Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Statement Game

I had to make a choice tonight and decide whether to TiVo the bowl game (Oklahoma vs. West Virginia) or Mavs-Warriors. I chose the latter and I'm glad I did, because I got to see Dallas rise up and become a contender again. I may be reading this wrong, but I feel like two years of doom and gloom and choking and baggage was alleviated in one game. Seriously.

Granted, it was a home game in January, but because it was against the Warriors, it just meant more. Adding to the effect of the win was the fact that Dallas jumped out to a significant lead, only to watch Golden State whittle it down to a one-score game late in the third quarter as the American Airlines arena got quiet and nervous. It was all so reminiscent of last year's playoffs and you could almost see it etched on people's faces - from Mark Cuban to the random fans sitting courtside. Here comes crazy Stephen Jackson and cocky Baron Davis and all the role players and we're in trouble.

But then three guys changed the course of the game:

1. Jerry Stackhouse. He never seems to get nervous or rattled, which is helpful. The problem is that sometimes his confidence generates big shots and sometimes it creates a flurry of bricks. Tonight the ball was going in. But this is a 50/50 proposition, so the Mavs can't count on Stack carrying them to a title. Therefore, we're moving on.

2. Brandon Bass. I felt very strongly over the offseason that Dallas needed to bring in some frontcourt help. Namely, an athletic, aggressive power forward type that can crash the offensive glass and finish plays in the paint. Dallas needed such a player in the worst way last year and then they made no move to acquire anyone fitting the description all summer. But I didn't realize that they already had such a player on the roster. Seriously, Brandon Bass? The former LSU star has been riding pine for the past few years and now he's suddenly a hugely important player in the Dallas rotation. He's had some really good moments this year, but tonight was a real coming out party. He was abusing the small ball Warrior lineup on the glass, he showed an ability to finish in the lane and get to the line, and move quickly to help and recover when Baron and Ellis got into the lane. He helps them solve so many problems - rebounding, attacking zones, hedging big guards, and so on. This is important stuff.

3. Dirk Nowitzki. This is the big one. Dirk has been playing this entire season like he's on the Shaq circa 2002/LeBron circa 2006 "coast until the playoffs" plan. Something about his breakdown last year, the beating he took in the media regarding his MVP trophy, and then the weird backpacking trip over the summer ... it all added up to a distant, starry-eyed Dirk. Where is the snarling German that throws his mouthpiece and screams at refs. Where is the guy that was berating teammates in the spring of 2004 and taking Duncan to the rack in the summer of 2005? For Dallas to become legit title contenders again and challenge for the crown, they need that old Dirk. And tonight, with his nemesis Stephen Jackson and the rest of the fast, physical Warriors in town, that old Dirk showed up. He hit big threes, got to the line, snared big rebounds, and had one awesome sequence where he blocked two straight shots at the rim, changed another, and then hauled in the rebound. It was very impressive. He finished 29-8-6 with 3 blocks and shot 9-for-16 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line. Now that is an MVP performance.

It was a big night for the Mavericks and now that they've vanquished the Warriors and the ghosts of 2007 and won't be encountering D-Wade and the ghosts of 2006 anytime soon, I really believe that they are right in the hunt for the O'Brien Trophy. It's Detroit, Boston, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Dallas. And if I had to pick right here, right now, I'm taking Dallas over Boston in 5 in the Finals.

Like I said, statement game.

1 comment:

jsuns1 said...

wow adam, that game really made an impression on you to pick them over Boston! I missed the fourth quarter.
Thanks for the recap. I love the suns, but I was leaning towards Boston being the best team right now,especially after how they crushed
the Lakers recently. I need to buy tivo or something so I can rewatch these games!