In basketball, there’s a difference between a heartbreaking loss and a disheartening loss. The first two games of the Mavericks’ series with the Rockets were disheartening losses. The Mavericks looked overwhelmed, out-gunned, out-muscled and offensively rigid. It wasn’t a total lack of effort, but it was a complacency based on facing a puzzle they couldn’t solve.
The Mavericks' 130-128 loss on Friday night was heartbreaking. They fought hard. They succeeded in large and noticeable stretches. They meshed well with each other. But they came up short, nonetheless. ... and the Rockets are left looser than ever ...
A heartbreaking loss is like falling in love and creating beautiful memories before having to face the eventual backlash of a relationship meeting its demise. A disheartening loss is seeing someone you’re interested in and being too scared to make a move. One hurts a little bit more, but hey, at least you put yourself out there.
The difference between Friday’s Dallas Mavericks and the Mavericks of the past few months was clear: on Friday they played without Rajon Rondo. This proved to be mostly a good thing. ... Though, it isn’t so perfectly simple.
On Friday, the Mavericks looked like the team that led the NBA in offense prior to acquiring Rondo. If you might remember, that team was undeniably enjoyable to watch. They spread the floor. They took advantage of fast-break opportunities and they understood how to complement each other. We saw large glimpses of that Friday night.
Read Fish's column on why Rondo had to go, then review Carlisle's thoughts on Rondo's future here and throw in Chandler Parsons' remarks on giving one's all in the playoffs and you get a picture painted for you: This is a team burdened by 0-3 but unburdened by other junk.
Rondo as a point guard is an entity unto himself. Either he’s effective playing his style or he isn’t. With the Mavericks, he most certainly was not.
The offensive system of the pre-Rondo Mavericks asked the point guards to whip the ball around and be prepared to shoot open shots, among other little intricacies of Rick Carlisle’s doing.
We saw bits of this on Friday and it was wildly more efficient than whatever Rondo was trying to create on his own. J.J. Barea and Devin Harris were deliberate with their passes, aware of mismatches and prepared to make themselves a shooting threat to the defense. Both of those guys also performed with a gutsy style that made whatever failings they had palatable ... at least compared to a former teammate who didn't even try.
Nelson was the starting point guard for Dallas before the Rondo trade. He served the exact purpose that we discussed above. An oversimplified explanation of his value within the system was to catch the ball behind the three-point line and either shoot, or if he was run off of his spot, then drive and dish. It would be hard to believe back then that Nelson would prove to be vastly superior at dishing lobs to Tyson Chandler than Rondo was. This was an attribute of his threat as a shooter and the offensive system that Rondo did not fit in.
Felton is arguably the best three-point shooter in the Mavericks’ guard rotation. He started Friday night, partly to keep Harris in his bench role, but also perhaps in hopes of letting him fill the same role that Nelson filled in November and December. Felton hurt his hamstring three minutes into the game. Although he returned, it’s unclear if he was playing 100 percent, because he played only 13 minutes in the game. ... and we'll update you throughout the day as to his readiness for tonight's Game 4 (an 8 p.m. tip at the AAC, with Fish on the TXA21 pregame show at 7:30).
If Felton recovers for Sunday’s game look for him to fill the “Jameer Role” and be a factor in keeping the offense as wildly efficient as it was Friday night.
Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki have been the Mavericks' bread-and-butter for two seasons now. That was largely taken away by Rondo’s presence on the floor. The reason that just just-above-average point guards can thrive in this system (assuming they can shoot) is because Ellis is capable of taking over the ball-handling duties and becoming the primary creator.
Fault Ellis for his last shot of Game 3 if you will, but he was largely magnificent on offense. Not only that, he and Nowitzki ran the pick-and-pop to perfection. There was so much back-and-forth between them. That requires trust. One gives it to the other knowing he will get it right back if the mismatch presents itself. It had been awhile since we had seen that in heavy doses, but they picked right back up placing faith in one another.
In basketball, without trust, you have nothing. Post-Rondo, Dallas has a little something.
Friday night resembled the pre-Rondo Mavericks on both ends of the court. Prior to acquiring Rondo, Dallas was a horrendous defensive team that allowed penetration from any guard with a sniff of get-to-the-rim potential.
Rondo by no means fixed the defense, but without him, their attempts at that end of the floor are comically bad. Harden scored 42 points and dished out nine assists on Friday. Rondo, to his credit, at least made his man work to get past him. (When he wasn't tackling him on purpose as a show of spit to his own team.) There were very few opportunities to blow by him. Getting past him took effort and a couple extra ticks off the shot clock, which potentially could make for a better defensive stand.
Tonight stacks up as another offensive shootout ... and a chance to postpone having to slap a "D'' before the third word in the Mavs' slogan "We Are One.''
No team has ever overcome an 0-3 hole to win a series. But ...
“History is always made to be broken,'' Tyson Chandler said. "That’s the way I look at it. But you can’t win four games in one night."
*Our Read "Mavs-Rockets Primer For Smart People'' and you see the answers (too many unheeded by the Mavs, unfortunately) are all in there.
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*The Mavs-Rockets Game 4 GameThread - where a skillion Mavs fans just like you congregate to hash it out!
“You know my wardrobe,” Jason Terry is quoted as saying in the DMN. “You know what it consists of when it’s time to close a series out. So I haven’t changed that at all.”
Meaning Mav-turned-Rocket Jason Terry will be wearing funereal black to the game tonight as Houston attempts to close out the series 4-0.
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As we predicted in our Fish Column "Lost And Found And Lost Again") following Game 3, Rick Carlisle got himself a $25,000 for publicly criticizing the officials. Attempting to buy a tilt in the refs' teeter-totter is one reason for doing so. The other?
"I'm going to fight for my team." -Coach Carlisle https://t.co/KDQfyF8wdn— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) April 25, 2015
"I'm going to fight for my team,'' Rick said.
There are pros and cons to losing Rondo ... the biggest con being the decimation of a future blueprint. But Friday night made it feel like addition by subtraction. They are a bit worse at defense (which puts them at horrendous), and a lot better on offense.
More noticeably, though: it was just more fun. That is, until it became heartbreaking. Let's try to have some fun tonight.