Posted Apr 22 2011 11:36AM
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The easy part is over for the Portland Trail Blazers.
They've dialed up their playoff magic, gotten mercurial and redemptive efforts from surprise contributors (Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and Chris Johnson), protected their home court with a furious 97-92 Game 3 win and re-energized a hungry fan base that usually needs no prompting.
All they have to do now is ... well, do it again Saturday afternoon in Game 4 at the Rose Garden to send this series back to Dallas the way it started a week earlier, with the Blazers and Mavericks even and staring at potentially a six- or seven-game series between teams that have followed the we-win-at-home script to the letter all season long.
Until one of these teams musters the energy and effort to win on the other's home floor, there is no reason for anyone to believe that it's even possible. Not with aged and or wounded stars now playing smaller roles for both teams -- Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Jose Barea in Dallas and the aforementioned Blazers here in Portland -- filling the void the way they have.
"Role players play a lot better when they're at home," Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's just what it is."
That's why this series, so far, is what it is. Both teams have given hints that they are capable of a breakthrough away from home, only to see the home team prevail down the stretch with heroic efforts, usually from some surprise source.
The Blazers led late in Games 1 and 2 in Dallas only to get outplayed in the fourth quarter both times. Dirk Nowitzki did the honors for the Mavericks, with a combined 32 points in the deciding quarters of those first two games. Of course, it took Jason Kidd's 21 points per game and big plays from Stojakovic and Barea to set the table for Nowitzki.
Desperation, and that cosmic wave only the best of home crowds can provide, fueled the Blazers in Game 3. Wesley Matthews, who dropped a playoff career-high 25 points on the Mavericks -- including 14 straight points during one mind-boggling first-quarter stretch -- lit the flame that Roy, Johnson and others helped carry the rest of the way.
"Just a sense of desperation -- I don't want to say desperation, I'll say urgency," Matthews said. "That came over everybody. It really started when we took the court. The crowd was amazing. It was everything they said it would be. We just got fired up and it was a must win for us and we took care of it."
Both coaches have been spot on in their assessments of how this series would play out. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle warned anyone that would listen not to write off Roy after he struggled in limited action in Games 1 and 2. Roy delivered on those words with a star turn of his own in Game 3, igniting the crowd with glimpses of the virtuoso work that made him a three-time All-Star before surgery on both knees interrupted his superstar ascent.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan said his team leaned more on LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy's replacement as the new face of the franchise. McMillan all but guaranteed his team would step up to the challenge -- and McMillan has had plenty of practice with all of the injuries and drama this team has endured in his six seasons at the helm. He said they would have to force the Mavericks into some mistakes (they had just 13 and 14 turnovers in Games 1 and 2, respectively) and even up the free-throw discrepancy that tilted in the Mavericks' favor in Dallas. The Blazers forced 16 turnovers, cashed in with 16 points off of those miscues and shot 17-for-21 from the free-throw line to the Mavericks' 13-for-23 from the line.
"The game was looking like the last two games," McMillan said. "We won the first quarter, lost the second and we said, 'Look, we want to win the third and fourth. We finally were able to do that. The fourth quarter we did a better job of not allowing them to get into the penalty early. Chris Johnson basically came out and did a real nice job defensively with (Marcus) Camby being in foul trouble and giving us some good minutes, about six to seven minutes in the fourth quarter."
It was Johnson's swat of a Nowitzki shot late in the third quarter that seemed to turn the game in the Blazers' favor. They held the lead the entire fourth quarter, using balanced scoring to finish things off.
"When it comes down to it at this point, this is seven times we've played Dallas this year," Matthews said. "There are no hidden plays. There are no Xs and Os. It's just who wants it more, who can execute, who can take advantage of matchups. And that's what we tried to do."
That's what both teams will try to do in Game 4. Carlisle gambled in the fourth with a three-guard lineup that included Jason Terry, Kidd and Barea with Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood in the frontcourt -- Tyson Chandler fouled out two and half minutes into the fourth. That group couldn't make up the difference that was created at the start of the game by Matthews, who exploited his early game matchup with DeShawn Stevenson and later Terry.
"We were in a deficit, so we needed play-making attackers out there," Carlisle said of his fourth quarter rotation. "When you do that, you have other things that come into play. I thought we battled really well after that initial five or six minutes (of the game). Terry came into the game really gave us a boost. I don't fault the effort. I think it was a matter of their aggression and their fans taking them to another level in the first six minutes and we're going to have to do a better job in that timeframe."
And someone's going to have to do a better job away from home for this series to do anything other than play out to script.
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