Posted Apr 25 2011 9:23AM - Updated Apr 25 2011 7:50PM
DALLAS -- Jason Kidd has been here before. He's been on the wrong side of the cosmos, been on a team that squandered a 20-point lead in the playoffs and recovered.
The New Jersey Nets lost a 21-point lead to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2002, fell behind 2-1 in the series and still bounced back to win the series and make what would be the first of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
"I've lost 20-point leads before," Kidd said after his Mavericks melted down in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of this first round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, losing a 23-point lead the Rose Garden Saturday night. "It happens. I've been in this position before."
Kidd will have to forgive the folks here in Dallas if that doesn't make them feel any better about being in this position yet again, with the ghosts of playoffs past stalking their Mavericks again. Three times in the past four seasons the Mavericks have been ousted in the first round. That recent postseason ineptitude is fueling fears before Monday night's critical Game 5 at American Airlines Center that, with the series tied at 2-2, Team Fragile is on the verge of yet another April breakdown.
"We just have to stay positive," Dirk Nowitzki said before leaving Portland. "Two out of three we're at home, where our crowd has really carried us, especially in the fourth quarters in the two wins that we got. This is going to sting, this is going to hurt. But we worked hard all through the regular season to get those two at home."
The Mavericks wouldn't be banking on Games 5 and potentially Game 7 at home if they'd finished the business in Game 4. They are perfectly within their rights to beat themselves up over losing that 23-point lead. And you better believe their Sunday film sessions was filled with what ifs.
What if they had trapped Brandon Roy and forced the ball out of his hands before he started cooking? What if they had gone to Nowitzki more in the fourth quarter (he took just three shots and scored four points after scoring 32 in the fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2)? And what if Shawn Marion had a little help dealing with Roy in the final 96 seconds of the game, when Roy scored eight straight points to finish the Mavericks off?
"What they did to us in the fourth quarter was isolation left, iso right, iso middle, iso whichever way you want to call it with Brandon Roy," Mavericks guard Jason Terry said.
A furious Tyson Chandler, who was plagued with foul trouble for the second straight game, backed up Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle's claim that it was his fault that Roy got loose. "We didn't make any adjustments, period," Chandler said. "It was obvious. He got where he wanted to, made buckets."
Nowitzki wasn't as interested in rehashing what might have been, realizing that Game 4 is history now and all that matters is how the Mavericks respond. "You can always, after the fact, talk about what you could have done or should have done," he said. "You can go a million ways about it. And afterwards, you're a lot smarter. But that doesn't help anybody right now. We all have to take it and stay positive."
The Mavericks will certainly be dealing with a confident Blazers bunch tonight. What looked like an epic meltdown in the Mavericks' locker room looked much more like an equally epic takeaway from the Blazers' perspective. They didn't win on a buzzer-beater or some fluke play. Roy worked them over, the Blazers defense tightened as the Mavericks' mouths got dry and the game ended with a desperation heave from Terry.
The Blazers became just the third team in the shot clock era to overcome a deficit of 18 points or more entering the fourth quarter and win a playoff game.
"It just depends on what side you're on," Roy said. "We felt like we made the plays that we needed to make to win the game. Again, our pressure was great. It just depends on who you're rooting for. Blazers, we feel like we went in there and took that game. They definitely didn't just hand us that game. That was a game we really fought for. For us to say that they gave us the game .... No, I wouldn't go that far."
There's no room for gift-giving here Monday night. The Mavericks have already awakened the echoes of their recent, creepy playoff past. So they can dispense with the platitudes about this being just another game.
It's so much more than that.
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