Our Official Mavs Apology To Jason Terry
Spare time granted by a stall in the flow of NBA related news leaves us with little recourse but to retrace basketball grounds already traversed, unless you're updating a spreadsheet daily to include every player "considering" playing or "signing" overseas or tracking the statistics in what amount to defense-forbidden pickup games locally (all of which has become an addiction of our own Kevin Brolan).
As the reality of the Dallas Mavericks championship continues to sink in, one bubble that continues to tickle the surface of my memories is the fact that I may owe at least two players, and perhaps one coach, an apology.
Conviction in belief is not generally a weakness, but it can easily evolve into a rigid stubbornness that lends a veil between the eyes and mind. In these instances, opinions may be slow to accept the shift from a perceived truth to fact.
We'll begin with a player most have both loved and flirted with loving to hate, who's been beloved and maligned dependant on the slimmest sliver of space separating a converted field-goal attempt and a miss. While his personality, his willingness to act as a consummate teammate, and eternally present (and now prescient) optimism make him easy to root for, his inability to live up to strong words in the largest of moments became a very real frustration for Jason Terry and fans alike ... perhaps never more so than in a first-round exit at the hands of the hated Spurs in 2010.
With Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood freshly added to the mix, hope was high for a deep playoff run by the Dallas Mavericks. Instead, their push could muster no more than six games. It's unfair to place the entirety of the blame on Terry. Once you get beyond Dirk Nowitzki and a few games from Caron Butler, the pickings become slim when looking for a player who managed to contribute to the level expected of them, to the marks they'd set precedence for over the course of the 2009-10 regular season.
Yet, Terry was an easy target for wagging fingers of blame.
For the series, he averaged a career-playoff low in points (12.7), field-goal percentage (37.7), Player Efficiency Rating (11.8) and free-throw percentage (75.0). For the coup de grace, there was his performance as the curtains dropped on the Mavs season in Game 6: two points, 14.3 field-goal percentage (including missing his only two 3-point tries), zero rebounds, two assists and two turnovers … combined with being the man who replaced a red-hot Roddy Beaubois who had almost single handedly given the Mavs a chance.
On its own, it was only a bad game within a poor series. However, it wasn't a singularity or an outlier, rather the continued sliding down a slope of playoff disappointments. This wasn't an error in perception playing out in the eyes of an unforgiving public. It was a player who had earned a reputation for coming up short in the biggest moments.
Beginning with the 2005-06 postseason, when he averaged 18.9 points per game, Terry had seen a drop in his playoff scoring each year. However, this doesn't capture the true essence of why fans found it more and more difficult to trust that the wind would catch beneath Jet's wings. To understand this, you need only look at his numbers in playoff elimination games beginning with the Game 6 loss to the Heat in the 2006 Finals through 2010's letdown against the Spurs.
During this span the Mavs took part in elimination games six times with a record of 1-5, the lone win coming in 2009 against an injury-depleted Spurs (also the only game Terry hit at least half of his shot attempts in this sample). Here are Terry's averages in those six games: 12.3 points, 34.5 field-goal percentage, 29.3 3-point percentage, 1.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and two turnovers.
Clearly, not the numbers one would expect from a player being relied upon as the number-two scoring option. For a player whose primary function was to provide a scoring punch from the bench, it was nothing less than abject disappointment.
On a side note, early in the 2010-11 season, with the Mavs in the midst of an impressive run that carried them to a 24-5 start; I spoke to a visiting scout. This scout had a couple primary reasons he wasn't ready to believe in Dallas as a contender. One of them was the fact that Terry would again be relied upon too heavily once the playoffs arrived, and this was with a healthy Caron.
Was it the magic of getting the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed on his right bicep, or simply the result of a good but streaky player hitting a hot stretch at the most opportune of times? Was it the return of confidence granted by a roster that held a true internal faith, or merely the inevitability of time?
Regardless of the reason, the 2011 playoffs saw Terry flip his recent trends and force those who failed to trust in him to devour a healthy portion of their own doubt. In a blink, any residual reservations, any roots burrowed in disbelief, were cast aside as Jet soared to new heights and made sure he would be remembered as a key contributor on a championship team. The past was but a false pre-echo of now, failures quickly buried and forgotten.
We've listed his stats in the six elimination games from the 2006 Finals through the 2010 exit at the hands of the Spurs. In direct contrast comes Terry's numbers in the four included in the 2011 run: 23.3 points, 61.2 field-goal percentage, 64.0 3-point percentage, two rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.75 turnovers.
The assists and turnovers may have declined slightly, but the rise in scoring and efficiency is nothing short of remarkable. His scoring average went up 10.9 points, while his shooting rose by 27.3 (field goal) and 34.7 (3-point) percentage points.
To be concise, he was everything the Mavs needed him to be when they most needed him to be it.
Even when his shot wasn't falling – see the first two games of the Portland series, where he was 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) for 20 points combined – he found ways to contribute positively. Whether it was occasional bursts of stout defense, thanks in part to the presence of Tyson Chandler behind him erasing the vulnerabilities inherently found in defensive aggression, or the willingness to not force bad shots and instead fall into the flow of an offense built upon the unselfishness of those around Dirk, he was a nutrient to this team.
Yes, Terry rode one of his streaks at the positive end of the spectrum in the ideal portion of the calendar, but there was more than his shot selection or conversion rate to what he meant to this team. He was the scorer they needed, when they needed it … never more than Game 6 of the Finals when he carried the offense as Dirk struggled … but he also rarely strayed from what he needed to be in other facets of the game.
He was Robin when required, but also lingered in the shadows when proven necessary by the situation or dictated by the precision of his shot. In doing so, he showed us all the frustrations we'd begun to embrace, the doubts some had tattooed to their Mavs hopes, were merely inscriptions in pencil waiting to be erased.
From the preseason tattoo on his bicep to standing on a platform rolling before crowds gathered beside downtown Dallas streets in a celebratory parade and eventually to a banner destined to outshine those beside it in the AAC rafters (see the video), Terry backed up his words and helped a "king" to wade the mud and fall (at least temporarily) to a knee before those who now wear the crown.
In other words: I apologize for doubting Jason Terry. I apologize for not believing Dallas could count on him to come through to lift any weight thrust upon his shoulders. I'm sorry for quietly wishing he would shut up and stop goading LeBron James as the series progressed.
I was wrong. Terry was right.