The Hornets whip the Mavericks: NO leads series 3-1

The Mavericks are done.  I don't say that because they are down 3-1 and heading to New Orleans.  I don't say that because of the past history for the Mavs in tough situations.  I don't even say it because of any new wrinkle I saw in their game plan tonight.  I say it because they flat out surrendered tonight – while the game was still on the line.

At first I was disgusted by the Dallas fans when they started to stream out of the Arena with five and a half minutes to go and their team down nineteen. I thought it was pathetic.  But when less than two minutes later Avery Johnson pulled the only two players he had who had been at all effective in the second half, I understood it.  This year, Dallas quits.  Fans and players alike.

Yeah, that's a bit harsh, but what the hell else can you call it?  They were down eighteen with 3:38 remaining when Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were pulled in favor of Jose Juan "I ain't going to do a damn thing" Barea and Malik "Why the hell am I getting minutes for an NBA team" Allen.  They had three and a half minutes left!  Tracy McGrady once scored thirteen points in thirty five seconds! Which is more important, trying to scratch out an improbable comeback and heading to New Orleans 2-2 instead of 1-3 or giving those two guys an extra ten minutes of rest when they don't play until Tuesday?

I can just say Avery Johnson is done.  He's just too high-strung and that Finals loss to Miami must have caused a few things to snap.  During the last two post-season he's been trying too desperately to out-strategize the other team, and allowing his team to go away from what it does well.  Last year, he swapped his starting lineup in an attempt to match up to an inferior team, and allowed that team to play their way all series.  This year, he spent two games at the start of the series game-planning junk defenses to throw at Paul in a madcap attempt to keep him under control.  The result was Paul tearing the Mavericks apart until they went back to a normal defense focused on going under screens and trying to limit his penetration and make him shoot long shots.  You know – the same sort of defense everyone uses against Paul.

That, my friends, is what military historians call "surrendering the initiative".  Once you start spending all your time worrying about what the other team is going to do, and not trying to play to your own strengths, you've already taken one step on the path to defeat.  The Mavericks have now taken 3.

Observations from the game, bullet-style:

  • There has been a huge deal made about how Kidd was going to punish Chris Paul on the block.  That his greater strength was going to cause all kind of trouble for our boy.  After tonight, Kidd has shot exactly zero times on a post up of Paul.  That's not points, that's shots.  Zero times.  He's gotten a few nice assists hitting cutting players, but not once has he tried to score from his "position of strength".  In fact, Kidd's only offensive strength has been his three point shooting and a few fast break layups.  He doesn't even get to the rim in the half court anymore.  I kept count last night and four times he managed to get into the paint, three times with lanes open the basket.  On all four drives he kicked the ball out for a perimeter shot.  That's not going to get it done.
  • Speaking of Kidd, that foul that got him ejected was dangerous as hell.  Pargo may have rolled out of it with the reflexes of a cat, but Kidd caught him on the neck and yanked downwards.  Even if Pargo hadn't been in the air, that's a Flagrant in any situation and speed.  He deserved to get tossed.  Honestly – I hope he doesn't get suspended.  I'd much rather have the ball in his hands than Jason Terry's, and I told my buddy I hoped they'd downgrade to a flagrant 1 and let him keep playing.  I doubted he'd add much to his 3 points, 3 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 turnovers.  In 29 minutes.
  • My Hornets player of the game was Pargo.  He of the snaggletoothed-grin was again a big lift off the bench, scoring 11, dishing 2, and skying for six big rebounds when our guys were getting beaten pretty badly on the boards.
  • We got rebounded again.  This time by 5, but we allowed 16 offensive rebounds.  Yuck.
  • Julian Wright gave Pargo a run for his money, playing with electric energy and doing so well he kept Bonzi stuck to the bench in the second half.  He was 5-6 for 11 points, had a pair of nice finishes, and had 2 rebounds and 2 steals to go with his usual frenetic giraffe-calf defense.  Oh, and he stripped Jerry Stackhouse and made him look like a schmuck.  That's always good.
  • We finally got a handle on the free-throws, playing the game we usually played during the season.  We shot the least free throws in the season, and gave up the least during the season.  After handing the mavs 38, 39 and 39 free throws the previous games, we only let them get 16 tonight.  Coupling that with our usual decent defense, and despite the Hornets allowing 16 offensive rebounds, The mavs managed only 84 points on 97 posessions, which is simply awful.(Normally the Mavs should have gotten about 108)
  • Paul had a poor game again.  At least, you'd think so until you saw his statline of 16 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal and 1 turnover.  Only about three teams in the league wouldn't give up their starting point guard for a player who produces that sort of line on a good night.
  • Jason Terry, Brandon Bass and Dirk Nowitzki opened the game well, but when they proved to be the only threats the Hornets clamped down on Bass, focused on Nowitzki and let Terry try to win the game himself.  Game over.
  • Josh Howard, a former fan favorite in Dallas, is now being showered with boos at home as he continues to struggle in the series.  You know what?  The guy was a force for them for four years, carried the Mavs for a month early this season, and is now being treated like crap because he enjoys pot.  I hope he gets out of Dallas, and then the Mavs can play their other awesome wing players.  You know – Devean Goerge, Eddie Jones, and Trenten Hassel.  I'm sure they'll combine to help the Mavs fall to 43 wins next year.
  • Tyson Chandler had another poor game.  Dallas has done a nice job driving right at him, getting into his body and using their muscle to make his athleticism not much of a factor.  Still, his defense has been vital down low in keeping some of those close shots contested.
  • Jerry Stackhouse delivered his usual awesome game, 1-5 from the field, 0-1 from three, with 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 turnover.  It took him fifteen minutes to do that.  Apparently flapping lips don't produce much on the court.  Guess what, Jerry?  When Byron was the same age you were now, he was playing twenty minutes a game for the Indiana Pacers, averaging ten points a game on 46% shooting, 39% from three.  As their sixth man, he helped them reach the Conference Finals where they fell to Shaq and Penny in seven games.  Guess where you will be when the Conference Finals are being played?
  • The other Hornets starters all played solid, but not spectacular games.  West got his with 24 points on 21 shots and 9 rebounds.  Peja had an efficient 19 points on 13 shots to go with 5 rebounds, and Peterson played well for 27 minutes, scoring 10, grabbing 2 rebounds and somehow managing to block 2 shots.  Very workman-like and respectable by all of them.

Game 5 is in New Orleans Tuesday night.  Let's see if the Mavs can generate some fire between now and then.

Oh, and everyone give Ron a big hand.  I've been gone for eight days with my family in DisneyWorld, and I intentionally avoided the internet and TVs so I could watch the Hornets games when I got back without knowing what happened.  So all this good playoff coverage you've been gettin'?  It's been all Ron.  He's the man.

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