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Friday, May 04, 2007

Down Goes Dallas! Down Goes Dallas! Down Goes Dallas!

The Golden State Warriors completed the greatest upset in NBA playoff history with a 111-86 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, winning the series 4-2. Stephen Jackson set a Warriors' playoff record with seven three pointers (on just eight attempts) and scored a game-high 33 points. Baron Davis fought off a hamstring injury to add 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. All five Warriors' starters scored in double figures and two besides Davis had double doubles as the Warriors outrebounded the Mavericks 53-38; Matt Barnes had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Andris Biedrins had 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse each scored 20 points for Dallas but that was not nearly enough to make up for the complete disappearance of the likely 2007 MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, who shot 2-13 from the field and scored just eight points. Nowitzki did manage to get 10 rebounds, but this has to be one of the worst performances ever by a player of his caliber in an elimination game; there may have been others that were worse statistically--though I cannot think of one at the moment--but it is difficult to recall a game six in which a prospective MVP had no impact whatsoever and was neither injured nor in foul trouble.

The Warriors are just the third eighth seed to beat a number one seed--Denver stunned Seattle in 1994 and New York defeated Miami in 1999--but they are the first to do so in a seven game series and the first to do so in less than the maximum number of games; New York needed a last second Allan Houston jump shot to win 78-77 in the fifth game of a five game series, while Denver needed overtime to prevail 98-94 in the fifth game of a five game series. Golden State, on the other hand, beat Dallas senseless in the third quarter in game six and did a victory lap in the fourth quarter. Prior to this year's 67-15 Dallas Mavericks, every other team in NBA history that won at least 65 games also won the championship except for the 1972-73 Boston Celtics, who lost in the Eastern Conference Finals after John Havlicek injured his shoulder--and those Celtics went on to win two of the next three titles. Dallas suffered no injuries to key players but lost in the first round to a team that had to win on the last day of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs. From a historical standpoint, nothing like this has ever happened in the NBA.

You'd never believe it based on the final score, but this game was close well past halftime. The Mavericks came out in a good flow, with Jason Terry opening the scoring with a three pointer on the first possession of the game. The Warriors led 19-15 when Davis left the game at the 5:10 mark in the first quarter after injuring his hamstring. He went to the locker room for some treatment and the score was tied at 29 when he checked back in with 9:46 left in the second quarter. Davis committed a turnover and Terry soon blew by him for a layup. Davis then made a jumper, missed a shot and committed an offensive foul. It hardly seemed like he was poised to do great things; in fact, it looked like Don Nelson needed to get Davis out of the game, both for Davis' good and for the sake of the team--but then, in the next four minutes, Davis made four straight shots, including three three pointers. He was making shots that have not been seen since Michael Jordan and Larry Bird played "horse" in the old McDonald's commercial. The Mavericks kept pace despite Davis' onslaught, trailing just 50-48 at halftime, but Davis had made it clear that he would be a factor the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Nowitzki endured a nightmare first half, shooting 1-10 from the field and scoring just four points. Stackhouse shouldered the bulk of the scoring burden, pouring in 18 points. The teams traded baskets for the first few possessions of the third quarter before Jackson nailed consecutive three pointers to push the Warriors' lead to 62-54. Howard countered with a three pointer to make the score 62-57 at the 7:32 mark--and Dallas did not score again until Stackhouse's jump shot with 2:24 left in the third quarter. During that time, Golden State went on an 18-0 run that obliterated a season's worth of work by Dallas: Jackson made a free throw and two three pointers, followed by a Davis jumper, two Davis free throws, two Jackson free throws, a Davis free throw, two Biedrins free throws and a Barnes dunk. The last two scores symbolized Dallas' complete helplessness: the Mavericks apparently intentionally fouled Biedrins, a notoriously poor free throw shooter, because they simply could not stop Golden State from scoring. TNT's Steve Kerr noted that for a defensive minded team like Dallas to resort to "Hack a Biedrins" in the third quarter was basically a sign of surrender. Nelson took Biedrins out of the game, so on the next possession Dallas trapped Davis, an adjustment that worked in the latter stages of the Mavericks' game five victory--but he calmly fed Barnes, who delivered an emphatic dunk. If this were a boxing match, the referee would have called the fight right at that moment. Golden State outscored Dallas 36-15 in the third quarter, led 86-63 going into the fourth quarter and did not allow the Mavericks to get closer than 19 points the rest of the way.

Whether or not Golden State can sustain this level of play in the next round, the Warriors' accomplishment in this series will forever be remembered and images from this sixth game--Davis' off balance shots, Barnes' dunk, a great dunk by Jason Richardson in the fourth quarter--will take their place alongside Denver's Dikembe Mutombo cradling the ball in 1994 and New York's Allan Houston pumping his arm and sprinting the length of the court in 1999.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:56 AM


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At Friday, May 04, 2007 5:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder who the Mavs and especially Cuban will blame this time.My guess is that they'll concote some conspiracy theory involving David Stern.
I am so glad those crybabies are out of the play-offs!

At Friday, May 04, 2007 5:38:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Dirk's performance was, well, pathetic. He is being guarded by players 4 or 5 inches shorter than him in a win-or-go-home-game, and the best he can do is keep bricking fall-away 20-footers?

It's not a crime to have a bad shooting night, but if Dirk was a truly great player, he would have found a way to have an impact.

For instance,Larry Bird (to whom Dirk has been compared) would have nights where he couldn't throw a pea in the ocean, but he'd roll up his sleeves and go to the offensive boards, take the ball inside, post people up, and help the team with his passing.

As a basketball fan, I don't feel very bad about Dirk's performance. This is because it has exposed the weakness of the currently-fashionable big man who lives on the perimeter and doesn't have much of a post-up game. One of the biggest disappointments for me in the NBA recently has been the huge number of 7-footers who would rather hang out at the 3-point line than mix it up on the block. I hope that this game will help reverse this trend.

Baron Davis had an incredible game. When he got injured, I sensed that the Warriors were done, even though Dallas failed to take advantage initially. I figured that Davis' mobility would get worse and would become a liability, and without him his teammates would eventually falter (I didn't think Stephen Jackson could stay that hot), at which point Dallas would take charge. But Davis played like a true competitor, driving to the whole, running the offense, and helping drive his team to victory. His series long performance may rank up there with some of the most memorable and impressive in playoff history. I hope he gets the respect he deserves.

At Friday, May 04, 2007 12:07:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

dirk is overated i said it that was atrosicious give your mvp to nash a real winner a real great player a real leader your a joke dirk you had 8 pts in a closeout game you not in the same sentence as kobe and jordan or bird or rick barry your a soft player you quit in the game it should be said when kobe scored the 1 pt 3 shot thing they didnt hesitate to start ripping kobe do not let dirk off david or anybody else your supposed to lead your team not quit on themthe hook

At Friday, May 04, 2007 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent writing.

At Friday, May 04, 2007 1:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just got my 'WE BELIEVE' GOLDEN STATE OF MIND t-shirt!

At Friday, May 04, 2007 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, nd old-timer question for you: with his chunky build and Old Testament beard, doesn't Baron Davis do a pretty good Warren Jabali imitation? Good leaper and rebounder too, like the original.

At Friday, May 04, 2007 4:07:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

Dirk was your pick for MVP, along with Kobe (see my next post on the Suns/Lakers thread).

would you like a mulligan?

At Friday, May 04, 2007 7:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Comparing Dirk to Bird is, of course, absurd. I can assure you that I, for one, have never made such a comparison. As Barkley might say, the only thing they have in common is that they are both white.

That said, I don't think that we should go overboard about one game or one series. Just last year, Dirk dropped 50 on the Suns in a playoff game and was huge in game seven versus the Spurs. In previous years, Dirk ran off a string of 30-15 playoff games that has not been seen since Kareem in the 70s. Dirk is a great player who had a subpar series--though he did come up big down the stretch in one game--and an awful game six. His game six performance, as I said in my post, is as bad as I have ever seen a player of his caliber play in a game like that. Still, that does not automatically wipe out his entire season or the great playoff games that he has had in the past.

Dirk is not a post up player right now. What Dallas should have done, as I wrote a few days ago, was stop playing scared and open up the game. Dirk is a great face up shooter in transition, so Dallas should have run and gotten him shots that he is comfortable shooting. Of course, part of the reason they could not do that was that they could not stop the Warriors at all in the key third quarter stretch. Dirk gets part, but not all, of the blame for the bad defense.

Baron had a great series, gritty, gutty and effective. He's done this before when he was healthy; he had a very good series with the Hornets against T-Mac and the Magic a few years ago.

Jabali is a great comparison to Davis: similar size, great leapers, streaky three point shooters, limited at times by injuries. Jabali played forward sometimes and Davis showed in this series that he has the strength and tenacity to guard bigger players.

I don't need a mulligan about saying that Kobe is the MVP and that Dirk should finish second. The MVP is a regular season award. If I had a vote, I would have had to cast it before this series even started. I'll have more to say on this subject a little later.

At Sunday, May 06, 2007 2:53:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

some people trying to jump on the nash is mvp band wagon because of nowitzki and kobe being out of the playoffs the arizona republic said he was beat by history more than anything else. i would still go with dirk because he is the mvp of the regular season his team won 67 games and was dominant, i would sonud hipicrictical now to say nash is the mvp because he's still in the playoffs


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