The Mavericks’ 84-82 game four loss to Portland back in 2011 stands out for several reasons.
First and foremost, the sheer magnitude of the collapse. If you recall, the Mavericks played a great third quarter, outscoring Portland by 16 in the frame.
A basket by Peja Stojakovic with 1:44 in the period put the Mavericks up 67-44, presumably for good.
Their lackadaisical energy indicated that they were ready to cruise to a commanding 3-1 series lead. They had guys joking on the bench, they were playing free and loose, even the announcers had put it in the win column for Dallas.
A 40-15 Blazer run in response brought an end to all those good vibes. The Mavericks (and we the fans) were shell-shocked. Instead of taking a 3-1 lead back to the AAC with a chance to clinch, the team was locked in a 2-2, best-of-three series.
How does something like that happen? Teams in the NBA squander leads all the time, but a 23-point margin in a little over 13 minutes?
That brings us to the other prevailing storyline of that fateful game: The D-N-A of that comeback, namely one Brandon Roy.
Roy is hardly an all-time great player, but he damn sure might have been if not for his chronic knee-condition.
The 2011 season was the year it set in that his knees were going to rob us all of his brilliance. A 22-point-a-game scorer was now a 12-per-game guy. A 47% shooter was now a 40% shooter. An All-Star was now a bench guy. His decline was so severe, that it was Roy’s last legit NBA season. He missed all of the 2012 season and retired shortly thereafter.
He did have a little magic left in him however, at least for a night. Roy would pour in 18 fourth-quarter points, capping it off with a go-ahead bucket in the final minute.
It was vintage stuff from the three-time All-Star. Marion, Kidd, Stevenson, etc… It didn’t matter who tried to slow him down, the effort was fruitless as Roy showcased his endless bag of tricks. The same moves that led Kobe Bryant to call him the toughest cover in the league.
Had this series and playoff run ended differently, this game would rank highly as far as all-time disappointing Mavs moments go. But this was the last glimpse of how elite Brandon Roy was, an all-time talent’s last gasp before succumbing to injuries.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, we can appreciate it to a degree. One, because of Roy’s farewell heroics, but two, because this was a turning point for an eventual champion.
We the fans had seen this movie before. A huge lead in a playoff setting? Check. Deafening road venue? Check. The Mavericks routinely shooting themselves in the foot and blowing said lead? Check. It was a helpless feeling. You couldn’t realistically blame anyone for losing faith in that squad after yet another playoff heartbreak. What many folks didn’t know at the time was, is that Mavs team was different. In years past, a loss like that would have broken their spirit. They would have spiraled.
But the 2011 team? No chance.
It seems like every great championship story has a “line-in-the-sand” moment. A breaking point where a team bands together and rises to the occasion, or folds.
That game four loss in Portland was it for the Mavericks. And the rest, as they say, is history.
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