Dallas 103, at Portland 96 (Dallas wins 4-2)
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 126.7, Portland 121.3
PORTLAND - Game Four redux? That's what everybody in the Rose Garden was thinking when the Portland Trail Blazers started to make a push during the fourth quarter of Game Six, cutting into a sizeable Dallas Mavericks lead the same way they did in pulling off a historic comeback from a 23-point deficit on Saturday. That was evident in the way Blazers fans went nuts, rallying behind their team. It was equally clear from Rick Carlisle, who was quick on the trigger with his timeouts, taking one in the third quarter after a single made triple by Game Four hero Brandon Roy.
Portland did its part. The Blazers scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, just one off their 35-point pace from Game Four. The difference? This time, the Mavericks stayed strong offensively, coming up with key buckets down the stretch to keep Portland at bay and claim both the game and the series.
That Dallas would need to battle to win this game in the closing minutes was fitting, because if there has been a hallmark of the Mavericks during the last five years, it has been their ability to win close games. For the most part, it was the familiar figures in that history making big plays: Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. Nowitzki and Terry were uncharacteristically prone to turnovers, committing four apiece in the fourth quarter, but they made five of their six shot attempts. Nowitzki made all eight of his free throw attempts in the final 30.3 seconds and Kidd added a crucial three-pointer after the Blazers got the lead down to one point with just over five minutes left.
Over the course of six games, Portland never found a satisfactory answer for the pick-and-rolls Dallas ran involving Nowitzki. When the Blazers hedged against the ballhandler, Nowitzki popped free for a nearly automatic jumper. Portland answered by hugging Nowitzki, which gave the guard a lane to the basket and pull-up opportunities for Terry. The last resort was switching the pick, and while that worked when the Blazers had the bigger Nicolas Batum on the ballhandler, Batum was so invisible offensively that Nate McMillan couldn't afford to keep him on the floor late in the game. When Wesley Matthews switched on to Nowitzki, he lacked the length to contest Nowitzki's fadeaway jumpers.
For Portland, the energy provided by Gerald Wallace was a huge difference maker. Though Dallas won the third quarter, an argument could be made that the Blazers would have won if not for Wallace suffering through a sore back in the second quarter. With him on the bench, Portland was outscored 33-16 in the period, negating an early lead Wallace helped build putting the Blazers in a hole they spent the entire second half trying to dig out from under. Wallace, who gutted out 21-plus minutes after halftime, was quicker to the basketball than anyone on the floor and converted difficult attempts at the rim. He shot 9-of-11 on two-point attempts and had five of Portland's 15 offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge was strong in spurts. Aldridge's final line--24 points on 11-of-25 shooting--was fairly typical of this series. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood did a phenomenal job of containing Aldridge in the post and making him take difficult shots. Aldridge was still able to put up the points the Blazers needed, working for six offensive rebounds and heating up against Haywood early in the fourth quarter, but ultimately his line was one the Mavericks could live with and still win the game.
In the fourth quarter, Portland ran its offense through Aldridge and Wallace in the post, a departure from Game Four. Roy shot the ball well overall (4-of-6 from the field), but was essentially a decoy in the final period. He spent the entire quarter on the court at point guard (Andre Miller never got off the bench), but did not attempt a single shot.
Instead, Dallas made Matthews beat them when help came to Aldridge and Wallace. Matthews did an admirable job of drawing fouls and was more aggressive off the dribble than the rest of this series, but when the Blazers needed him to knock down an open three, Matthews came up short. He misfired from beyond the arc three times from the 4:37 mark through the 1:17 mark. All three shots could have brought Portland within a single possession. That was sadly typical of a night where the Blazers shot 23.8 percent on threes and a series during which they made 30.0 percent of their attempts beyond the arc. Portland's need for another shooter--or two--could not possibly have loomed any larger, especially with backups Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez combining to shoot 1-of-6 from the field.
That said, I'm open to the criticism that I've spent too much time talking about the Blazers' offense in this series and not enough on their defense. Scroll back up and check out the offensive ratings in this game, both well over 120. That should be more than good enough for Portland to win at home. Why wasn't it? In addition to the hot shooting of Nowitzki and Terry, the two key factors were the Mavericks' offensive rebounding (12 second chances in 38 attempts) and their excellent turnover rate (nine in the game, but just three during the first three quarters). Both Zach Lowe of the Point Forward and Benjamin Golliver of Eye on Sports have noted recently that the Blazers were unable to force turnovers in this series the same way they did during the regular season, especially after dealing for Wallace. Not only did that mean fewer empty trips for Dallas, it kept Portland from getting easy opportunities in transition.
That the Mavericks would win this series seems clear looking back. Dallas had the best player in the series, was the better team over the course of the year and did not have any weaknesses as easily exploitable as the Blazers' shooting. At the same time, lots of things appear obvious after they happen, and the turnover battle not playing out as expected was one reason the Mavericks exceeded the expectations of many observers--myself included--and are moving on to the second round.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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