By Justin Cherot
(Warning: the following is definitely more “fandom” than objective. I’m honest enough to admit that.)
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you’ll know that since around 2000, I’ve been a “Ride or Die” Dallas Mavericks’ fan.
Full admission: I didn’t rock a Mavericks’ onesie. I never copped a Rolando Blackmon or Derek Harper jersey in elementary school. I did rock a Jason Kidd jersey in middle school/high school, but honestly there was no affiliation: I just loved how Kidd played.
But, as I’ve documented in other places, once Michael Jordan retired, the NBA became the equivalent to an eight-part History Channel documentary on the consistent growth of grass since the Renaissance Period. I hate these Facebook posts about how weak the NBA is now and the lack of physicality. If you remember, scoring took a huge nosedive after MJ left. About 20% of it was better defense… about 80% of it had to do with a bunch of guys with AAU mentalities coming into the league before they were ready. I felt like back in those days, guards in particular fell into two categories: guys who over-penetrated or guys who couldn’t penetrate at all.
This isn’t a soapbox post, though… so I’ll stop.
Anyway, it was around this time I found the Mavs. Completely re-invigorated run and gun basketball while simultaneously re-kindling my love for NBA hoops. I always enjoyed how those Mavs would give up a bucket, and then Dirk Nowitzki would take it out of the rim, throw it in to Steve Nash, who would then rush it up the court, set a dribbling screen with his ass on whoever was guarding Nowitzki… and toss it back under-handed to the trailing German for a deep triple with 21 on the shot clock.
Yep… before there was Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins… there was a Nash and Nowitzki. If you’re only 14 or 15, Google it.
But here’s my point: since 2000, there have been a lot of ups and downs. A Philadelphia 76ers fan would kill for the Mavs’ downs, but, nonetheless, there were downs. I had to essentially disappear in the spring of 2007 after they lost to the Golden State Warriors as a one seed in the first round. I had to listen to pundits saying that Dirk wasn’t tough enough to win a championship FOREVER… to the point where I almost believed it until 2011 happened. If you don’t know what happened in 2011, again… Google is a helluva drug.
As a fan during that time-frame, I’ve seen it all. And I have honestly never been more proud to be a Mavericks’ fan than I was tonight after they gutted out an 85-84 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder…
…on the road…
…after losing by 38… that’s THIRTY EIGHT… less than 48 hours ago…
…without J.J. Barea and David Lee…
…you just said “so what” to those two names (even though Barea was Western Conference Player of the Week during a week where they had to win every game…and did), so I’ll add also without their starting point guard Deron Williams (who is well past his prime already), who didn’t even play in the 4th quarter…
…without their second best player and most versatile scoring option Chandler Parsons, who has been out since late March…
…oh yeah, and with their best player (Nowitzki, who is 37, by the way) shooting precisely 35%.
But I’m not done. All year long, Rick Carlisle has done his absolutely best to keep a team afloat with four past-their-prime point guards (Williams, Barea, Raymond Felton, and Devin Harris), a career back-up center (Zaza Pachulia), two wing guys coming off MAJOR knee surgeries (Parsons and Wesley Matthews, who barely beat-out Kobe Bryant in overall shooting percentage… think about that for a second)… and, I don’t know if I can say this enough… an offense that runs through a 37-year-old.
Of all the Maverick teams I’ve rooted for in the past, none of them have been as flawed as these guys. Man for man, I’ve never seen a roster so devoid of overall athleticism and so reliant on below-the-rim plays in NBA history. I mean, I do this. I’m good at these things… and I can’t recall a high-level modern-day team less athletic than them. They have no business in the playoffs. Hell, in 2K I would rather play with the Phoenix Suns than them.
But I’ve watched the Mavs win on sheer will all season long. And I watched them hit another gear tonight. Despite all the extraneous variables that could have allowed them to just lay down tonight, they wouldn’t.
Take for instance, this Matthews sequence that was cut a little short… but I’ll explain.
Misleading title. So yeah, obvi got the clutch lay-up. But what you didn’t see is that Matthews, in the midst of a horrible offensive night intertwined with a defensive masterpiece on Kevin Durant (you can say Durant missed some easy shots or whatever… but the fact is that he shot seven for effing 33), took a hard screen from Steven Adams (for what it’s worth, I will not discuss the shot that didn’t count… since it didn’t count) and dropped to the floor, giving Durant a wide-open 15-footer from the baseline. I don’t know how he missed… but he missed. Matthews somehow got up and the awareness to find Durant, close out on the three and force the miss. And even though he didn’t box out correctly, he atoned for his mistake by NOT GIVING UP ON THE PLAY, beating KD to the loose ball and racing down court for the lay-up.
I know most people are talking up Felton, who indeed had a monster game (21 points and 11 boards, which I checked 18 times on 18 different sites just to make sure it was “rebounds” and not “assists”) and played with a sense of desperation I haven’t seen since he was in college. But Wesley Matthews did damn thing.
Sad thing is… you know what you’re going to hear for the next 48 hours?
“What’s wrong with the Thunder?”
“Is Durant’s head all the way in the game?”
“Why can’t Russell Westbrook do _____?”
“Is Billy Donovan the right man for the job?”
Can’t we just accept that for one night the Dallas Mavericks, the ridiculously flawed Dallas Mavericks, were better than the Oklahoma City Thunder? Can’t we just give credit to the resolve of a veteran-laden team that won’t go down easy? Why does it have to be what the Thunder, blessed with two of the top five players in the NBA, did wrong? Why can’t it be what the Mavericks, pieced together with players that nobody wanted anymore, did right?
I’m a fan, but I’m a realist: Dallas probably will not win this series. In fact, there’s about a 72.7% chance that Westbrook and Durant turn it up and OKC takes the next three games… maybe higher if Williams and Barea can’t go.
But I’ve never been more proud of a single team that I’ve rooted for. Period.