.''
Why, Andrew? "A little bit frustrated. And they kept making layups.''
"Their actions are their actions,'' Carlisle said – again, not "caring'' about sideshows that have nothing to do with Dallas' drive to a championship.
The Mavs coach won't say it, so I will: The Lakers honored the retiring Jackson (winner of 11 NBA titles) by comporting themselves with all the dignity of drunken, toothless carnies.
Carlisle did say this of Jackson, who in 21 postseasons had never before been swept.: "His contribution to our game has been gigantic. My belief is that he'll retire for a while. But I don't know how long you can go to Montana and meditate or smoke peyote or whatever it is he does. I don't know. He's going to get bored.''
Meanwhile, Dallas continued to assert itself, driven by a faith not shared by some Mavericks followers (and certainly not shared by outside observers) that this isn't the "Same Ol' Mavericks'' ‘' that is, the same old Mavericks who have flirted with postseason excellence but always fallen a bit short. Maybe Dirk's cocky dead-ball defense against Odom – which triggered Lamar's later temper tantrum – serves as a symbol of that.
In the fourth quarter, Odom was at the free-throw line. Before the ref allowed him permission to shoot a second try, Odom decided to sneak in a practice FT – which Nowitzki angrily elevated to swat away at the rim.
It meant something: The Lakers would not be permitted even a crack of an advantage. Not over the course of four games. Not even in this game when they were behind 94-67 with just nine minutes left. Not even on a free throw that didn't count.
Dallas' shoulders are loaded with chips. The 2006 Finals. The collection of first-round ousters. The criticism of them as "soft.'' The idea, reiterated before the playoffs began and again late Sunday, that Western Conference foes "wanted'' to oppose this 57-game winner coached by a man in Carlisle who is now 9-3 in closeout playoff games.
"We know these opportunities don't come along that often,'' said Terry, part of the 2006 Mavs team that botched the franchise's only opportunity to secure a title. "So we're focused on one goal. And if you do that, it's very powerful thing.''
The teaming of Kobe and Phil will go down as a very powerful thing, too. But in this series and on this day, all the Lakers did was "go down.''
"Showtime'' is over. It's the Mavs' time now.
And before you express your views on that, one way or another, know this:
Rick Carlisle doesn't care.
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