New Orleans Hornets Fall to Dallas Mavericks 97-87 in Game Three
All you can do is tip your hat to Dirk and the Mavs. It wasn’t an elimination game, but it sure was a must win contest, and Dallas responded well. Now look, you can dispute the validity of whistles, that too many touch fouls were called, that Dirk flopped around like a beached whale (even Mavs fans surely admit as much). But here’s what you can’t deny: the Mavericks players took first steps past defenders way too easily and often. They were the aggressors and made us suffer.
As good as the Hornets were in Games 1 and 2, it’s hard to say you couldn’t see this coming. I won’t claim I predicted this, but the two recurring flaws of the last two games were evident tonight. First, we fouled way too much. Whenever the Mavs wanted to, they drove hard and fast towards the rim. Instead of establishing defensive position or utilizing footwork, our guys slapped at wrists, and the ball. Paul and Stojakovic were the biggest culprits in not staying in front of defenders. Kidd blew by CP way more times than a 35 year old man should. Peja’s obviously not the quickest guy on the floor, but Josh Howard was going baseline (from the wings) every single time, and Stojakovic never compensated for it. David West struggled with Brandon Bass. I was the biggest “playoff experience doesn’t matter” guy. But the playoffs have taken away arguably our greatest defensive asset- staying away from fouls. The Hornets have turned into fouling machines after averaging the fewest fouls per game during the season; they haven’t adapted to the high percentage of drives that’s characteristic of playoff basketball.
Second was another case of really poor defensive rebounding. Brandon Bass was a monster off the bench once again, while Erick Dampier cleaned up the garbage 5 times. The odd thing is that our offensive boardwork was stout just like Games 1 and 2, with 3 different players grabbing 3 or more OREBs. Dallas just brought more intensity on the glass; Jason Kidd coming from the backcourt to steal a rebound over David West was probably the low point.
Now let’s get to some individual performances. General Pargo’s jumper was unreal. It’s been statistically proven that “streak shooting” doesn’t actually exist, but this game provided some terrific anecdotal evidence, especially once you compare it with Game 2. He played 32 minutes, scored 30 points, took as many shots as David West, but hit twice as many as Fluffy. Without Pargo, Game 3 would have been a laugher. It’s easy to feel that his performance was “wasted” in the loss, but had we lost by 20+, Dallas would have gained a lot more confidence. This might sound too dismissive, but I’m not worried in the slightest about David West and Chris Paul. Yes, they went a combined 10 for 38. Yes, David West looked overmatched under the glass on numerous instances. But think about it: our two best players played miserably with virtually every starter in foul trouble, and Dallas still couldn’t close the game until the final minute. If we had rebounded the ball and stopped fouling, we would’ve won this game regardless of how poorly Paul and West played.
This was the slowest game of the series, and Dallas’ improved defense played a large role. Avery pretty much abandoned the traps, and instead clogged the paint starting from the top of the key all the way to the basket. The Mavs’ Game 2 strategy was to force different Hornets to make jumpers, and it was essentially the same tonight. The difference was we connected on our shots Tuesday and missed crazily today. Some closing thoughts: The worst thing is if we start to buy into the “New Orleans hasn’t won in Dallas in 10 years” thing. None of the current players were on those rosters, so that’s totally irrelevant. Hearing the commentators bring it up quarter after quarter is pretty annoying. The guys can’t let this loss affect them. We won the first two in convincing fashion, and while Dallas played well tonight, they didn’t do anything spectacular. If the Hornets lose Game 3, the pressure’s back on them. I’m sure Dampier’s pointless, hard foul in the last minute will prove to be some form of motivation. But a win in Game 4 virtually assures us the series, given how we’ve played at home recently.