DONUT 1: The Art of The Close ...
For half a decade, the Dallas Mavericks have mastered the art of winning close games. For this bastardized season, they’ve painted outside the lines as the most wobbly close-game combatants among playoff teams. But for one game on Thursday – Game 3 in this first-round playoff series against a blossoming Oklahoma City team – the ability to arrange for close games and the ability to win close games was supposed to mesh into a victory for the defending champs.
Instead, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook happened. And “close’’ never did, as the Thunder won, 95-79. Big things ... little things ... they all were owned by OKC ... as even Mavs layup attempts became Thunder highlights ...
DONUT 2: The Durant Problem ...
Three-time scoring champ Durant finished with 31 points – his first breakout game of the series – on 11-of-15 shooting. Durant (labeled by Dallas coach Rick Carlisle as "the best scorer on the planet'') totaled 15 points in the first quarter and added eight more in the first nine minutes of the final period to seal OKC’s 3-0 series lead.
"It was good to have a good start,’’ OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s earned that; he works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around, and you knew he was going to have a good shooting game sooner or later. He’s diligent in his work; he’s so consistent. It’s incredible to see.’’
DONUT 3: Westy from midrange ...
Meanwhile, sidekick Westbrook – the Thunder’s best player through the first two games while KD shot just 15-of-44 against the defense of Dallas ace Shawn Marion – scored 20 points here, and staved off any Dallas hopes of a comeback when in the third quarter he scored 11 points.
I watched Westbrook in pregame warmups, before the rest of his team came onto the floor. His repeated exercise: stop-and-pop mid-range jumpers. And unlike last postseason, when he shot so many and missed so many that he was labeled "selfish'' and got benched ... by God, he made 'em all.
And then, in the game, against overmatched defenders Delonte and Jet and the rest, he did it again.
DONUT 4: No bad bounces ...
The final score is deceptive; both teams emptied their benches in the late going and Dallas scored 10 points to close. In truth, this game had a “20-point margin’’ feel throughout, a fact that is terribly troubling to a Mavs team that felt it was one bounce away from winning Games 1 and 2.
Among playoff teams, only the Lakers (28) have played more close games (five points or fewer) than the Mavs this year. Dallas is 10-15 in such games, and among playoff teams, only Philadelphia’s winning percentage is poorer than that. The Mavs had reason to believe that “The Due Theory’’ would kick in on Thursday, that the bounces that went awry in Games 1 and 2 – decided by a combined total of four points -- would carom more logically and predictably here.
“They threw a great game at us,’’ Carlisle said. “We needed to be a lot better than we were."
Added Jason Terry: “They kicked our ass in every facet of the game.’’
DONUT 5: Do you want to do your Ref Rip? ...
I do not. And I sense that Carlisle does not, either. The coach went a little nuts in the first half, storming the floor in the middle of a play. What triggered it? A single possession during with the zebras blew not one but two calls.
Hey, the Mavs were only 26 makeup calls away from catching up ...
DONUT 6: The puzzle ...
The Mavs franchise has rarely trailed 3-0 in a series (you have to go back to SA and '01) but in this odd season, a negative “first’’ seems fitting enough.
Meanwhile, OKC deserves tremendous credit for having assembled a club top-heavy in talent, with both Durant and Westbrook able to carry the sort of load that Dirk Nowitzki (17 points) so frequently shoulders alone for Dallas.
The Mavs, of course, have resourcefully found an infinite number of ways to succeed over the last 12 playoff-eligible seasons. Close-game execution is among those and so is a defensive system that under coach Rick Carlisle places the club among the elite in the West. But even against Marion, Durant was too often allowed to roam free on the perimeter. And as mentioned above, Westbrook’s mid-range shooting – a trouble spot a year ago when the Thunder lost to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals – is suddenly an unsolvable puzzle.
DONUT 7: Dirk's post-mortem ...
When you climb a mountain as Dallas did a season ago, you eventually have to come down the other side. Dirk addressed that when he said, "I don't think we took a step forward as a team. We took a step back."
Oh, the Nancies will have a field day with that one. Sound the funeral dirge music and light a candle next to a painting of TY for me, will ya?
The UberMan, though, is not being misunderstood here. He's beginning to squint forward, telling FoxSportsSouthwest.com, “We need somebody this summer. That was the plan. If we don’t get anyone, then we could’ve kept the same team together and gone for it again. You can’t right now know if it’s the right decision or not. If we get a big fish, then maybe it was worth it.”
Jeez. Even Dirk is forgetting the reasons TY is no longer here. Focus, Big German. Because before the big fish comes there is at least one final step on the floor ... and then a series of hopeful ones after that.
DONUT 8: TY Whining ...
Don't feel bad. You come to a fork in the road. You choose "left.'' "Left'' lands you in a ditch. What do you naturally say?
"Ummm, maybe we shoulda turned right.''
It's human nature. Dirk's even doing it. And heck, in a few months and a few years maybe we'll determine that the "right'' fork might've been the proper one.
But once again, a note that addresses the immediacy of the We-Shouldn't-Have-Let-TY-Walk camp: Was he going to make a 26-point difference for the Mavs in Game 3?
While Dallas was losing its Games 1 and 2 by a total of four points, Tyson's Knicks were losing theirs by a total of 63 points. What was TY doing to get his Knicks playoff era started? In Game 1, he gave NY three rebounds and zero points.
Comfort yourself with the thought that Tyson staying in Dallas would've made him Bill Russell and would've cinched another title, if that helps you get through the week.
DONUT 9: They make you show up ...
In the history of the league, teams that start 3-0 in the playoffs have a record of 48-35 in Game 4’s (Game 4 in this series is Saturday in Dallas). And they have gone on to win the series 83 times out of 83.
So, fellas, whatdya say?
Marion: "We’ve got to dig deep inside of us and get it."
Vince: "At some point someone is going to defy the odds so why not try for it?''
Jet: "Can you fight through adverse situations and come together as a team and get it done? I believe we can,” sixth man Jason Terry said. “People say I’m crazy.
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DONUT 11: OKC control ...
"We don’t get caught up in things we can’t control,’’ said OKC's Scott Brooks, sounding very much like the winning coach. “We just play. Our guys play hard; they try to get better every possession. And it’s all these things that we talk about in practice, film sessions, huddles, time outs, and it doesn’t matter. We just talk about doing what we have to do as a team to get better. We can’t control the other things. We just control what we do.”
What OKC now controls is the series. We are likely seeing a changing of the guard in the West, but we are seeing something more: Suddenly, the competition between the Mavs and the Thunder isn’t close, and specifically, the ways to handle Durant and Westbrook are beyond Dallas’ grasp as well.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ... Starring Kate Upton!
This is all jiggly and basketbally and ought to cheer you up ...
No? Still not enough? Wow. You are down.