Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dallas Achieves The Near-Impossible

Last night Dallas came back from a 15-point deficit with 5 minutes left, riding some stupendous baskets by Dirk Nowitzki and a stern defensive effort to force overtime and eventually defeat the Thunder. Dallas now leads the series 3-1 and will likely advance to the NBA Finals.

A few points come to mind.
Who would have thought that Kevin Durant could be solidly defended by a 6'4" man old enough to be his father?
In the last 32 seasons, the Western Conference has been won by the following teams (assuming Dallas does close out the series):

  • L.A. Lakers (16 times)

  • San Antonio Spurs (4 times)

  • Houston Rockets (4 times)

  • Utah Jazz (2 times)

  • Dallas Mavericks (2 times)

  • Portland Trail Blazers (2 times)

  • Phoenix Suns (1 time)

  • Seattle Supersonics (1 time)

  • And in the last 12 seasons, only the Lakers, Spurs and Mavs have taken Western gold.

    Following Sacramento, New Orleans, Denver, Memphis, Minnesota, Golden State, and the Clippers cannot be much fun. Heck, there has only been one year during the past 30, 2004, in which Minnesota advanced past the first round. The same goes for the Clippers (2006) and the Grizzlies (2011)). Without a superstar, there is no glory, and only a handful of all-timers exist at any given moment.
    As spectacular as Dallas played down the stretch last night, they were still less than perfect. The Mavs nearly won last night's game in regulation; a missed free throw by Shawn Marion and a botched fast-break layup by Jason Terry in the final minute could have augmented the 17-2 run. Credit Thabo Sefolosha for excellent defense on a barreling Terry.
    As I wrote a few days ago, the Thunder cannot win this series by single-covering Dirk Nowitzki. The Thunder have a surfeit of big men including Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich, last year's first-round draft pick. Put those guys in the game and tell them to foul Dirk like crazy! Particularly when Brendan Haywood plays, Oklahoma likely realizes positive value from leaving Haywood to double-team Nowitzki.
    In every late fourth-quarter situation in the NBA, every trailing team hopes to complete a comeback like this. It usually doesn't happen, but the salience of crazy recoveries (Reggie Miller's 8 points in 9 seconds, Tracy McGrady's 13 points in 35 seconds, Miami over Dallas in Game 3 in 2006, Derrick Rose over the Pacers in Game 1 this year) allows all similarly-positioned teams to wonder whether they might be so fortunate. Blame Dirk Nowitzki's heroics last night for all the future fourth quarters that last 45 minutes in a mess of fouls and feckless timeouts.

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