Suns 112, Dallas 106: The Maverick In The Rye
by Mike Fisher    Fri, Jan 29, 2010, 07:35 AM
   "Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
   "Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it."
   Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right — I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.

 

 

    The reason for the Mavs’ 112-106 loss at Phoenix on Thursday is not open to debate. Dallas experienced a rare but nevertheless total collapse in the final 12 minutes, a quarter that began with Josh Howard volume-missing, continued with a queer SmallBall attack featuring JJ Barea breaking down the defense to feed Shawn Marion for errant bunnies, ended with a loopy Jason Kidd turnover and incredibly, trudged on with Dirk Nowitzki playing literally no role at all.

    Sixteen points in the fourth quarter isn't going to cut it," said Dirk Nowitzki, high-profile before the game due to his ninth-straight All-Star berth but no-profile in the key quarter. "We had a six-point lead going into the fourth and that was gone in a minute and a half."

   

   I shook my head. I shake my head quite a lot. “Boy!” I said. I also say “Boy!” quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes.

 

  With 4.7 seconds left in the third period, Steve Nash hit a 3 to cut the Mavs’ edge to 88-84. We’ve seen this before: The relentless little underdog lifting an entire team on his shoulders with an improbable shot. …

    And then we saw it again.

    Jason Kidd fired the inbounds pass over two of his own nearer and bigger Mavs receivers, instead targeting the more sensible JJB, who was already scooting downcourt with purpose. JJB sliced to the free-throw line, leaped between a pair of defenders – one of them Nash, and have I mentioned he can’t guard Dallas guards? – and banked in a runner for a re-grab of momentum, for a 90-84 lead, and for a relentless little underdog lifting an entire team on his shoulders with an improbable shot.

   That should’ve been enough, really.

   But Nash (19 points, 11 assists) quarterbacked Phoenix to the comeback in the fourth quarter … and when he wasn’t leading the team on the floor, he was leading the cheers from the bench. Or rather, the ground. Nashie’s back bothers him so that not only does he sit on the floor when he’s out; he apparently has a Designation Lifter whose job it is to help the point guard to his feet.

      Nash is a joy to watch and it is his talent and his spirit and his chest hair that give Phoenix (27-21 and hovering around the last playoff slot in the West) any chance at continued respectability. His burden against the Mavs, though – at least the Mavs with a starting backcourt of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry – is that he can guard neither of them. Phoenix made a concession to that when Nash wasn’t even in the game for most of the game-deciding Dallas possessions at the end.

    Problem is, even when Dallas went to SmallBall, the Mavs couldn’t guard him, either.

 

   Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.

 

  Erick Dampier wasn’t supposed to play. Or, if he did drag his one good leg out there, he wasn’t supposed to play well.

   We’ve already seen the best-case scenario from a hobbled Damp, right? On Tuesday, he and the Mavs spend 48 minutes getting their asses schooled by Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut, with Damp managing to make three solid plays all game long – but fortunately, all three solid plays came in the final two minutes.

    So maybe, went one theory, Damp wouldn’t play.

    And maybe, went another theory – presumptuous as it was – that Damp shouldn’t play.

    Rest that knee, because Amare is going to embarrass you, anyway.

    Erick Dampier played.

    Midway through the third, he’d made 5-of-6 shots for 12 points, with four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 22 minutes. (That ended up being his total, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

   At that same point, Stoudemire – who likes to call himself “STAT’’ – had pretty much just one. Stat, that is. At that point, Stoudemire had 18 points … but three turnovers. … and one rebound.

    STAT, indeed.

    Stoudemire would finish with 22 points. But when the fourth quarter was done, he still had that one rebound – and in a revelation, this “franchise player’’ didn’t even play in the fourth.

    (In other words, he was almost as invisible as Dirk. Haha.)

    Dampier’s one-legged effort that should earn him some time off whenever possible. But given the fact that he’s consistently playing at a level never before seen in a Mavs uniform, I think we shouldn’t be the ones burying him. Let’s just leave it to him if he can go, because, usually, he goes hard.

    And I guess what I’m saying here is that I hope Dallas went to SmallBall because Damp was hurting and because Gooden had fouled out and not because Carlisle opted to shrink himself down to an inferior foe.

   It's funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.

 

    This was a Comedy Classic from Josh Howard, a signature “You Can’t Control What The Ball Do’’ evening. He was 3-of-10 as he continues to attempt to shoot himself out of a slump that, by this time, should no longer be considered a “slump.’’

    It is now what Josh is.

    I’m convinced that people who continue to argue about this subject and this player either a) do not have cable TV or b) are Josh’s kin or c) are members of Mavs management with a vested interest in saying the right thing to keep his stock from plummeting. This has gone beyond “effort’’ (it seems to be there) and “body language’’ (no problem there, either).

    Missing jumpshots is now what Josh is.

    It was all there in a six-minute stint to open the fourth. J-Ho made his first shot, a jumper … and then decided to attempt four more jumpers … and missed them all.

    Five jumpers in six minutes from a person who is simply not good at that job.

    Dirk’s comment above? “A six-point lead going into the fourth and that was gone in a minute and a half’’? This is where it went.

   Even as it was happening, smart observers noticed. Wisely anticipating where this was going, TNT’s Doug Collins cautioned, “Josh Howard has to be careful not to force his offense.’’

   You can’t control what the ball do. It’s crazy. Y’all hilarious.

 

   That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you." I'm positive, in fact.

 

   Among the troublesome issues: Between Quarters 3 and 4, Dallas flipped a switch. To “Off.’’

   Dallas finished the first half with a height-of-intensity focus on doing the best possible thing: The Mavs fed Dirk.

    Dirk entry passes and and Dirk dive-cuts inside. … Dirk at his pet spot at the free-throw line … In the last few minutes of the third quarter, the Mavs fed Dirk in the paint four straight times and got themselves an 88-81 lead because of it. On the fifth straight feed, The UberMan missed a jumper. But the trend was established. And with Barea’s answer to Nash, the 90-84 lead was established, too.

    And it was all being done against a Suns team that just might’ve been looking for a porch to crawl under so it could die.

    Trending down for Phoenix: They’d lost seven of their last nine, they’d been 0-18 in TNT games, and they’d lost six of the last eight meetings with the Mavs.

     Trending up for Dallas: They were 30-15. They led the West in road wins with 16. They were almost automatic winners when scoring 100 (which they damn-sure were going to do against the Suns), with a record of 17-3.

     The answers were right there at the end of the third … and then forgotten in the beginning of the fourth.

     They should’ve run away with this thing when they had the chance. Being ahead 24-10 to start was a chance. Scoring 34 first-quarter points without a turnover was a chance. Getting outscored 28-16 in the fourth blew that chance. Making just 6-of-21 shots in the fourth blew that chance.

    Maybe Dirk (playing in his franchise-record 884th game) getting more than 11 shots would’ve helped?

 

   All morons hate it when you call them a moron.

 

   Jason Terry’s work as a re-born starter – and re-born scorer -- is worth noting. He’s now got seven 20-pointers in his last 12 outings after managing just eight of them in the season’s first 34 games. Jet has started the last five games at the 2-guard. He’s got 20-points-plus in four of those, including 21 in this game, in which he opened up by totaling 15 points in the first half.

   There’s something else Terry did at halftime: He uttered yet another an inconvenient truth.

   The buoyantly frank Terry has made a habit of that this week. His announcement that he is remaining a starter was in conflict with Rick Carlisle policy. His declaration that Roddy Beaubois is his Sixth-Man heir could’ve used some J-Ho-minded massaging.

    And this latest inconvenient truth?

   “We gotta score on these guys,’’ Terry said into the halftime TV camera as the Mavs led 59-55. “They’re not very good defensively. And we’ve got to make them pay.’’

     Phoenix’ porous (Inattentive? Uncaring?) defense helped Dallas to continue a sizzling streak. In the Mavs’ last two wins, they combined to shoot 55 percent. Here they shot 50 percent.

    Coming in, the Mavericks were 11-0 when shooting at least 50 percent.

    But against a Phoenix team that is “not very good defensively,’’ Dallas scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter.

    Now, not to read too much into this, because immediately after Jet’s comments, to start the third, the Mavs were allowed to score on eight straight trips. … But as far as being inattentive or uncaring? Word from Phoenix is that the Suns players were in the locker room and near a TV set when Jet was offering up his inconvenient truth – maybe inspiring the uncaring to eventually care.

 

   I don't even know what I was running for - I guess I just felt like it.

 

    Aren’t these two of the most fast-breakin’-est clubs in the land? Phoenix managed just nine points on the run. Dallas managed just eight. Not even Jason Kidd could step on the gas, so Dallas has to work the half-court offense. Again, it was effective enough to score 59 in the first half, effective enough to see Kidd make a trio of 3 pointers … until late, when he clanked a couple and then, in a desperation set with the Mavs down five with 16 seconds left, tossed a lousy pass in the general direction of Jet for his fourth turnover of the game.

    People always think something's all true.

 

   “Dirk’’ means “daggers’’ and Jet loves the fourth-quarter runway and together they average 12-plus points per game in the fourth quarter alone, an elite number.

    But here, Dallas didn’t get a final-quarter basket from either one of them.

    Nowitzki, we’ve got figured out. He had 19 after three, missed his single shot in the fourth, and probably forgot what a ball even feels like. And Grant Hill did a fine job staying up in his grill.

     Terry? He entered the final quarter with 19, too, but then went 0-of-3 from the floor.
      In essence, the Mavs failed to pick up the 12 fourth-quarter points they absolutely bank on.

 

    People never notice anything.

 

      “What a model franchise!’’ said TNT’s Doug Collins of the Dallas Mavericks as the first half was winding down.

    “They’ve done it the right way,’’ added play-by-play man Kevin Harlan.

      “Yes,’’ Collins said, “they have.’’

     The compliment is nice. I take 10X50 acknowledgements when I can get ‘em. But it was all ringing a little hollow two quarters later, you know?

    I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.

 

      After the game, Jet attempted to summarize.

   “We've got plenty of people on this team that can score,’’ he said. “We've just got to make sure we do what we have to do to score the basketball. … It's unbelievable to me that we've come halfway through the season and we still look like we're searching in the fourth quarter. It's not that hard. The fourth quarter, that wasn't Maverick basketball."

    Yes, but … if we can agree that we’ve pinpointed the failing and we agree on what the solution is and we even agree that “Maverick basketball’’ means closing out games with efficiency (because that’s how I would define it) … and the team doesn’t do that … maybe it is that hard?
  

   Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.

 

    Dear TNT: Enough with the mandatory camera time forced on Mark Cuban after every blown whistle, OK? There are 20,000 things going on in the gym at that moment – including the reactions of the ref who called the foul, the player who drew it, and the other player who is objecting to it.

    It serves the TV networks right that 99 percent of the time, Cuban is simply watching the game.

 

   It's really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes.

 

    Now, TNT, if you want to permantly train a camera on Doc Rivers’ wife, ol’ Marian The Librarian over there, that’s a different story.

   All these handsome guys are the same. When they’re done combing their goddam hair, they beat you with it.

 

    Alvin Gentry is, on this sunny morning in Phoenix, the Smartest Guy In The Room. The three players who are knighted as the Suns’ “superstars’’ are Nash, Stoudemire and Jason Richardson. In the fourth quarter, Nash played in spots. Amare played not at all. Richardson played zero minutes, too.

    Either Gentry’s a genius or the Mavs have been had, because Phoenix’ go-to guys here were people named “Goran Dragic,’’ “Jared Dudley,’’ “Earl Clark,’’ “Channel Frye’’ and “Louis Amundson. ’’ Dragic, Dudley and Amundson combined for 14 in the period all by themselves.

     “Their second group was a lot better than the guys who were on the floor," said Kidd, in what I believe was intended to be a compliment.

 

   But he can really play the piano. He’s so good he’s almost corny, in fact. I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.

 

    Mavs coach Rick Carlisle did not coach “Maverick basketball’’ in the fourth quarter. Not getting the ball to The UberMan is on the coach. Playing SmallBall in a way that puts JJB at the point guard, with JJB not having the patience to get the ball to The UberMan, is on the coach. Not using the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop featuring Jet and Dirk is on the coach.
   Something else “Maverick basketball’’ is, is Kidd and Carlisle thinking with one brain in a way that defines the offensive pecking order, and the offensive pecking order starts with getting the ball in Nowitzki’s hands. Kidd is usually terrific at it and Carlisle is, too. But here, inexplicably, Barea was essentially allowed to play the point. And while JJB did what he does best – he broke down the defense, he was fearless to the hole, he even dished to Marion -- he lacked the patience to wait for Dirk to come off a screen, for Dirk to get to the high post, or for Dirk to set up inside.

    That’s on Rick.

 

   I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.

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Comments (2)add comment
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written by rufuslevin , January 29, 2010

Strange. J.D. would call it stupid even. What is your point? Are you a sports nut, or a pretend literary pundit?
Just real strange.



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written by Mike Fisher , January 30, 2010

Salinger would not have called it 'stupid' or 'strange.' 'Phony,' maybe. :)



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