Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pinch me, I'm dreaming

The moments leading up to this posting were somewhat agonizing. On the one hand, I was a bit apprehensive about christening my blog in the middle of the NBA Finals. For continuity's sake, and out of respect for all two of my readers, I thought about postponing the venture at least until the draft began, so as to trace the basketball season from beginning to end. There's something inherently dissatisfying about jumping in midseason. Kind of like ordering a combo meal from Taco Bell. The three Taco Supremes can be satisfying on their own, but they leave you wanting just enough to run back to the cash register, order another thing or two off the menu (perhaps some nachos and a Mexican pizza), and scramble back to your seat to gobble them up before your stomach realizes it was already full to begin with. Of course, you'll be extremely lucky to avoid the dumping disease by the end of this exercise, which is why the combo is problematic in the first place. Not quite sure how this applies to my blog specifically.

(In case you haven't yet figured out, I'm really bad at making analogies. And yet I nailed them on the Verbal Section of the old SAT. That:irony::the US team against the Czechs at the World Cup:pitiful. See, I told you I'm bad at them.)

But I digress. Despite the potential for disaster, I decided to push forward with the commentary. After all, moments like last night's Game 3 win by Miami come around so few times that I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by.

First things first: you should know that I'm a bit of a betting man. Not in the "I run to Atlantic City every other week with my paycheck in hand" sense, but I play mediocre poker and better blackjack. However, if you would have told me that Nowitzki would have gone for at least 30, that The Contract Baiter Formerly Known as Dampier would have tossed in 14 and pulled down 9 off the Mavs bench, that Josh Howard (or "Jowza," as he is known to my friend Matt) would have had one of his good-luck-charm games of 20+ points, AND that Miami would defend Jason Terry off of screens as if he had the bubonic, I would be typing this ass naked. Because I would have lost my shirt betting that the Heat would be staring down a 3-0 deficit to Dirk the Diggler's posse had all of these things come true, as they did last night.

Don't get me wrong. I stand strong by my prediction that Dallas will take the series, maybe not in five as I'd originally thought, but they'll still defeat the Heat handily. As ballsy a comeback as that was by the Heat, a lot of fluky things happened last night. Shaq swishing (SWISHING?!!?) two clutch free throws? Nowitzki missing two free ones in the final quarter (three if you count the one waved off for the lane violation), when he shot 90% from the stripe on the season and over 92% in the playoffs so far? The Mavs' vaunted "defense" letting the Heat rattle off 30 points in the fourth, after allowing only 16 in the third? Mark Cuban wearing a shirt that isn't two sizes too big? Not going to happen until Jupiter realigns with Mars. Which isn't for awhile, so I'm told.

If you're Avery Johnson, though, you have to be somewhat concerned over what unfolded in SoBe during that fourth quarter. The Mavs blew a double digit lead, which was stuck firmly at 12 with less than seven minutes left. They let the Heat back in the game by not contesting Walker and Wade's penetration, and allowing them to score at will in the paint... or at least try, which resulted in lots of free throw attempts. And remind me again: why didn't Dallas's backcourt attack Wade on offense after he'd racked up his fifth foul early in the final quarter? Dallas instead responded on the offensive end by milking the clock (good) and taking difficult fadeaway jumpers (bad). To me, their effort was eerily reminiscent of last year's conference finals, when they let Nash torch them from just about every spot on the floor. Forget what the pundits have said about their commitment to defense. When they needed stops more than they have all series long, Dallas blinked.

All of this aside, the Mavs will still win the trophy. AJ has done too good of a job with this crew all year to let them make the same mistakes in Game 4. Miami 's offense will inevitably wilt over a few more stretches, and the luck just might not swing their way next time around. But regardless, the Mavericks blew a precious opportunity to crush Miami's spirit on its home floor, on a night when Wade delivered one of the best Finals performances of all time, and when the Heat played to their capacity for most of the night. Instead, Dallas got comfortable, took their foot off the gas on the defensive end, and in doing so, gave up a game and breathed hope into Miami's playoff life. That kind of performance is still probably good enough to make the Mavs this year's Finals winners, but in my view, it's not good enough to make them champions.

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