The purple and yellow empire has fallen. Actually, the empire stumbled, cracked, crumbled, and then burst into flames before helplessly collapsing at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, who advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the fourth time in franchise history. A dynasty, an illustrious coaching career, and maybe an entire organization’s makeup vanished within a matter or minutes on Sunday afternoon in Dallas. The current back-to-back champs looked sloppy, selfish, undisciplined, and lack-luster for the duration of the series and looked downright defeated for the entirety of Game 4, which was a win or die situation. Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the gang ended the Lakers reign and Phil Jackson’s historic career with a resounding 122-86 victory, sending the Lakers back to LaLa Land empty handed, frustrated, and severely embarrassed (the latter principally brought on by inexcusable on court antics). The basket looked like it was a wide ocean all afternoon for the boys in white. By halftime, the Mavs had counted eleven 3-pointers and their bench had contribtued 40 points to the 63 point Mavs half, while the Lakers had only scored 39 as a team. Led by Jason Terry’s 32 point game including 9-10 from three-point land, the shooting spectacle continued after the half and after Terry nailed back-to-back threes in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the Mavs never looked back. JJ Barea, who finished with a personal playoff high 22 points, has proved to be one of the previously unsung heroes of the Mavericks. Well, everyone certainly knows who “that little guy” is now. The 6-0, 175 pound point guard relentlessly attacked the paint and was as sharp as he has ever been from the field, especially in Games 3 and 4. Former Maverick killer, the sharp shooting Peja Stojakovic, dropped in 21 points of his own. Terry and Stojakovic combined went an unbelievably blazing 15-17 from the field. In one word: unstoppable. The end stats speak for themselves: over 60% field goal shooting (44-73), over 62% from behind the arc (20-32), and a 36 point margin of victory. And all of this with the Mavs’ future Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki only scoring 17 points, his lowest point total of the 2011 post-season. And you know when the Big German is on things can get particularly scary… Either OKC or Memphis is going to have their hands full in the Western Conference Finals, I can promise you that. I wonder how Jeff Van Gundy is feeling about his post-game comments following Game 3. You REALLY think the Lakers were feeling “confident” about being the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs, Jeff? Sike.
As if getting swept and being crushed by 36 points wasn’t ugly and embarrassing enough for the
champs they decided to further the voyeuristic scene for themselves in the fourth quarter. Lamar Odom was immediately ejected with 9:06 remaining for a flagrant 2, blindsided shot aimed directly at Dirk Nowitzki. Forty-five seconds later Andrew Bynum was adamantly tossed from the game following a flagrant foul 2 for spearing JJ Barea right in the ribs while he was airborne driving and laying up the basketball. As Bynum was being escorted off the court, by Ron Artest of all people (hello, worst temper I’ve ever seen!), he tore off his jersey and stalked his way to the visitor’s locker room. WAY TO KEEP IT CLASSY GUYS. Bynum’s flagrant was one of the most blatantly dirty fouls I have ever seen. It was a powerful elbow-check to the chest aimed at a guy a foot shorter and probably 75-100 pounds lighter than him, while he was airborne. Are you kidding me?! That’s just dirty and an intentional attempt to injure a fellow player. By the way, JJ banked in the shot before wickedly crashing to the floor, and after momentarily recovering on the court, got up and remained in the game. PLUS, Ron Artest was suspended for Game 3 because he clothes-lined Barea in the face with under a minute remaining in a game that was clearly out of reach. This poor kid has taken a damn beating and he continues to play fearlessly and attack on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. What a stud! Now… I’m not going to lie I grew up despising the Lakers, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t grow up respecting them and their staggering athletic accomplishments. There is no argument that they have consistently been in the group of “greats” within the NBA and have produced some of the greatest players in history under the leadership of the most successful NBA coach in history, but it was a shame to see them go out the way they did. Not only did they further embarrass themselves and disrespect the team, the organization, and the city, but Phil Jackson did not deserve to be sent out that way. (Whether or not Jackson comes back to coaching is already a hot topic.) It’s more about how you handle losing than how you react to winning. When frustration is at its highest, true character tends to shine through. Unfortunately, I think the Lakers showed us their true character on Sunday. If you classify yourselves as champions and you expect the fans and the media you respect and consider you as champions, you have to learn how to lose like champions.
What is so impressive and promising about this team to me is that every night it is a different guy stepping up when it counts and getting the job done. When Dirk is off, Jet is on. When Jason Kidd is off, JJ Barea is on. When Tyson Chandler is off, Peja Stojakovic is on. Note to Lakers: that’s what a TEAM is all about, having each other’s back, trusting in the team, and respecting your opponent. Where was Pau this series? Kobe spent more time chastising his teammates for their mistakes instead of helping them figure out how to improve. The Lakers looked like a bunch of frustrated toddlers fighting for the ball on the playground throughout the series. What else struck me as promising after Game 4 was that the Mavericks kept their composure after the final buzzer acting as if they deserved to be advancing to the conference finals. No confetti fell from the ceiling. None of the post-game interviews were sprinkled with over exuberance. It was clear that the end goal is still clearly in sight: a ring. “The job is not finished,” Terry said. The Mavericks have had their run-ins with premature post-season exits and epic collapses in the moths of May and June. Thankfully for Mavs fans, it APPEARS as if they are done making the same mistakes. On to the next…