Posted Apr 26 2011 11:41AM
DALLAS -- Based strictly on the road map of the season series between these two teams, the Portland Trail Blazers have every reason to believe they will spend at least a part of their weekend back here in Dallas.
Sure, they're facing an elimination situation on their home floor Thursday night in Game 6 of this first-round playoff series against the Mavericks. But when the home team has won all nine meetings, regular season included, someone has to break the cycle to convince the rest of us that it's actually possible.
If one of these teams can do it, the Mavericks have shown that they are at least somewhat interested. They led by 23 points in Game 4 before enduring one of the more gruesome meltdowns in recent playoff memory as Brandon Roy and the Blazers stunned them with a fourth-quarter comeback to even the series at the Rose Garden Saturday night. They led by 20 points again in their Game 5 win Monday night in Dallas, finishing this time, of course, and showing that they are capable of creating that sort of separation in back-to-back games that simply didn't exist until Saturday.
Neither team had led by more than 13 points in any game prior to the Mavericks taking that 23-point lead in Game 4. Now that they've found their zone, emotionally and on the defensive end, nothing seems out of the realm of possibility for the Mavs.
"We wanted to go up there [to Portland for Game 6] up in the series and try to finish the job," said Tyson Chandler, who served as the Mavericks' emotional and schematic catalyst in Game 5. Chandler had 20 rebounds, 13 on the offensive end, and helped the Mavericks strangle the Blazers' offensive flow with an active zone defense that the Blazers couldn't solve in time to recover from that 20-point deficit.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan insisted that the Mavericks' zone defense didn't surprise or confuse his team, yet the minute the Mavericks made the shift, the Blazers ground to a halt.
"We knew that they had the defense in their package," McMillan said. "I thought for us most of the night we just were not calm in getting to our spots offensively against the man and their zone. Basically, we've seen that, teams trying to mix in a zone. We know that Dallas plays a zone and I thought we didn't get to our spots and execute and attack that zone."
There is no disputing the effectiveness of the Mavericks' defensive scheming. Of their 49 rebounds, 20 were offensive boards. The Mavericks piled up 17 second-chance points, including a dozen during a crucial third quarter stretch when a close game turned into a runaway.
"I know how bad it feels, because it's tough when we're playing defense and you give up an offensive rebound because now you know you have to play another 24 seconds," Chandler said. "And it's tiring in the playoffs. And a lot of times, when you give an NBA team a second shot, most of the time, they're going to make it."
A perfect example came with just five minutes to play. Chandler cut off the baseline on a driving Wesley Matthews, who turned the ball over. Shawn Marion filled the middle of the lane on a fast break but had his dunk attempt blocked from behind by Gerald Wallace. But the Mavericks scrambled for the rebound and Peja Stojakovic drained a 3-pointer from the wing for an 89-69 lead with 4:24 to play that all but ended any hopes of a another miraculous comeback.
"The zone was a part of it, but we needed to get more stops on the defensive end," said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "You can't get out and run or get into any kind of offensive flow if all you're doing is grabbing the ball out of the net and trying to run. They outworked us, though. Tyson definitely had his mark on the game. He put his stamp on the game as far as offensive rebounds, tap outs and just going super hard. And we kind of got passive, didn't stay aggressive and it cost us."
The Mavericks won Game 5 with their defense, grit, heart, resiliency and all other things that seemed to be missing during that fourth-quarter meltdown in Game 4.
"If we look at the stats [from Game 5] the thing it tells you is that this game was about physical play," said Mavericks guard Jason Terry. "The team that's more physical in each one of these games has won the battle at the free-throw line, outrebounded the other team, gotten more steals and forced the other team into more turnovers. That's how we won [Game 5] and we've got to continue to do that, because this series if far from over."
Based on the road map these two teams have followed all season long, Terry couldn't be more right.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog.
You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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