Let’s get something out of the way. I’m a homer. I’m a Dallas Mavericks fan. Despite being on press row during games, I internally root for them, roll my eyes when a call doesn’t go their way and mutter obscenities under my breath after losses.
But I’m also a realist. Last week I predicted the Oklahoma City Thunder would take this series in five games. And after Game 1, who would have argued? Heck, some people were predicting sweeps.
The Mavs are incredibly banged up. Deron Williams is dealing with a sports hernia that will likely need surgery during the offseason. J.J. Barea re aggravated his strained groin. Chandler Parsons is playing fashion guru on the bench as he recovers from a torn meniscus. Seems like all the odds are stacked against Dallas.
Yet, somehow, some way, they found a way to pull off a gargantuan upset in Game 2. Was it luck? Was it the basketball gods? Or was it smothering defense, careful shot selection and masterful coaching by Rick Carlisle?
If the Mavs are going to win this series, albeit quite a long shot, they are going to need all of those aforementioned attributes to come together. Raymond Felton is not going to give you 21 points and 11 rebounds every night. Wesley Matthews is going to have to find a way to not only guard Kevin Durant, but make shots as well. Zaza Pachulia is going to have to start boxing out Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Ideally, Barea will come back at some point.
Hopefully Justin Anderson continues to imitate Simba from the Lion King and rise to the occasion with big-time plays. He’s been huge, nay, mammoth off the bench since Parsons’ injury. He has made strides at every turn and been a jolt of energy. Hopefully, though, is the optimum word. For this upset to happen, the Thunder will also need to continue to falter.
Oklahoma City is awful in crunch time. They have a below .500 record when leading by five or less in the fourth quarter. They struggle closing out games. If Durant is not hitting his shots, who do they go to? Sure, Russell Westbrook is capable, but he is supposed to be a facilitator.
The key to Dallas having any chance at one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history is keeping it close. As long as they aren’t down by double digits at halftime or in the fourth quarter, they have a chance. The Mavs have savvy, battle-tested veterans who have been there and done that. Dirk has won a championship. They have the second-best coach in the NBA.
It’s a long shot. It’s going to perhaps take a miracle. However, the Mavericks can win this series, and prove an entire panelist of ESPN NBA writers wrong.
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