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Sunday, April 24, 2011
Could fourth be Rick Carlisle's undoing?

By Tim MacMahon


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Rick Carlisle keeps claiming that the Mavericks game-plan for Brandon Roy as if he’s an All-Star. That certainly wasn’t the case in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

The Mavericks’ defensive strategy didn’t indicate that they had any more respect for Roy than any other reserve guard. They just guarded him one on one, with defensive liability Jason Terry among the Mavs taking a turn.

That was a major mistake that ended up costing the Mavs. Carlisle admitted as much after Roy repeatedly torched them on isolation plays, blowing up for 21 points in the last 12 minutes and change as the Blazers rallied from a 23-point deficit to stun the Mavs and even the series.

"I'm going to take the blame for a lot of that,” Carlisle said. “There were different things defensively we could have done, and we should have done some different things. So I'm going to take the blame for that."

Some Mavs, such as Tyson Chandler and Terry, didn’t hesitate to give Carlisle a healthy share of the blame for the horrific collapse. Those players brought up the lack of adjustments when asked how the Dallas defense could go from dominant through three quarters to dreadful. Shawn Marion, who complained about being treated like a "rag doll" during last year's playoffs, was also miffed he spent most of the fourth quarter on the bench instead of getting a chance to guard Roy before the three-time All-Star had heated into a ridiculous zone.

They were pointing out the obvious. They were also pointing the finger at Carlisle, although nobody called him out by name.

“We didn't make any adjustments, period,” Chandler said. “We didn't make any adjustments guarding him on the floor and we didn't make any adjustments any time. It was obvious."

Carlisle implored the Mavs to “stick together” during his postgame address in the losers’ locker room. The Mavs kept promising to stay positive, but one has to wonder whether Carlisle’s coaching gaffe could have a lingering effect.

The relationship between Carlisle and his core players has never been particularly cozy. He considers a certain kind of discomfort to be healthy, which is evident in the way his rotation is constantly evolving. But there’s nothing healthy if the players stop believing in their head coach.

If the fourth quarter of Game 4 turns out to be the turning point of the series, Carlisle could be in trouble. He took this job with the understanding that the expectation was to win a championship. One series win in three seasons would be a miserable failure by those high standards.

Would that be cause for firing a coach with one season remaining on his contract?

Only one man knows the answer, and Mark Cuban declined to talk to the media as he left the Rose Garden after another heartbreaking Mavs playoff loss.