May 04, 2007
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State Warriors fans, let me get this out of the way. I was wrong! I picked the Dallas Mavericks to win the series, and I was dead wrong. Ultimately, the Warriors were just too good for Dallas. Too quick, too strong, too athletic, and too skilled.
I've always said that in the NBA, there's no such thing as an upset. Over seven games, the best team always wins. This is not the NCAA tournament, where one fluke game can propel a Cinderella over a powerhouse. To beat a club four times, you have to be the better team. And Golden State was by far the better team than Dallas.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. Two of the Mavs' top three scorers -- Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry -- were physically manhandled by the Warriors. Normally those two have speed advantages in games, but with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson harassing them all series, Dallas couldn't get anything going. Josh Howard was the only one of the Mavericks' top three who could keep up with the frantic pace, but overall Dallas was overwhelmed by speed.
2. The Oracle Arena crowd was the best I have ever seen in the NBA. In 15 years of playing and four years as a commentator, I have never, ever seen 20,000 fans standing as one for an entire second half. That's what Golden State's fans did in Game 6, and it was amazing to witness. The Mavs seemed to be in good shape starting the third quarter, with Davis hurting and the pace of the game in their favor. But the Warriors' crowd was so rowdy, so loud, that Dallas never looked comfortable on the floor. The momentum swung Golden State's way as soon as Jackson started making threes, and the crowd took it from there.
3. Davis delivered one of the most heroic performances in playoff history. He played at about three-quarter speed after straining his hamstring in the first quarter, but it was enough. Even with the Mavericks attacking him the entire game offensively knowing he was hurt, Davis held his ground and then ran the Warriors' offense at the other end. After making several unlikely threes in the first half to keep his team in the game, Davis somehow was able to penetrate the lane and break down the Dallas D -- even on one leg.
4. Jackson is a bad man. (And I mean that in a good way.) The guy simply is never afraid on the basketball court. He took every big shot for Golden State, taking over the game in the third quarter with a flurry of three-pointers. His confidence and swagger were a huge part of this series, and when the game was on the line, he was the guy the Warriors looked to.
5. Dirk didn't play like the MVP. I realize this is obvious, but it needs to be said. He looked rattled on Thursday, unable to get any confidence going. But it wasn't just a personal meltdown. Golden State played perfect defense on him all series, rotating a series of long, athletic defenders on him while sitting guards in his lap. Nowitzki had nowhere to go, and with his jump shot not dropping, he was helpless. And as easy as it is to say "Go to the rim!" it's not easy when you have three people who are quicker than you right in front of you all game. Oh, and by the way, the Warriors aren't just quick; they're strong, too. Even when Dirk ended up with a guard on him, he couldn't maneuver to the spot he wanted. Davis and Jason Richardson bodied him and bothered him for the entire series.
6. Nellie was amazing. Don Nelson has long been one of the game's most innovative coaches, but he's also been known for his offensive wizardry more than anything at the defensive end. However, Nellie's knowledge of Nowitzki's game -- along with a roster of athletic, active defenders -- helped him dominate his pupil, Avery Johnson, and push all the right buttons in this series. The 3-2 zone, the crowding of Dirk, the "Hey, we're huge underdogs" mentality -- Nellie had it all working. He worked the press perfectly and handled his players beautifully, and even with his star hurting in a must-win Game 6, the Warriors' coach kept his team in an attacking, swashbuckling mentality.
So now, Golden State moves on, and as Warrior Nation revels in the most delicious taste of playoff glory since 1975 (when Golden State won its only NBA championship), the question that begs to be asked is "How far can they go?"
The Warriors will sit back and enjoy watching Utah and Houston play Game 7 of their series on Saturday before taking on the winner. Then they'll get back to work with the knowledge -- and the confidence -- that they can beat anyone. Or just about anyone, anyway.
I don't think the Warriors can beat the Spurs, but they can absolutely handle Houston or Utah. And if they advance to the West finals and face Phoenix, well, that's their kind of game. But we're getting ahead ourselves, aren't we?
For now, let's just sit back and enjoy one of the most incredible playoff series in NBA history. I won't call it an upset, but I can absolutely say it was amazing to watch. And yes, Golden State fans, I'll say it again -- I was dead wrong about this one.