Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mavs Down and Out

Yesterday the reigning NBA champions became the first team to be eliminated from the 2012 playoffs after the Oklahoma City Thunder brought out their broomsticks in Dallas.  No surprise there, since many picked the Thunder to win the West and few gave Dallas much more than a puncher's chance in this matchup. And while I correctly predicted, before the NBA season got under way, that the Mavs didn't have what it took to make another serious title run, I probably wasn't expecting them to get bounced in the first round without winning a single game.
To be fair, Dallas put up a spirited fight and nearly stole the momentum early in the series.  They held a seven point lead with two and a half minutes remaining in Game 1, but couldn't finish the Thunder off and let the lead slip right through their fingers.  Dirk Nowitzki, who'd tallied eleven of his 25 points in the fourth quarter (LeBron James, take note), was poised to be the hero after sinking a pair of clutch free throws to give Dallas a one point lead with nine seconds left.  But the basketball gods other plans.  Kevin Durant received the inbound pass and, with Shawn Marion draped all over him, pulled up from the free throw line to launch one of the luckiest shots I've ever seen in playoff crunch time; the ball hit the front of the rim, bounced off the backboard and slid through the net with just 1.5 seconds remaining.  Thunder 99, Mavericks 98, thanks to a timely exhibition of shooter's touch.  A crushing blow for Dallas, who literally came withing inches of securing a crucial Game 1 triumph.  But it was not meant to be.

Game 2 was just as devastating for the Mavs.  Once again they fought the Thunder tooth and nail, only to come up short 102-99.  Dallas controlled the ball at the end of the game with a chance to send it into overtime, but Jason Terry missed a pair of rushed three-pointers and OKC emerged victorious once again.  Two games decided by just four points and a couple of bounces, but they were games Dallas couldn't afford to lose given their advanced age and lack of comparable talent. So the series shifted back to Dallas, and instead of being up 2-0 the Mavs were buried in an 0-2 hole from which only six percent of NBA teams ever recover.  Still, the Mavs had good reason to be optimistic that if their luck changed and a few more bounces went their way, they could win both games in Texas and even the series.

Instead, Game 3 sealed their fate.  OKC stepped up their defense, limiting Dallas to just 34 percent shooting from the floor and forcing them to commit 16 turnovers.  Nowitzki and Terry struggled (combined 28 points), and as a result the Thunder blew the Mavs out on their home court, 95-79, to grab a commanding 3-0 lead.  Now, for all intents and purposes, the series was over. 

But the Mavs didn't wave the white flag in Game 4.  Heading into the fourth quarter Dallas held a thirteen point advantage and was prepared to send the series back north before two trends doomed them once and for all; the Mavs couldn't hit a shot and James Harden caught fire.  Harden piled up fifteen of his 29 points in the fourth to spark a Thunder comeback.  Meanwhile the entire Dallas Mavericks managed to score just 16 points, mostly because they failed to convert a field goal attempt during the final 5:47 of their season and missed eight consecutive shots.  OKC capitalized on their cold shooting and charged to the finish line, outscoring the 2011 champs by 19 points in the final quarter to storm to a 103-97 win.   

Overall Dallas was tenacious and played pretty well, and with some better luck this series could be tied at two games apiece. But they couldn't delay the inevitable, and in the end the better team won.  Simple as that.  This Thunder team just had no quit in them, as they could have packed it in during Game 4, regrouped and waited to take the series in front of the home crowd in Game 5.  But they could smell blood in the water and went for the kill.  They had the opportunity to step on Dallas's throat and didn't let it pass them by.   These guys are hungry to get the Finals, and I don't know if anybody can stop them now that they're on a roll.
Today James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade look to complete their own sweep of the New York Knicks at the Madison Square Garden.  An aging Boston squad swept the Knicks last year, so the Heat should have no problem polishing them off and advancing to the conference semis.  Carmelo Anthony is going to need a monster 40 point game for NY to have any shot at all of playing Game 5.

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