Game Five: Dallas Mavericks Go Down, Home
Well, Mavericks fans, it’s been a good run. The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the league’s elite franchises for quite some time. But as tough as it is for me to admit, tonight’s season ending loss just might have marked the end of that era.
The Mavs played their hearts out and never quit in Game 5, and for that I give them all the credit in the world. But plain and simple, the New Orleans Hornets were the much better team in this series. At every position, from point guard to center to the bench, the Hornets outplayed their Dallas counterparts from start to finish. Tonight’s 99-94 loss was just a formality, as the Mavericks sealed their fate of getting bounced out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight season.
Dallas actually made a pretty lively effort in the second half to trim the Hornets’ 15-point halftime lead, but it was too little too late. The Mavs defended pretty well throughout and got a balanced effort offensively (seven guys finished with double figures in scoring), but New Orleans just hit more shots while Dallas missed too many easy basket opportunities. Both Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse gave the team some early offense, something that had been sorely lacking over the first four games of this series, but in the second half they reverted to their virtual non-existent selves.
Dirk Nowitzki, as he has done throughout the series, played with great intensity and passion in garnering a team-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, but it still wasn’t enough. Brandon Bass made his case to be a starter next season by continuing his excellent play in place of Erick Dampier, who had virtually no impact at all. Devean George also provided a surprising lift in the fourth quarter, going 4-for-5 from the field including a trio of three-pointers. In the end, however, it was the play of Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler that doomed the Mavericks.
Paul was once again spectacular, notching the first of what will surely be many playoff triple-doubles (24 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds). West also couldn’t be stopped offensively, while Chandler’s length and athleticism bothered Dallas from the start. His big offensive rebound with less than a minute left in the game with the Mavs down by only three points sealed the Hornets’ series-clinching win.
Now that this roller-coaster season has come to an abrupt end, the team, the media and the fans will have a full six months to debate over what the future will (and/or should) bring for the Dallas Mavericks. Will Avery Johnson be fired for his recent playoff failings and possible loss of the players’ confidence in him as their coach? Did Josh Howard’s poor playoff performance put him on the trading block, and if so, how much of a hit did his stock take? Is Dirk Nowitzki still going to be the Mavs’ go-to superstar?
You can be sure that all of those questions will be answered over the next couple of months. But for now, MFFL’s should take solace in the fact that this team wasn’t destined for a title this year. They didn’t get beat by an inferior team, unlike last season’s embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors. New Orleans had better players, better coaching, a better gameplan, and better execution.
As a Mavs fan, I refused to believe that before this series started. But Dallas’ painful elimination tonight may have just confirmed my biggest fear: The Mavs’ reign as Western Conference powerhouse is over.