Mavs Slam the Door in 6
They say a playoff series doesn't really start until a team wins on another's home floor. Well, the first time that happened in this series actually ended the series, as the Dallas Mavericks, the third seed in the west, took out the Trail Blazers in game 6, 103-96.
For Portland, the season is over. For Dallas, it's on to play the L.A. Lakers in the conference semi-finals.
I suppose every team can sit and starting playing the "what-if" game. But, I thought it was very ironic that an injury to a key player most likely was the difference for Portland tonight. How many times have we said that? Only this time, it was a back injury, and it only sidelined Gerald Wallace for one quarter. But, he was the guy Portland absolutely had to have on the court to have a chance in this game.
Wallace, who said he hadn't been as big a factor as he felt like he could have been in the series, was the reason the Blazers jumped out to a 12-point lead in this game. He scored Portland's first nine points of the game, had 13 in the quarter, and had the Rose Garden fans going nuts. Then, as we've experienced so often, the excitment was replaced by concern, as he went to the locker room with lower-back tightness for the entire second quarter.
While Wallace was away from the court, the Trail Blazers were outscored 33-16. As it was, Gerald had 32 points and 12 rebounds in his 33 minutes of action. I would have loved to have seen where Portland could have been in this game, and potentially in a game 7, if he had been able to log his normal 40-45 minutes in this one.
Portland was simply a different team with Wallace on the floor. Without him, they lacked the punch, the firepower, and the defensive toughness to stay with Dallas. Again, had he been able to go in that second quarter, we'd likely have been headed back to Texas for a game 7.
Irony can be cruel. We certainly know a thing about untimely injuries. This one, on the final night of the season, was yet another hurdle, and another tough break to a team that has seen plenty of tough breaks.
To Portland's credit, they battled back. After Dallas grabbed a 17-point lead in the second half, the Blazers started their charge. They cut the lead to 86-85, with 5:24 left. But, as the Mavericks have done in all their big wins in this series, they had someone step up to hit shots. Jason Kidd buried a huge three, and Jason Terry followed with a clutch two. After that, it was Dirk Nowitzki to the foul line, over and over again. You know the rest of the story.
The Mavs came into this game 1-9 in game 6s in the Dirk era. They had been 0-5 on the road in game 6s. This time, they got over the hump, and earned a trip to the second round.
Thinking back on this series now, it's easy to pick out crucial spots where the Trail Blazers had their chances. For me, it all comes down to game 1 in Dallas. That was Portland's opportunity. The one play that stands out was a 3-on-1 fast break the Trail Blazers had halfway through the fourth quarter. Had they completed that play, they would have been up eight points with just over five minutes to go. Had they won that game, we could be talking about a different outcome. It wouldn't have guaranteed anything, but it was a huge opportunity lost.
Give the Mavericks credit. They've got veterans, who know how to step up in the clutch, and know what it takes to win games. There's a reason they won 57 games in the regular season, and were tied for the best road record in the league.
I will also say this, the Mavericks are better than I thought they were. They are tough, they are physical, and they play great defense. The Lakers will have their hands full in the next round. I wouldn't have figured they'd have a chance to defeat the defending champs. Now, I'm not so sure.
For the Blazers, it was a disappointing end to a strange season. I wish so badly that injuries didn't once again define a season. But, they probably did. There were some early-season losses that came back to haunt this team, like we feared they would. Sometimes it's a very fine line that determines home-court advantage in the playoffs. As you know, the home court is so crucial in the post-season.
I'm also sitting here wondering what things would have been like this season, and this series, with a healthy Greg Oden. Not to open that can of worms, but what a difference-maker he could have been- and could still be.
Again, that's playing the what-ifs, and that doesn't get you anywhere.
Now, we head into the long off-season with so many questions to be answered. Not only about Oden, but about Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, and others. I can't wait to see what Wallace can do with a full season in black and red. I'm curious to see how much better LaMarcus Aldridge can get. I also wonder what the summer will be like for Brandon Roy.
We'll get into all of this later, as I'm not going anywhere, and hopefully you aren't either. It's an empty, and even surreal feeling when the season comes to such a drastic end. I had a bag packed for Dallas. So did everyone else. Now, you wake up and it's over.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
Thanks for being such a key part of such a great organization. Blazer fans are different. That's one thing I know will never change, and there's no question about that going into the off-season.
Time to unpack the bag, and begin the mental part of unpacking the season.
Talk to you soon. We've got a lot to discuss.