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Sunday, April 24, 2011
Pivotal Game 5 to test Mavs' moxie

By Jeff Caplan
ESPNDallas.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If the Dallas Mavericks tried to create the most adverse conditions to unleash an alleged steeliness that has failed them in playoff busts past, consider it mission accomplished.

Of course, that wasn't the goal. Dallas couldn't finish off a 23-point lead in the final 13 minutes of Game 4 -- and a 10-point margin in the last 3:33. Instead of preparing for a home closeout game Monday night in front of 20,000 unfulfilled fans, the Mavs will battle for series survival against the fairy tale emotion surrounding Brandon Roy and the Portland Trail Blazers, as well as another cranky skeleton in their own crowded postseason closet.

"In the playoffs this is definitely up there [in disappointment] because there is a huge difference from being up 3-1 and 2-2," Dirk Nowitzki said. "This is definitely up there with the most frustrating losses. But, like I said, we have to shake it off."

If Dallas can't regroup from one of the three worst playoff collapses in the shot-clock era and loses Game 5, how can it possibly be trusted to win a Game 6 in the maddeningly raucous Rose Garden?

Terry We're ready to move on and get to this next game. Let's see what we're really made of.

-- Mavericks guard Jason Terry
With so much strength to gain from Game 4, the Mavs exposed more weakness. They can look back on all the improbable events that went dreadfully wrong. Roy's 3-pointer that hung on the front of the rim and dropped in with 1.9 seconds left in the third quarter that started the comeback. Nowitzki's charge. The loose ball initially ruled in the Mavs' favor but awarded to Portland after a review -- a call the league has looked at and deemed to be correct.

They can recall Roy's lean-in 3-pointer and the foul called on Shawn Marion, and Roy's game winner off glass that he admitted he didn't mean to bank.

The Mavs will be better served to study how to sustain the defensive intensity, the rebounding and offensive execution that had them cruising 67-44 with 1:16 to go in the third quarter.

"We know that we have to earn our wins in this series," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who took the blame for standing pat throughout Roy's fourth-quarter rampage. "We know that we have to earn a win in the series ultimately on the floor. And we know a seven-game series isn't over in four games.

"At this point, it's not about talk. The biggest thing is we have to get ourselves ready to play Game 5, which is now a very pivotal game in our arena. We need our fans to be like these fans were out here."

Game 5 can't be pinned on the decibel level of Mavs fans who have languished through six years of title talk and inexplicable playoff ineptitude.

"It's on us in Game 5 to go out and get a win," said Jason Terry, who declared Game 4 to be ancient history minutes after the fall. "Whether we lost by 20, lost by one, they come back from 20, it really has no significance at all.

"We're ready to move on and get to this next game. Let's see what we're really made of."

While the Game 4 collapse might feel like an anvil tied to the Mavs' series hopes, there is precedent otherwise. Two other times in the shot-clock era, dating back 57 years, a team has blown a lead of 18 points or more entering the fourth quarter. Yet, both teams ultimately won their series.

It's why when Jason Kidd was asked if Game 4 was the most stunning playoff loss of his career, he quickly answered, "No."

"I've lost 20-point leads before," Kidd said. "So, it happens and we go back home and get ready for Monday's game. I've been in this position before."

Kidd's New Jersey Nets coughed up a 21-point lead entering the fourth quarter in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. The Nets fell behind 2-1, but won the series.

Charles Barkley, who has consistently stuck with the Mavs as his choice for best team in Texas, might want to place a pep call to the boys. He was on the other end of it in 1994. Barkley's Phoenix Suns rallied from 18 down against the Houston Rockets in the second round, but ultimately lost the series.

"We have to look at what we did right to get that lead and understand we could maybe be back in the situation again in the sense of having a lead," Kidd said. "It doesn't have to be 20 points, but having that lead to be able to continue to be able to play defense and be aggressive on the offensive end."

As Carlisle said, there is no room for talk. The Mavs are too good at it.

"We can regroup," said Marion, the unfortunate victim of Roy's eight-point run in the final 1:36. "We know what we're capable of."

They'll have to prove it on the court in Game 5 or another promising season will lie in ruin.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.