SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 20: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs shoots against Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the AT&T Center on April 20, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
The Mavericks blew a three-run lead in the 9th. Because their veteran Hall-of-Fame closer — Dirk Nowitzki — absolutely imploded.
Their defensive strategy worked, limiting San Antonio’s league-best outside shooting to only 3 of 17. Devin Harris stayed in front of Tony Parker. Even Jae Crowder hit a couple of timely 3-pointers. And, to the surprise of everyone — especially me — the Mavericks held a 10-point lead with 7:45 remaining.
“Closing games is more about getting stops than shot-making,” head coach Rick Carlisle said after his team’s collapsed down the stretch in Sunday’s 90-85 Game 1 loss. “If you build a lead, you’ve got to close it with defense.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
And, truth be told, Carlisle is fibbing as well, evidenced by him not playing Dallas’ two best defenders — Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert — in the fourth quarter. Offense should have closed this upset. But Dirk was disastrous.
He wasn’t alone.
After Brandan Wright’s three-point play provided a 10-point lead with 7:45 remaining, the Mavs went colder than Lindsay Lohan’s critics. They missed 13 straight shots, which is unbelievable in itself. But included in the meltdown were four missed shots, two fouls and a turnover by their closer — Nowitzki.
Monta Ellis missed open jumpers. Vince Carter short-armed a layup. And Dirk rushed a finesse put-back of an offensive rebound that should’ve given Dallas a two-point lead with 3:22 remaining.
You can credit the Spurs’ defense, which was solid. But the only thing that was spectacular was Dallas’ come-from-ahead loss. The Mavs almost went eight minutes without a basket, saved by Harris’ meaningless layup at the buzzer.
If you’ve watched the Mavs all season you’ve grown accustomed to big-blown leads. But this one is the worst. They had the best team in the NBA on the ropes, then failed to land a single punch. You get the feeling Dallas not only missed a prime opportunity to steal a game, but also, in turn, suffered a fatal kick-to-the-crotch defeat.
If the Mavs can’t win in that situation against San Antonio, makes you wonder if they’ll even find a way to eke out one win in this series.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.