Thursday, May 19, 2011
Updated: May 20, 1:37 PM ET
Mavericks receive jolt of reality
By Tim MacMahon
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' stunningly easy sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers -- and the ensuing eight-day layoff -- was light-years ago, according to coach Rick Carlisle.
The Mavs took the Oklahoma City Thunder lightly, according to Dallas big man Tyson Chandler.
No, Oklahoma City isn't a two-time defending champion. But unlike this season's Lakers, the Thunder are a team that can beat the Mavs in a playoff game.
The Mavs got slapped in the face with that reality with a series-tying 106-100 loss in Thursday night's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. A veteran squad that prides itself on defense and finishing games strong failed miserably in both of those facets against a young, star-studded and energetic Thunder team at the American Airlines Center.
And just like that, the Mavs' seven-game winning streak and home-court advantage in this series vanished into outer space.
"When you're afraid of a team or you feel like a team can beat you every single night, you go out there and you play with a certain type of edge," Chandler said, explaining the Mavs' approach while busting out the brooms against Kobe Bryant & Co. "I feel like we came out here and we took these boys lightly. There's a reason why they're in the Western Conference finals. They're not a team to be taken lightly, so we've got to make our adjustments and come out and win Game 3."
There is no reason to panic in Dallas. These Mavs proved beyond any doubt that they could respond to adversity, reeling off those seven consecutive wins after an epic collapse in Portland's Rose Garden, where they allowed a 23-point third-quarter lead to disappear.
|Tyson Chandler (left) hinted that the Mavericks took Kevin Durant and the energetic Thunder for granted.|
The Mavs have plenty of reason to be confident that they can win when the series moves north up Interstate 35. This is a team that matched the Miami Heat for the NBA's best road record during the regular season and has won its past three playoff games away from the AAC.
But the Mavs had better find a sense of urgency. If they don't regain the focus and attention to detail that made them such a stingy defensive team in the first two series, the Thunder will roll right into the NBA Finals.
Dallas didn't allow the Trail Blazers or Lakers to crack triple digits in the first two rounds. The Mavs got away with giving up 112 points to Oklahoma City in Game 1, although they had to face Carlisle's wrath during the next day's practice. There's more of that coming after Oklahoma City shot 55.7 percent from the floor -- including 11-of-17 in the fourth quarter -- to hand the Mavs their first home loss of this postseason.
"Hey, sometimes you get your butt kicked," Carlisle said. "You've got to take it like a man, and hey, we've got to respond."
The Mavs didn't have an efficient offensive performance, shooting only 43.8 percent from the floor, but that's not their primary concern.
Carlisle has preached since the first day of training camp that defense would determine the Mavs' destiny. Consider this loss a clear reminder of the veracity of that statement.
"When you have a seven-game win streak, you kind of forget what got you there," Chandler said. "We started feeling good about ourselves. We've got to get back to what got us there."
Dallas' defensive performance in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder outscored the Mavs by a 29-24 margin, was especially disappointing. And it wasn't even NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant doing most of the damage.
Durant, who was on the floor with four reserves for almost all of the quarter, scored only four of his 24 points in the final frame. The Mavs simply couldn't stop sixth man James Harden, who had 14 of his 23 points in the last 12:07. Three other Oklahoma City reserves -- Nick Collison, Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook -- added 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth.
Dallas cranked up its defensive intensity after Oklahoma City built a double-digit lead, holding the Thunder without a field goal for the final 3:15. Too little, too late for a team that dominated every fourth quarter in the West semifinals against the Lakers.
"We just didn't have it, couldn't get the stops we needed," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. "We're usually a great fourth-quarter team. We get stops; we go out and run and execute on the offensive end. But those couple of minutes right there where they went up eight or 10, that was the killer."
Now, the Thunder own home-court advantage. OKC also has the Mavs' attention and respect.
"Obviously they belong here," Nowitzki said. "And now they've got all the momentum, so we've got to snatch it."
The Mavs, usually a magnificent offensive machine, had better start with playing stingy defense and finishing games strong. That's how they got this far.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.
When you have a seven-game win streak, you kind of forget what got you there. We started feeling good about ourselves. We've got to get back to what got us there.
-- Mavericks center Tyson Chandler