Posted May 3 2011 10:39AM
LOS ANGELES -- Falling asleep with a commanding lead in a crucial playoff game is something of a trivial pursuit for the Dallas Mavericks. They wrote the book on it.
When the Mavericks led Miami 2-0 in the 2006 NBA Finals, they were up 13 points with six minutes to play in Game 3 before losing four straight games and watching their title dreams slip away, it was as much about what the Mavericks didn't do than what the Heat did. More recently, when the Mavericks led Portland by 23 points in the third quarter of Game 4 of their first-round series, only to see Brandon Roy go on a magical tear to bring the Trail Blazers back for the series-extending win, the postgame narrative for the Mavs was all about them letting down and letting one slip away.
They've done that enough times over the past few years that being on the other end of the equation -- on the comeback side of it -- turned out to be a bit shocking to the system.
The Mavericks battled back from a 16-point third-quarter hole to stun the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal Monday night at Staples Center. The anatomy of their 96-94 comeback win can be found in a mind-boggling 14-minute stretch of the third and fourth quarters when the Lakers could not react quickly enough to the Mavericks.
The first six minutes after the Lakers' took that big lead, when the cushion shrunk from 16 to just two with 4:04 to play in the third quarter, was the turning point of the game. The Lakers got carried away with wild shots and got careless with not only the lead but the basketball, which led to the Mavericks weathering that barrage and digging right back into a game the Lakers could have put away.
"We stopped playing defensive and we stopped playing offense, basically," Jackson said. "We just took open shots, we didn't move the ball or work the ball around and all of a sudden they were back in the game and it's a three-point ball game ... well, we went into the locker room and felt like we gave the game away."
Or had it snatched away. It all depends on your perspective.
A defensive tweak here (Jason Kidd on Kobe Bryant), a rotation tweak there (Corey Brewer's seven minutes and 36 seconds of pure energy), combined with the Lakers' refusal to pound the ball inside with that hefty cushion opened the door for the Mavericks' comeback magic. Lakers' big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were non-factors on offense during that stretch as the Lakers continued to fire away from the perimeter.
"They made big runs when they most needed to and we couldn't control the game when we needed to," Gasol said, after vowing to study the tape and correct the mistakes made in time for Game 2 here Wednesday night.
"We had good leads, especially in that third quarter, and they made a lot of plays to come back into the game. They had a good run and gave themselves a chance. We should have been able to control that stretch better and we didn't. We just let them get really close and at the end obviously, it was a really bad ending and turnout for us."
As hot as Bryant was in the game, and especially in the second half -- 9-for-17, accounting for 21 of his game-high 36 points -- the Lakers needed more from their low-post tandem of Gasol and Bynum. A lot more.
Bynum, who had just three shots in 14 second-half minutes, swears it won't happen again. "We stopped moving the ball and playing the right way ... I'm just going to be so much more aggressive," he said after scoring just eight points and grabbing five rebounds in 30 somewhat hollow minutes. "I felt like I wasn't aggressive at all, getting in low-post position, nothing. I kept letting them [Mavericks] hit me first. It's going to be different [in Game 2]."
It had better be for Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom, too. Bryant took 29 shots to their combined 28. And even though Bryant insisted afterward that he doesn't need to change a thing about the way he approached the game, it's clear someone or something has to change to make sure the Lakers achieve the sort of balance that allows them to take advantage of the entire floor.
Bryant, clearly perturbed at a line of questioning that suggested he could have done more or done something different, had a different take on that theory.
"It had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with me," Bryant said. "I've had games where I've shot the ball 30 times and Pau has had big offensive games in those games. I'm going to do what I do. I think the second unit and that crew, we've got to make a conscious effort to get the ball into Pau and get the ball in to Andrew. But it had nothing to do with me. I've had games where I shot the ball 10 times and Pau and Andrew didn't contribute that much. I've had games where I've shot the ball 30 times and they've had big games. So it had nothing to do with my shots."
Bryant is right, even though he'll probably take some heat for calling out both Gasol and Bynum and the second unit for not getting them the ball more.
The Lakers' struggles had nothing to do with Bryant's shots and everything to do with the fact that the Mavericks outplayed and outworked their big men, squeezing them out of the mix when the game was on the line.
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