Mike Fisher - DallasBasketball.com
With his team trailing only 90-82 and eight minutes remaining in Sunday's Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks' point guard Jason Kidd sailed a cross-court pass for ... nobody? Lisa Salters? John Elway? Who knows?
The ball whistled past Ryan Hollins and between Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, none of which were convinced they were the intended target.
Kidd covered his face with both hands before retreating on defense. Under his breath, he summed up his and his team's performance.
I whole-heartedly concur. But, unfortunately, I'm not surprised.
When the Thuggets landed their first bitch-slap, the Mavwimps not only turned the other cheek, they also turned over the ball. An inexplicable 20 times, including a Mavs' playoff record eight by Kidd, the man charged with monitoring Dallas' pulse and cruise-controlling its pace.
The result: Tattoos and Testosterone 109, Timidity 95.
Said Kidd, "We've got to be more aggressive."
I could break down what went wrong in Game 1. But it'd be easier to look back at what I got right in Friday's series preview ...
Watching the most athletic - and by far the most animated and arrogant - team in the NBA knock the Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs could be very painful. Check.
A week from now you'll look back at the San Antonio Spurs and consider them a docile ally. Check.
It won't take long for you to cringe at the stylings of J.R. Smith. Check.
Andersen will be the guy robed in total tattoos, a gelled-up mohawk and acrobatic offensive rebounds, punctuated with exaggerated pelvic thrusts toward Dallas' bench. Check.
The Nuggets flourish ad-libbing in the open court. They will be quicker, faster and jumpier at every position. If this were a dunk contest, I'd confidently predict a sweep. Check.
The Nuggets likely won't double-team Dirk Nowitzki like the Spurs did, but more so rely on the length and athleticism of Dallas native Kenyon Martin to frustrate him. Denver's Chris Andersen will also try to bait and badger Dirk out of his game. Double-check.
Denver's Nene can run circles around Erick Dampier. Quadruple-check.
I'm afraid the Mavs don't have the manpower or the moxie to keep this series from deteriorating into a playground style they can't win. Nuggets in 5. Sorry.
The Mavericks played their patient game for 36 minutes. But in a frantic stretch early in the fourth they tried to run with the Nuggets and wound up committing eight turnovers, missing seven of eight shots and getting outscored, 19-4.
To win this series - to even be competitive - the Mavs must combat Denver's energy with efficiency. They also must - let's be honest - grow a pair.
Yesterday looked all too familiar didn't it? Like '07, when Baron Davis and Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson swamped the Mavs with ferocity and physicality. Like '08, when David West tapped Dirk Nowitzki on the cheek and got zero retaliation.
Dirk made his first six shots, but - in their minds - the Thuggets won this series six minutes in when Kenyon Martin fouled Nowitzki on a baseline drive, and then sent him sprawling into the stands with a vicious forearm shiver to the back.
The response? Nothing.
Three Mavs went to help Dirk. Jason Terry meandered toward Martin, but was cut off at the pass by Nene. Right then and there, Denver was assured that it could impose its will on Dallas. (Toldja at some point in these playoffs we'd miss Jerry Stackhouse.)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Dirk wasn't the same afterward. In fact, I was embarrassed for him a couple of times. Guarded by Andersen, Nowitzki produced one of the worst, most ridiculously inept and laughably bad moves in the history of organized basketball.
Trying to lose Andersen with a series of his patented spin-fake-pivots, Nowitzki instead became disoriented and off-balance. He wound up cork-screwing himself, in the end jumping and falling away from the basket and desperately launching what would've been one of the worst passes in NBA history - had it not been a shot. I kid you not, the ball never got higher than seven feet and was a good six feet right of the basket.
You'll see it some day on sports bloopers.
Unless the Mavs take care of the ball and take care of their own, you won't be seeing them much longer.