Earl K. Sneed recaps Game 1 of the Mavericks' opening-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, after forward Dirk Nowitzki and point guard Jason Kidd outdueled LaMarcus Aldridge to give Dallas a 1-0 lead.
DALLAS — The intensity of the playoffs could be felt in the air when the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks stepped on the hardwood at the American Airlines Center to begin their best-of-seven, six-versus-three first-round series on Saturday night.
But there was also an added sense of pressure.
With the Mavericks looking to avoid a similar fate as last season when the team was upset in the opening round by San Antonio, there appeared to be plenty of pressure on the Dallas squad to score a win first in the series, looking to build off a four-game winning streak heading into the postseason by putting the Blazers in a 0-1 hole.
To Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, that meant that his players would have to come prepared to battle the pressure en route to what he hopes will be four wins that will advance the squad to the second round.
“This time a year, if you don’t like pressure you shouldn’t be in this business,” Carlisle empathically said. “You’ve gotta make pressure your friend, and it brings out the best in the best competitors. So, that’s what it’s about.”
True to their coach’s pre-game words, the pressure wouldn’t get to the Mavericks, fighting their way to a hard-earned 89-81 win behind a monster fourth quarter from Dirk Nowitzki and a vintage night from point guard Jason Kidd.
The Mavericks would try to prove up to the challenge from the initial tip-off, even after losing second-year guard Rodrigue Beaubois for the showdown after he sprained his left foot Wednesday night in a 121-89 win over New Orleans.
But it would be Beaubois’ replacement in the starting lineup in that game that would spark the Mavericks in the opening quarter, as swingman DeShawn Stevenson provided timely scoring and gritty defense to help his team jump out to an early edge. Meanwhile, center Tyson Chandler’s weak-side help block on a driving Gerald Wallace tried to bat the Blazers back, until back-to-back alley-oop feeds from the big men duo of Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge lifted Portland in front.
However, even despite Aldridge’s 11 first-quarter points and two quick fouls on sixth man Jason Terry, the Mavericks would remain poised, staying in the game behind Kidd’s hot shooting start. Still, the Mavs faced a one-point deficit, 22-21, at the end of one quarter of play.
The second stanza would be a definitely story, however, as Mavericks sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic warmed up to spark a 12-3 spurt from the end of the first period. Meanwhile, Terry looked to make up for lost time on the offensive end, while the Dallas defense swarmed around Aldridge and showed the Seagoville native plenty of attention.
“[Aldridge] got a lot of easy baskets in that first half, especially that first quarter," Kidd said. "But we've got to make it tough. I mean, he touches the ball for a reason. We just have to make it a little bit tougher and make other guys score."
That left Portland’s scoring duties to point guard Andre Miller, who gladly obliged by posting up the smaller J.J. Barea and scoring with ease. But it wouldn’t be enough to keep the Mavs from heading into the break up 47-37, finishing the last 5:19 of the first half on a 12-4 run.
Hitting on 3-for-5 from 3-point range, Kidd led the Mavericks with 11 first-half points, while Aldridge scored just two points in the second to bring his total to 13 to go along with Miller’s 12. And after outshooting the Blazers in the first 24 minutes of play, 47.4 percent to 46.9 percent, the Mavs and their 6-for-10 from behind the arc had plenty of offense needed to build the double-digit advantage.
Shaking off a sluggish start to the third quarter, surrendering a 6-0 run to the Blazers that allowed the visitors to climb back into the game, the Mavericks again turned to Kidd, and the future Hall of Famer still couldn’t miss from long range. But Aldridge’s above-the-rim finishes continued to inch the Blazers closer, as Portland crept to as close as two before entering the final 12 minutes of play down 61-57.
It wouldn’t be long before the Blazers tied the game up at 61-all early the fourth on a thunderous alley-oop connection between Rudy Fernandez and Wallace. A short time later Fernandez’s transition and-1 score would give the Blazers the lead, which quickly grew to as much as six while the Mavericks struggled through a stretch of 10 straight misses.
"This game tonight is typical of how they’re going to be — down six with however much time left. We had to go on a significant run to win the game, which was significant for us and great. But it’s two good teams that are experienced, and the games are going to be very competitive," Carlisle said.
Fittingly, it would be Kidd that would break up the stagnant play with a jumper in the lane, sparking a 6-0 run with Nowitzki cashing in at the foul line to knot the game at 72-all with 4:16 remaining. Nowitzki then answered a driving score by Miller with a 3-pointer to put the Mavs one, following that up with a spinning and-1 bank-in to answer Aldridge and put his team up four inside of the final three minutes.
"I thought the most important shot of the game was the 3 [Nowitzki] hit in the right corner that took us from down two to up one,” Carlisle explained. “That really energized our building and energized our team, and from that point we started to really get some stops and consistently. He stayed with it, and when we talk about the importance of persistence on our team, he was a great example of that tonight, because it wasn’t going great necessarily the whole game. These games are going to test you that way.”
All told, Nowitzki scored 12 straight Dallas points, until Terry’s 2-for-2 trip at the foul line put the Mavs up 82-78 with just 1:30 remaining. The Dallas defense would then do the rest, suffocating Aldridge and his teammates to force late-game stop, leading to Kidd’s playoff career-high fifth 3-pointer to lift the Mavs up to an 85-78 margin with just 25.4 seconds left on the clock.
Still, the Blazers continued to fight back, after Nicolas Batum’s 3 made it an 85-81 game with 22.0 ticks left. Another pair at the charity stripe by Terry padded the lead to six, before Batum missed on another 3 attempt and Nowitzki secured the rebound, nailing two more of his 13 free throws in the final period to finish off the game.
Scoring 18 (13-for-13 at the free throw line) of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and grabbing down 10 rebounds to boot, Nowitzki led the way, despite hitting just seven of his 20 shots on the night.
Meanwhile, Kidd pitched in 24 points on 9-for-14 from the floor while connecting on 6-for-10 from 3-point range.
“What the playoffs is all about is pressure,” Kidd said after the win, echoing his head coach. “And there’s always gonna be somebody that steps up as the X-factor or somebody unknown. And as Dirk would say in the locker room he told me that they didn’t have me on the board for scoring 24 points tonight. So, I guess I was the X-factor in the game, but in the playoffs there’s always gonna be somebody that makes a shot or gets hot that isn’t looked upon or in the scouting report. So, I’m just happy that it was somebody on our team that did that tonight.”
“Spectacular. We had some guys that didn’t play their best games, but Jason Kidd played the game of the year to this point. Every shot he made, every play he made was absolutely essential for us. His leadership is something you can’t quantify,” Carlisle said with high praise for his point guard.
Terry was the only other Mavericks in double figures with 10 points off the bench.
Aldridge finished with 27 points to lead the Blazers on 12-of-20 shooting, while Miller registered 18 points and Batum added 14 in a reserve role. Albeit it in defeat, Portland finished the night with a 40-39 rebounding edge to go along with outshooting the Mavs, 46.1 percent to 40.9 percent, while outscoring the Dallas in the paint, 46-18.
Now, the Mavericks will regroup and look to build upon their Game 1 performance, returning to the floor Tuesday night looking to move to 2-0 in the series before it shifts to Portland and the Rose Garden, where the Dallas team dropped both games at during the regular season.
“This is a big win, but this game means nothing if you lose Game 2,” Nowitzki empathically said. “That’s what we did last year here, we only split [Games 1 and 2] against San Antonio and then ended up losing in six. So, definitely good to know that we didn’t shoot the ball well, but still find a way to win this one. … As we know they’re very good at home. They’re one of the best home teams in the league, their fans are phenomenal. So, we’d love to go up there and be up 2-0.”
Note: Game 2 of the opening-round matchup will tip off on Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. CT, airing nationally on TNT and locally on TXA 21. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
The first-round series between the two teams continues as follows:
Game 3 - Thurs. April 21 Dallas at Portland 9:30 p.m. CT TXA 21/TNT
Game 4 - Sat. April 23 Dallas at Portland 4:00 p.m. CT TXA 21/ TNT
Game 5 * Mon April 25 Portland at Dallas TBD TBD TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28 Dallas at Portland TBD TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30 Portland at Dallas TBD TBD TNT
Single-game tickets for the first two Mavs home games of the First Round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs are now on sale. Fans that purchase single-game tickets will receive a commemorative 2011 Mavs Playoff ticket*, which will allow the fans to experience augmented reality, a new technology that will bring the ticket to life with animated Mavs players including Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Game day and commemorative tickets will go live when the 2011 Playoffs begin.
Tickets will be available online at mavs.com, via phone (214-747-6287 or 1-800-4NBA-TIX) and the American Airlines Center® North Box Office**. Ticket prices start at $15 and up and there is an eight ticket limit per game. Tickets are also sold at all Ticketmaster outlets (Fiesta Grocery Stores, Simon Mall in Garland and Shops at Willow Bend).
Fans that purchase single game tickets at the American Airlines Center® North Box Office will receive their commemorative ticket at that time. For those purchasing online or at a Ticketmaster outlet, commemorative tickets will be available to pick up at the American Airlines Center® North Box Office or on Playoff game nights at the Mavs ticket sales table on the main concourse near the North Box Office. Augmented Reality is available only on Android phones. For more information, go to http://www.nba.com/mavericks/ar/ar.html.
Individual game tickets are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased at the American Airlines Center box office, on Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287). Get in on the action and be there for all the thrills!
Fans can visit Mavs.com or call 214.747.MAVS for more information and a complete listing of regular-season home games.