And to think, Tuesday’s pulsating, improbable rally from nine points down in the final three minutes was the easy part. For the Mavericks, the difficulty arrives in about 10 hours in Game 6 against the Warriors in Oakland. Win, and they will return to Dallas, blow out the Warriors in Saturday’s Game 7 and continue their merry stroll toward an NBA title. Lose, and they will be remembered for the biggest upset loss in NBA history.
The 67 wins, the 17-game winning streak, the countless records? They’ll all evaporate as futile footnotes in a first-round loss to a No. 8 seed.
To win tonight -- and the wise guys have Dallas favored by 2½ points -- the Mavs will have to navigate a bay that has been particularly rude to Dallas fans. Remember this? Or, more recently, this? It won't be easy.
Golden State is 32-11 at Oracle Arena this season; Dallas a league-best 31-12 on the road. This sort of delicious, riveting drama isn’t supposed to arrive until Memorial Day against the Spurs or Suns. But if I squint hard enough, I see the Mavs winning tonight. Couple of reasons.
In this series Dallas has advantages in blocks (+5), steals (+8), rebounds (+31) and free throws (+23). The difference? Typical of coach Don Nelson’s style, Golden State has made 18 more three-pointers. And, let’s face it, if the Warriors make another 16 triples tonight, it’ll be game, set, series. Of course, they won’t.
Because, like they did at the end of Game 5, the Warriors will feel a new, uncomfortable pressure. Shooting a 23-footer to win something is entirely different than shooting a 23-footer not to lose something. Gimme a nickel for every Golden State three-pointer that clangs off the front rim tonight, and I’ll have enough for some healthy wagering in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
The other reason for optimism: Dirk Nowitzki. After his flawless production at the ends of Game 4 and 5, he now realizes he must let his instincts take over. Instead of watching, probing and trying to dissect Golden State’s defense, Dirk has made four crunch-time treys by simply catching and shooting. Tonight I expect aggressive, early moves and a 30-plus-point performance by the guy who has at times disguised himself as the world’s smallest 7-footer.
Dallas, by the way, is 19-1 when he tops 30. Says owner Mark Cuban, “I know Dirk. I believe in him. I trust him.”
By midnight on Cinco de Mayo the Mavs’ bandwagon will again be filling up, and we’ll be dissecting a new problem. After beating Golden State’s midgets, how do we topple the Rockets’ giant Yao Ming? An 0-4 to start the regular season and a 1-3 to start the playoffs. Don’t all great Hollywood plots include adversity? --Richie Whitt
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