I've been duped. Pickpocketed. Gutted.
Turns out there isn't a Santa Claus. The CueCat didn't revolutionize the Internet. I've yet to sprout even one hair from my palm.
And, worst of all, the Dallas Mavericks haven't changed their culture. Despite tweaking coaches and role players and logos and arenas and amassing a trip to the NBA Finals one year and 67 wins the next, they are still a team that lives and dies on the fadeaway jumper of a 7-foot German.
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Which is good. But, as evidenced by last week's humiliating loss in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, not nearly good enough.
In the wake of Dallas' stunning dismissal by the 8th-seeded Golden State Warriors, I'd like to present a clear, calm synopsis rooted in faith that the sky isn't falling. But who am I kidding? My thoughts—like yours—are swirling aimlessly, violently, like the tree limbs strewn by recent storms.
Never have I been so speechless. With so much to get off my chest.
- In hindsight, the series was over before it began. After his team utterly wilted in last Thursday's choke job, Mavs coach Avery Johnson said his biggest surprise and disappointment was his team's lack of confidence. Really? I say it was Johnson who instilled the doubt, changing his lineup and grasping at a game plan the Mavericks never used en route to a record-setting, impose-our-will, 67-15 regular season. Before the first jump ball the coach sent an emasculating message to players that their best wouldn't be good enough against the quirky, quicker Warriors. Hence, the Mavs played like the hunted.
- As bad as the Mavs were outplayed, they were even more dramatically out-coached. Don Nelson turned the series into Mavs versus Mav-nots. Everything the Mavs weren't—fast, athletic, spontaneous, aggressive, versatile, resilient, blithe—his Warriors were. Avery wanted a slow, methodical chess match. Nellie tricked him into pinball. The impetus for our Golden State of shock? Nellie beat the Mavs with defense. The sport's all-time best offensive innovator sabotaged the Mavericks with something as simple as a 1-2-2 zone. With his team's long jumpers not falling, Avery failed to conjure an alternative plan.
- Another thought to keep you pounding forehead into sheetrock: The Mavs lost 19 games this season, seven to the Warriors.
- Plenty of blame to go around. But, surprisingly, one guy we can't point the finger at is Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Despite his eternal animosity for Nelson, he bit his tongue the whole series. He didn't publicly berate the refs. He stayed on the fringes of team huddles, offering only positive words of encouragement. Relatively speaking, Cuban was on his best behavior. Which—sorry, cynics—punches a giant hole in your theory that Cuban's antics facilitated Dallas' collapse in last summer's Finals. See, the Mavs can also crater without his help. So there.
- Sadly, Dirk's landmark drive to the basket to help beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 last season has now shriveled into an aberration. Because when push escalated into push back against the Warriors, Nowitzki stood motionless. Intimidated by Stephen Jackson and outplayed by Matt Barnes, he was, at times, a liability. Let that sink in while I consult my buddy Jack Daniel's for further analysis.
- Tony Romo at least died trying. After his bobbled hold gaffe, he scrambled and clawed and dove for the goal line, ending the Cowboys' season a yard short. Dirk, conversely, simply vanished. In the six-game series he produced three minutes of glory, a Staubachian comeback at the end of Game 5. But in Game 6 he again shit his shorts in the spotlight. In the decisive third quarter in which his team was outscored 36-15, Dirk took one shot. For the game he produced two baskets, three turnovers. When it was time for him to inspire physically and emotionally, Nowitzki passed out of double teams and talked about his team's chances in the past tense, down only 2-1. We thought he had matured. We were wrong.
- How disgusted are fans by the Mavs' fragile psyche and fraudulent résumé? Exactly two people showed up to greet the team's plane last Friday afternoon at Love Field. Even a 79-3 regular season next year will be met with a collective yawn and an arched eyebrow. Right, Marty Turco?
- A seminal moment in the series came in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Leading 90-85 with 3:20 remaining, Dirk grabbed an offensive rebound 5 feet from the hoop. Afforded an open route to the rim, he instead hurried an off-balance, fadeaway jumper that clanged off the back rim. Declining a strong move to the hoop for a layup or a dunk and a seven- or even eight-point lead, Dirk's passive misfire ignited a Warriors fast break, an open 3-pointer, a 10-0 run and, ultimately, a four-point win that provided a 3-1 series lead and sealed the biggest upset in NBA history.
- Cuban promises not to blow the team up, which is, albeit immediately frustrating, the right move. The nucleus—with a sprinkle of low-post scoring here and a dash of intestinal fucking fortitude there—deserves another chance to alter its hideous reputation as the authors of the NBA's biggest meltdowns in The Finals and the first round.
- Funny—in kind of a very sad way—that it was Nellie who discovered Dirk, and who now has made him disappear.
- That said, this talk of Nowitzki not deserving the Most Valuable Player award he's sure to receive next week is bullshit. The award is for the regular season, and despite his playoff pratfall, Dirk was the best player on the best team for six months. Yes, it's embarrassing for an MVP to not lead his team out of the first round. But critics didn't cry for Steve Nash to return his hardware when he failed to lead the Phoenix Suns out of the Western Conference the last two seasons. We didn't call for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to give back his NFL MVP for throwing four interceptions in a playoff game at New England. And we didn't demand Prince return his Oscar for Purple Rain just because he later made Under the Cherry Moon.
- I went to the Mavs' 2007 NBA season, and all I got was this stupid Southwest Division championship banner.
- Cowboys, out in the first round. Stars, out in the first round. Mavericks, out in the first round. Rangers, out in the first month. Enjoy your bummer summer.
- Silver lining? Only 77 days until Cowboys training camp.