Posted May 7 2011 2:11AM
DALLAS -- Sooner or later, the inevitability of it all has to set in for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's not you or anything you are or are not doing.
It's the Dallas Mavericks doing it to you: the textbook execution, the clutch shots, the ability to withstand every championship blow you throw at them. It's not about the Lakers anymore. It's about these Mavericks and the fact that they have the two-time defending NBA champs on the brink of elimination a week into the Western Conference semifinals.
That 3-0 hole after the Mavericks' 98-92 Game 3 win Friday night at American Airlines Center is as real as it gets. It marked the second time in this series that the Lakers seemed to be in control late only to fold down the stretch. They led by 16 points in the third quarter of Game 1 at Staples Center and lost by two, Kobe Bryant's desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer bouncing off the back of the rim.
Lost in all the Hollywood hype and drama surrounding the Lakers in this series -- the Lakers' gift wrapping Game 1, Andrew Bynum venting his frustrations after Game 2, Ron Artest missing Game 3, Pau Gasol going missing, Phil Jackson's last ride and the like -- is the fact that the Mavericks have outplayed them when it mattered most in all three of these games.
If you didn't believe in these Mavericks before now that's your own fault. Because they've been telling anyone that would listen that they were confident they could do exactly what they've done this entire series.
"Everybody is shocked about everything," Shawn Marion said after the Mavericks stunned the Lakers in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. "Who cares? Everybody always got something to say about us. We just have to keep doing what we do and that's all that matters. We're just riding right now, playing and having fun doing it. Y'all have seen it, everybody is seeing it."
The Lakers have seen it in 3D the last three games.
The Mavericks have owned them at crunch time in this series, thoroughly outplaying them in the fourth quarters of all three games ( 82-55 on the scoreboard) to push them to the brink and the 11-time champion Jackson four quarters away from retirement.
The Lakers would have to make history to rebound from this deficit; teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series are a perfect 98-0 in NBA playoff history. For all Jackson has done in his career, for all the championships he's won and verbal zingers he's tossed, he's never coached a team that's been in a 3-0 hole. It showed Friday night, with an animated Jackson punching Gasol in the chest during an early timeout, smacking him in the back during another and barking at him throughout a game that will serve as the official crash of the Lakers' current four-season run as the Western Conference's top dog.
The music could stop as soon as Sunday's Game 4. And when it's done, the Mavericks, a team that was ousted from the playoffs in the first round three times in the past four seasons before this one, will have shoved them off the dance floor.
The Mavericks have won five straight playoff games since suffering a mini-meltdown of their own, when they squandered a 23-point lead on the road in Game 4 of their first-round series against Portland. The bounced back, finishing off the Trail Blazers in six and haven't slowed down since. They've been here twice before in franchise history, completing the sweep of Memphis in the first round in 2006, but needed seven games to eliminate the Trail Blazers in the first round in 2003.
This time, however, it's different. Dirk Nowitzki and his crew are doing this against the most dominant team in the league, a Lakers' team that has been virtually untouchable the past two seasons.
"We're all trying to do something that we have never done," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "So the focus, determination, the discipline, all those things, is crucial. Dirk is one of the all-time greats, there's no doubt about that, but we're going for the ring. And that's the one thing he hasn't done in his career, and he's one step closer. But we have a long way to go, and getting one more from Los Angeles is going to be a lot of hard work. And we're going to have to stay humble and stay hungry."
If their late-game execution in Game 4, on both ends of the floor, is anything like it's been so far in this series, moving on should be a formality.
Trailing by seven points with five minutes to play, the Mavericks finished the game on a 20-7 tear, with contributions from all over the floor giving them an edge over the Lakers' Kobe Bryant-or-die approach.
Backup forward Peja Stojakovic scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Backup guard Jason Terry had seven of his 23 in the fourth. And Nowitzki scored nine of his game-high 32 in the fourth as the Mavericks put the game and the Lakers' season and three-peat hopes on ice.
"It was a slugfest of a game," Carlisle said. "We were down eight with six minutes left, but we hung in there and kept battling. Dirk Nowitzki made it happen. Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a direct result of him either scoring the ball or making a play to get somebody a shot or make a pass for an assist or a three or two, or whatever it was."
The Lakers will swear it was them. They gave this one away, same way they did Game 1. But that's not the case.
The Mavericks' 42-15 scoring edge from the bench in Game 3 is what did it. That combined 60-20 scoring edge from the 3-point line and the free throw line is the difference.
This is no longer about the Lakers and their issues, fatigue, drama and intrigue.
It's all about the Mavericks.
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