We should really be used to this shit.
In 1993, the Mavericks were 3-38 at the All-Star break. They managed to do one game worse the following year.
In 1995, in a game at Reunion Arena, there was a jump ball near Cleveland's defensive basket. Confused, the Cavaliers' Michael Cage gained possession but went up for a dunk that would've given two points to the Mavericks. Not to be outdone, Dallas' Terry Davis blocked the shot, but fouled Cage in the process. The play so befuddled referees that they called an official timeout to sort out the mess—all the while failing to stifle giggles.
In 1997, the Mavs set an NBA record by scoring only two points in the third quarter of a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers—points that came via Derek Harper free throws. Said head coach Jim Cleamons afterward: "I've never seen an exhibition of basketball like that in all my years in this league."
In 2002, Dallas blew a 30-point lead against the Lakers after leading 66-36 in the third quarter and 88-61 entering the fourth. "We choked," guard Nick Van Exel said of the performance. "Just flat-out choked."
In 2005 they were outscored by Kobe Bryant, 62-61, through three quarters of a loss in Los Angeles.
In 2006 they infamously coughed up a 2-0 lead in losing the NBA Finals to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat. And in 2007, they set a franchise record with 67 wins, only to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 in a best-of-seven series.
Yes, humiliation is a familiar, if cumbersome bedfellow around here. Nonetheless, something about Saturday's historic, implausible loss had a particular sting to it.
I came away from Dallas blowing a 23-point lead to the Blazers in Portland with this: The Mavs will win this first-round series. But it hardly matters, because they've already lost something more important—the respect, credibility and the unyielding support of their fans.
After watching the Mavs grow lethargic, settle for jump shots, let Portland's Brandon Roy steal their lunch money and puke up the second-largest playoff lead in 57 years, Mavs fans are ready to tap out. And you can hardly blame them. Better to check out emotionally before America laughs at Dallas again for soiling itself under the weight of another embarrassing exit.
Determined not to let their Game 4 meltdown decide the series—and define their identity—the Mavs hung onto their 20-point lead in Game 5. But in spirit, their 2011 playoffs ended Saturday afternoon.
"This is definitely up there with the most frustrating losses," said Dirk Nowitzki, who's co-authored some of the most devastating moments in franchise history.
"One of the toughest losses I've ever been involved in," added Kidd. "This is going to sting. This is going to hurt."
For most teams, turning a 67-44 lead into an 84-82 loss would be devastating—a foundation-shaking failure that would make the franchise re-assess the way it practices, game plans and mentally approaches playoff games and crunch time. To the Mavs, it's merely the latest in a pickup-bed full of final straws. Depending on when the Mavs are bounced from the playoffs, they'll simply re-tweak around Nowitzki and maybe (or maybe not) fire Rick Carlisle and search for a new voice. It's the same old Mavs, rinse and repeat.
Sure, they broke the cycle in Game 5, but let's go back to Game 4: When Jason Terry drove baseline and found Peja Stojakovic for an open 3-pointer, the Mavs built their 67-44 lead with 1:16 remaining the third quarter. From that point on, the Mavs had their pants pulled down to the tune of 40-15.
We can lament that Carlisle didn't play a zone defense or call for a double-team to get the ball out of Roy's hot hands during his 18-point fourth quarter. If he's fired, those things—and a failure to get the ball to Nowitzki in the final two minutes—will be engraved on his tombstone. But as usual, Dallas' downfall came at the offensive end, where a passive approach failed to produce points.
"I think we let up a little bit," Carlisle said. "I don't think there's any question."
Yes, premature evacuation is a serious problem.
After Stojakovic's trey, he poked the ball away from Roy on Portland's next possession and into the hands of J.J. Barea. But with a chance to push the lead to 25 and bury Portland in their own Rose Garden, Barea got lazy. With 45 seconds remaining, the point guard spotted an unfettered Stojakovic headed down the lane. With a fundamental bounce pass, the Mavs would've scored to go up 69-44. Instead, Barea tried some sort of half-assed hand-off that Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge deflected. Roy ran down the loose ball and Aldridge sprinted past disinterested defender Brendan Haywood for an alley-oop layup and a 21-point game.
Considering the Mavs' past, Carlisle should have called a time out to issue a "Don't let up!" tongue-lashing. Cracks in Dallas' door have a tendency of allowing ghosts to slip in. But he didn't, and on it went.
Stojakovic missed a 3-pointer on Dallas' next possession. On the ensuing trip down, Roy pulled up for a 25-footer that hit the front rim, back rim, front rim, back rim and then hung on the front rim for a moment before dramatically falling. That trimmed Dallas' lead to 18, and put the Blazers and their fans below the psychological barrier that is a 20-point deficit. The Rose Garden was energized. If you've been around Mavericks basketball long enough, you knew they were doomed.
The Mavs fell into the familiar, foolish trap of trying not to lose. It wasn't exactly Dean Smith's old four-corners stall at North Carolina, but it was 12 minutes of being too pick-and-rolly. From Don Nelson to Avery Johnson to Carlisle, when push comes to shove the Mavs wilt—and let their fate be decided via 20-foot jump shots. After taking the 23-point lead, Dallas committed five turnovers and attempted only two shots in the lane. On their last 24 possessions, the Mavs took 15 long jump shots. Tied at 82 in the last minute and with the shot clock at only 11, Terry ridiculously launched a long 3-pointer. Meanwhile, Roy somehow overcame two surgically repaired knees and dropped in a variety of runners, jumpers, accidental bankers and—thanks to a silly Shawn Marion foul—a four-point play.
That's how you get outscored 18-0 in the paint in a fourth quarter and fortify an undesirable reputation.
"We thought it was over with," Marion said afterward. "They were down by 23 and we let our guard down."
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In the long, laughable history of the Mavericks, it may have been the franchise's worst, most embarrassing 12 minutes of basketball. Forget the 11 consecutive 50-plus-win playoff seasons. That afternoon in Portland reinforced the legend of the Mav-wrecks, a team of chokers that lacks mental toughness, killer instinct, is 2-17 in its last 19 road playoff games and this year isn't headed anywhere close to an NBA championship. The constant trio throughout Dallas' current playoff failures are Nowitzki and Terry (both born-and-bred jump shooters) and stubborn owner Mark Cuban.
With 30 seconds left and his team down just two points, the Mavs owner left his seat behind the team's bench and retreated to the locker room. Afterward, he refused to speak with the media.
We should be used to this shit.