Mavericks Win Title, Proving “Underdog” Label Wrong
By sarahhecht Posted in: Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks taught many of us a lesson last night as they won the title World Champions: Don’t underestimate anyone.
As one who vocally wanted to face the Mavs in the first round of the playoffs this year, I’ll be the first to say congratulations. Wow, was I wrong. I’ll also say that I’ve been rooting for them since they beat the Trail Blazers, so I think that’s a bit of a redeeming factor.
As the end of the regular season wrapped up and final playoff positioning was determined, all my intuition and rational thoughts had Dallas as the best opponent.
The Mavs struggled closing the season—though struggled is a relative term when you still end up with the 3rd seed in the Western Conference—and looked as if they’d peaked at the wrong time.
Then came the first round and Portland lost the first two games of the series in Dallas. I clearly recall fans reacting with surprise as Rip City faithfuls were positive we would steal one of those away games.
What followed were two amazing games in the Rose Garden. The Game 3 win to put the Trail Blazers back in the series and the mind-blowing, heart-stopping, go-down-in-Rip-City-history comeback led by Brandon Roy in Game 4. I felt unstoppable after that game, there was no way we were losing this series.
Dallas came fighting back with a solid win back on their home floor to take a 3-2 series lead. And the infamous winner of Game 5 statistic prevailed as the Mavs advanced to the second round following a Game 6 defeat in Portland.
Now I’m not taking us down this painful memory lane for nothing so stick with me. We’re looking back at the first round series with Portland to make some comparisons and learn some lessons.
First, the Trail Blazers put up the BEST fight against the eventual World Champions. Yes, I know the Miami Heat succumbed 4-2 as well, but in watching the series the Trail Blazers played better ball through four quarters. The entire Dallas/Miami series didn’t feel exciting until the 4th quarter. I find games more entertaining when I feel the ebbs and flows before the end. Kind of like watching an exciting movie, the plot builds and builds and builds until you get the exciting payoff.
Second, the Trail Blazers defense should be named the Dirk-stopper. The bulletproof combination of LaMarcus, Nicolas and Gerald was the only defensive coalition in the post-season to give Dirk a run for his money. Nowitzki didn’t break the 40-point mark in any game during the first round.
I remember someone on press row leaning over before a game and asking me “Do you think Dirk will show up tonight?” The correct answer to that is yes and no. Yes, Dirk gave the Trail Blazers some trouble and no because that trouble wasn’t enough for him to take control of Portland. Nowitzki following up his grueling first-round series with a sweep of the L.A. Lakers, TWO 40+ point games against Oklahoma City and a World Championship over the Heat.
A little stats nugget for you, Dirk averaged 27.3 ppg in the series with Portland and that was his second lowest average in the post-season. The lowest coming from the finals series at 26.0. I’m thinking our Trail Blazers deserve one more giant pat on the back for that feat.
Lastly, the lesson learned: Never count out the underdog. They have nothing to lose and a World Championship to gain.
Looking back on the Trail Blazers post-season, I find my disappointment lessened by Dallas’ success. A first-round exit to the eventual champion, and a six-game effort at that, leaves me with hope. A few tweaks, like stronger perimeter defense and getting to the free-throw line, could have changed the outcome.
As a final congratulations it’s important to recognize the entire cast of “underdogs” whose team-oriented style of play paid dividends. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Peja Stoikavic for their timely buckets from behind the arc, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion for holding down paint, J.J. Barea for putting it all on the line and Dirk for... being Dirk.
When I look at the Mavs and their team-style of play I smile. I can’t help but think about the Trail Blazers and their similarities. We’re set-up for team-style play too, not the domination of one or two players. If the aging Mavs can battle to the top then the Trail Blazers have nothing to worry about but staying the course.