Mavs might not have many fans in Portland, but they get the win
On Wednesday night, Dirk Nowitzki and Rodrigue Beaubois stood on either end of a basketball court at Multnomah Athletic Club taking shots with Dallas Mavericks assistant coaches.
As word spread throughout the club, a crowd gathered to watch Nowitzki hit shot after shot. As the players walked off the court, they signed autographs for several of the kids who had gathered around them.
'It wasn't that many,' said Beaubois, who was sidelined for the series against Portland because of injury. 'It's always good when people are asking, to do that for them.'
Nowitzki made at least a few fans in Portland, but most of the 20,494 people who came to the Rose Garden on Thursday to watch Game 6 of the Mavericks-Trail Blazers playoff series did not go home liking him very much. Nowitzki scored 33 points and led Dallas to a 103-96 victory, as the Mavs advanced to the second round with a 4 games to 2 series win that ended Portland's season.
The Mavericks will play the Los Angeles Lakers in a series that starts Monday.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban was asked Thursday who he thought Blazer fans disliked more, Cuban or Nowitzki.
'I hope it's me,' Cuban said. 'I'm sure it's Dirk, but I hope it's me. I wouldn't like him if I were them, either, anymore than we don't like LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy.'
As Game 6 began, it seemed as though Dallas might roll over and try to close out the series in Game 7 on its home floor. The Blazers jumped to a 27-19 lead by the end of the period behind 13 points from forward Gerald Wallace.
'The way the game started, it was tough,' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. 'Getting down 12 early, that's some real adversity. Nobody hung their heads. Everybody kept encouraging each other.'
The second quarter was an entirely different animal, though. Wallace sat out the entire period with a stiff back, and the Mavs outscored the Blazers 33-16 to take a 52-43 lead into halftime.
While Nowitzki was his usual stellar self in the second quarter, scoring 13 points, he was not the lone star for the 'Lone Star' state' team. Guard Jason Terry came off the bench to get 10 of his 22 points.
'We started going into our horses,' center Tyson Chandler said. 'We spread the floor and started going into Dirk and 'Jet.' '
Terry's contributions on offense, while critical, were less important than his defense on Roy.
'The coaches were challenging me and telling me, regardless of what happens on offense, defensively we need you alert, really taking ownership in your matchup,' Terry said. 'And they gave me a big assignment guarding Brandon Roy.'
Roy had single-handedly spoiled the Mavericks' Game 4 blowout when he scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to erase a 23-point Dallas lead and give Portland a dramatic victory. Facing Terry in Game 6, Roy was held to nine points.
Terry's strategy against Roy, who has battled injuries this season, was to wear him out and make him work for everything he got.
'I just picked him up (full court) and pressured him, knowing that if I made him work, it would take some of the steam out of his legs as they got into the half-court offense,' Terry said. 'He's the type of guy who needs his rhythm. He wasn't able to get that rhythm tonight.'
For Terry, it was a fun challenge to play against another guard from Seattle.
'I looked forward to the challenge,' Terry said. 'My relationship with him goes back to in high school, me already in college. He's watching me. Dreaming about playing in the NBA. We're both fierce competitors.
'It's a big-brother relationship.'
And the big brother?
'I'm the big bro,' Terry said, smiling in a remark similar to the one Oregon Ducks cornerback Cliff Harris made last football season before the Civil War. 'I'm the big bro. I'm the senior of that group. There's no question I'm the pioneer. Myself and Doug Christie are founding fathers. Then you got the new age that came in. He (Roy) is sort of the second-tier guy that came along.'
The Mavericks continued to build their lead in Thursday's third quarter, going up 75-62.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Blazers began making a run to extend their season one more game.
'They're going to make a run,' Mavs point guard Jason Kidd said. 'We saw it in Game 4, but everybody kept their composure.'
Kidd scored only seven points in the game. For one instant, though, the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer, playing more against time and age than the Blazers, pushed his star back up into the sky and made the world remember what a champion is capable of accomplishing.
After a Wallace fastbreak dunk cut the Dallas lead to 86-85 with 5:24 remaining, Terry passed the ball to Kidd in the left corner. It was almost the exact same situation as in Game 4. That day, Kidd missed the shot. This time, he would not be denied. Kidd buried the 3-pointer, and the Blazers would never recover.
'My teammates trust me,' Kidd said. 'Especially coming down the stretch. I didn't know (the lead) got cut to one point. I just relaxed. I was in that situation in Game 4 where I rushed it. So I just took my time, and when Jet threw it to me, I knew this was a good time to shoot that shot.'
Clinging to one last hope, the Blazers tried fouling. They fouled the wrong man, though. The previous night at Multnomah Athletic Club, Nowitzki had made five left-handed free throws in a row. It was no surprise then that he drilled eight right-handed free throws in a row in the final minute Thursday to close out the game.
'I'm a pretty good free-throw shooter,' Nowitzki said. 'I want the ball down the stretch when I know that they're fouling me. I made some clutch free throws, so that definitely felt good.'
By winning the series, Dallas somewhat disproved the people who questioned the team's heart. For Nowitzki, though, the Mavericks still have miles to go before they sleep.
'I don't want to over-rate this win,' he said. 'Our goal over the past five or six years is always to win the championship. We understand that to win it all you have to take the first step, and that's winning in the first round. We feel good about that, but we know we have a long way to go.'