“It’s been that kind of year,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle before the Mavs’ 95-79 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 3 on Thursday. He was talking about the challenges and tough breaks the Mavericks have faced this season and how they had continued to fight through despite the setbacks.
On this night, it seemed there was no fight left after falling flat in a must-win game on their home court.
"That kind of year'' became "that kind of night.'' Again.
After being held in check for the first two games of the series, three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant scored 31 points on an efficient 11-15 shooting. He also added six assists, two steals and a block. Russell Westbrook scored 20 points, grabbed four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Serge Ibaka added 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds and four blocks. James Harden and Derek Fisher also scored 10 points a piece for the rising Western Conference power.
For the defending champions, things almost could not have gone worse. Instead of an inspired, prideful defense of their home court, Dallas rolled over.
Said Jason Terry: “They kicked our ass in every facet of the game.’’
Dirk Nowitzki was the leading scorer with 17 points, but needed 15 shots to reach that level. Similarly, Jason Kidd scored 12 points but needed as many shots to do so while adding five rebounds and four assists. Jason Terry added 11 points and six assists but had four turnovers while hitting only three of his 10 shots from the floor. No other Maverick scored in double-figures. Brendan Haywood was particularly putrid, scoring only three points and grabbing two rebounds in seven largely ineffective minutes before being benched.
Every Mavericks player saw action in G3, a series first, but none played well. As a team, Dallas shot 34%. Despite taking 26 free throws to the Thunder’s 17, Dallas never looked the aggressor in this one. No Dallas starter finished positive in plus/minus while every Thunder player who saw minutes outside of garbage time did so.
The buzzards are circling on this Mavericks’ season, and without a miracle, the champions seem to be going out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Tonight’s flaccid effort will give that sect of fans and media who bemoaned the decision not to retain Chandler/Barea/Butler ever more ammunition, be it correct or not.
"I don't think we took a step forward as a team,'' Dirk said. "We took a step back."
It seems we are witnessing a changing of the guard in the Western Conference, with the champs on the losing end of that exchange. Eerily similar to the way the Mavericks stole the torch from the fading Utah Jazz over a decade ago, it seems the young Thunder are taking the flame away from this (presently-constructed) aging Maverick team.
Instead of struggling, Dallas seemed all too content to pass the crown. Unfortunately, the path to redemption seems all-but impossible. In the history of the league, teams 3-0 in the playoffs have a record of 48-35 in Game 4s and have gone on to win the series all 83-0.
No team has ever come back from down 3-0. Based on what we saw Thursday night, don’t expect this Mavericks team to be the first either.
Yes the championship is still sweet, but for those who watched Thursday, the sweet is the overwhelmed by an at-least-temporary taste of bitterness.
It’s been that kind of a year.
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