Stunning. Unfathomable. Disgusting. Embarrassing. Nauseating. Devastating. Empty.
Never thought I’d see it happen -- especially in the first friggin’ round against the tricked-up Golden State Warriors -- but the Dallas Mavericks totally and utterly wilted last night in getting eliminated in Game 6, 111-86. No other way to say it: In the biggest game of the season -- after six months of being the NBA’s toughest, bestest team -- the Mavs played like pussies.
Physically, they were freaked into paralysis by Don Nelson’s 1-2-2 zone defense, repeatedly settling for long jumpers in a third quarter (outscored 36-15) that will go down as one of the worst 12 minutes in franchise history. And psychologically they were equally meek. Give Stephen Jackson credit for making seven consecutive three-pointers, but how the hell can a team that prides itself on defense and focus continually leave the guy not just open, but wide open?
Unequivocally, the Warriors deserved to win. For playing with more energy, more passion, more desire. For making 14 more three-pointers and out-rebounding Dallas by 15 last night. And for not being scared -- even for one second -- of the big, bad No. 1 seed. Nellie coached Avery Johnson’s ass off, Baron Davis turned the pressure-packed playoffs into his personal H-O-R-S-E contest, and the Warriors out-everythinged the Mavs.
It comes down to this: Matt Barnes was a better, more impactful player than Dirk Nowitzki. Let that sink in for a second while I consult my buddy Jack Daniel's for further analysis.
Unlike in this series, it’s hard to defend Dirk. He was absolutely useless in Game 6 (dare I say, even a liability?) missing open jumpers and refusing to post up and -- yep, saw it with my own eyes -- getting tragically posterized by Barnes on a third-quarter dunk. With the series and the season on the line, the NBA’s likely MVP went two of 13 for eight points. Moe Ager out-scored him.
“I thought I had some great looks … I don’t know, I just could never find my rhythm,” said Nowitzki, reduced to a role player by defenders at least five inches shorter. “Obviously it’s very frustrating. I really didn’t give my team anything. It’s so disappointing you can’t even describe it. We played our heart out for six months and won 67 games, and … it really means nothing. It’s a tough thing to swallow. I feel sorry for the whole organization.”
Ultimately even more alarming, it’s not just the biggest upset in NBA history. It’s a giant, potentially irreparable step backward for a franchise that tricked us into believing it had changed a culture, shed its soft underbelly and matured beyond being solely reliant upon perimeter shooting. Sadly, Dirk’s landmark drive to the basket to beat the Spurs last season now seems nothing more than a quirky, unique aberration. Without the guts or guile to drive the ball to the damned basket, the Mavs are 2-8 in their last 10 playoff games.
“We got jump-shot happy,” said Johnson. “This is the toughest situation … more disappointing than anything I’ve been involved in 19 years in this league.”
Avery, please explain Dirk’s disappearance.
“You know, he just struggled,” Johnson said. “It just didn’t click, man. It’s a very disappointing end to a season. What bothers me more anything is that we just didn’t have the confidence. We got rattled.”
In the end, our emotional investment went bankrupt. One last thought to keep you pounding your fist into your open palm: The Mavs lost a total of 19 games this season -- seven of them to the Warriors.
I went to the Mavs’ 2007 NBA season, and all I got was this stupid Southwest Division championship banner. --Richie Whitt