The Mavs Still Can’t Beat Us
Posted by hiphopmama on March 15, 2009
Dallas 100, LA Lakers 107
Never a dull game in Laker-land. I know we have a sparkling history of giving up big leads, but this was one of our more impressive efforts in that respect. We looked to be cruising for much of the game, after Gasol’s 8-for-8 first quarter shooting led the Lakers to a 9-point first quarter lead. We didn’t even need Kobe to score until the second, when he made four in a row after missing his first four and helped us extend the lead to 12 by halftime.
Things were going along swimmingly in the third quarter, with the bench players getting some minutes and the lead swelling to 15, until our complete inability to defend the three-point line caught up with us. We had been hanging off their perimeter shooters the whole night, but they hadn’t really punished us for it. And then Jason Terry lost his friggin’ mind. With about 6 minutes left in the quarter, Terry drilled back-to-back threes to cut the lead to single-digits, and then proceeded to hit two more before the end of the quarter. The real back-breaker was the one he made at the buzzer, after a Laker turnover gave him the chance to throw one up from a few feet inside half-court.
That shot meant that it was just a 7-point lead to start the fourth, and the Mavs continued their run as Terry added another three, Kidd got a breakaway lay-up, and Antoine Wright added a pair of free throws. Gasol made a mid-range jumper to extend the lead to a whopping 3 points, but we didn’t score again until Dallas had reeled off 9 straight points, including yet another Terry three.
During that fourth quarter run, we looked completely confused by Dallas’ zone, and our entire offense consisted of Sasha Vujacic threes, none of which he made. A number of them were pretty good looks, but that’s still not our game. Finally, after we let them run up a 6-point lead on us, Kobe decided enough was enough and drained a long three from the right wing to cut the deficit in half. Ariza then made a pair of shots to reclaim a 1-point lead, and Kobe capped it with a ridiculous 27-footer with the shot clock winding down. It was only after that that Dallas got back on the scoreboard with a James Singleton tip-in. We to make things as nervy as possible, turning the ball over with a 5-point lead and giving Nowitzki a chance to cut it to 2, but thankfully he missed the three and we we let the Mavs self-destruct the rest of the way to a defeat.
Even though we looked ridiculous giving up that lead, nothing really unexpected happened in this one. The Mavs simply punished us in a very predictable way for a defensive tendency that we have displayed all season, namely our refusal to pay any attention to three-point shooters. This strong-side zone we employ works very well to smother the side of the floor the ball is on and limit opportunities in the paint, but it is piss-poor when it comes to defending the swing pass to the other side. To be honest, we have a tough time defending the perimeter no matter what defense we’re playing, but the strong-side zone makes our deficiencies in that area even more glaring by leaving us so exposed on the weak side and over-committed to the interior. The percentages – and our results – indicate that we’re better off packing it in in the paint at the expense of some open outside shots, but every now and then a good shooting team is going to make us pay, as Dallas did tonight. The only worry I have is how this game is interpreted by other teams, who may find a way to more consistently exploit our obvious defensive weakness.
All quibbling aside, this was an incredible game to watch. I scared my cats half to death and hurt my throat yelling at the screen, especially as I was trying not to wake up my husband and daughter in the next room and so was restricted to that hoarse scream of excitement as Kobe led our comeback and sealed the victory with one amazing shot after another. If the Mavs weren’t affiliated with Mark Cuban, I might even feel sorry for them for always screwing up their chances to beat us, particularly at Staples Center. How many incredible comebacks do we have against these guys at this point? Was it 27 points that we came back from in the fourth quarter a few years back? They just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to the Lakers, and I can’t say it makes me too sad. I hope they just keep on choking, especially if we’ll be facing them in the first round. If they can make the playoffs at all, that is.
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Trevor Ariza, who had the game of his life tonight, scoring a career-high 26 points, including a couple of big baskets in the fourth quarter that helped us regain and cement our lead. In addition to the scoring, he also played lockdown defense on whoever we threw him at. We put him on Jason Terry for a while to quiet that threat, and he was later moved over to Kidd, who he harassed for the final minutes. He ended up shooting 9-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point range, and he played a big role building up our lead in the first place. This whole starting gig has certainly sat well with him. If he can produce even half that much on a regular basis, he will be a huge asset come playoff time because we won’t be sacrificing much on the offensive end when we have him in for defensive purposes.
I’m not happy that we gave up that lead, but it’s nice to know we still close better than any team in the game. Having a Kobe Bryant on your team goes a long way toward that end.