Posted Apr 20 2011 3:37PM
DALLAS -- In a jam-packed Dallas Mavericks locker room late Tuesday night, Jason Terry struggled to contain his smile every time he glanced over at his teammates being swarmed at their lockers.
A media throng had invaded the Mavericks' locker room after their 101-89 Game 2 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Instead of occupying his customary spot, in the middle of that crowd, Terry -- "Mr. Fourth Quarter" himself -- gladly ceded the spotlight to guys like Peja Stojakovic and J.J. Barea.
"Who knew Stojakovic was going to knock down shots like he did?" a smiling Terry said.
No one, including Stojakovic, who admitted that he was simply taking what was given and playing off of Dirk Nowitzki throughout the game.
"This is an intelligent group and they (Portland) did a lot of switching on the pick and rolls," Stojakovic said. "Dirk was getting a lot of mismatches, so they doubled on him and I was able to get open and was able to make shots."
The 13-year veteran upstaged Terry, Nowitzki and even Game 1 hero Jason Kidd by making a career-high five 3-pointers en route to a 21-point night. Two of Stojakovic's biggest shots came in the fourth quarter, when he, Nowitzki and Barea combined to score all but two of the Mavericks' 28 points.
Just like the Trail Blazers couldn't prepare for Kidd's 3-point assault in Game 1, they had absolutely no way of anticipating the Mavericks' bench brigade would outscore their reserves 39-11. Toss in Kidd's 18 points, eight assists and Nowitzki's 33 points (14 in the fourth quarter, giving him 32 fourth-quarter points in this series heading into Thursday's Game 3 in Portland) and the fact that Stojakovic hadn't recorded a 20-point playoff game since May of 2008, and it's easy to see why Terry was smiling.
In the past, Terry has had to serve as the Mavericks' primary scoring option alongside Nowitzki, and if either one of them struggled, the Mavs were in trouble. That's probably not the case any longer. Not while Terry is playing on what is arguably the deepest team in the league.
"I've learned from this entire season," Terry said, "that the recipe for our team right now is that we have so many weapons that, 'Tonight might not be your night ...'"
But, even it it isn't ...
"It's lights out," Terry said.
The Trail Blazers have found that out the hard way. They stayed within striking distance the entire way Tuesday, but couldn't win enough possessions on either end to overcome a splendid overall effort from the Mavericks, who did not commit a turnover in the second half and tied a franchise-low for the game with just six. As efficient and thorough as they were on offense, they were just as good if not better on defense, getting clutch stops when they needed them, especially in the final five minutes of the game.
Every adjustment Blazers coach Nate McMillan tried to make the Mavericks had a countermove waiting. In the fourth quarter, when the Trail Blazers' defensive rotations got sloppy and they were caught out of position, they paid for it dearly. They couldn't cheat off of those shooters to try to double Nowitzki and he ended up with one-on-one matchups on the baseline. He cashed in down the stretch with either made buckets or trips to the free-throw line to put the game away.
"With single coverage what you want to try and do is deny the catch," McMillan said. "With them hitting their threes tonight, it made it tough to mix up the defense. [Nowitzki is] capable of shooting over the top, getting to the free-throw line and making you pay with the pass."
Still, if a team doesn't have reliable shooters on the receiving end of the passes, it doesn't matter. And that's where the Mavericks have their greatest advantage. They signed Stojakovic in the middle of the season for the veteran's minimum. He scored 20-plus point just once during the regular season, against Houston Feb. 12. But he is a career 40 percent shooter from deep who at one point was considered one of the most dangerous deep shooters in the league.
The new faces mixed with the old at training camp and they were all asked to buy into a system predicated on the collective being stronger than any one member. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle's message: "Be ready. You never know when your number is going to be called."
Kidd showed he was ready in Game 1 and again in Game 2. Stojakovic and Barea were ready . And the Mavericks were ready. Picked by many as the most vulnerable higher seed heading in the playoffs -- no doubt a result of their first-round stumbles in three of the last four seasons -- Terry is smiling now because he knows the Mavericks are a different team, as deep as anyone and with a defensive focus.
"We're a good, solid, veteran team," Terry said, still smiling. "Defense is what we've built this whole season on, and we just have to continue to do what we've been doing. But we still haven't proved anything yet. All we've done is win two games. We're still working ... a work in progress."
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