Dallas 119, Denver 117 (Denver leads series, 3-1)
Fun, fun game. Denver deserves major credit for coming out and trying for the sweep straightaway, and Dallas deserves major credit for refusing to bow down to an early, significant, Denver lead. And nobody deserves Major Dad. Nobody.
This guy has really come into his own. He doesn't waste possessions. He makes quick, definitive decisions; finally knowing that, because of his talent level, just about any decision he makes quickly will likely benefit in a good chance at a score for his team based solely on his talent level and smarts.
The guy has obviously lost quite a bit of weight since last season, he's sharing the ball not to make a point, but just because a lay-up for Nene is a better percent shot than a floater for Carmelo, and he absolutely destroyed a series of Maverick defenders on Monday.
Not unlike Carmelo, just about any shot he decides to toss up will have a solid chance of going in. And like a lot of players who can go over either shoulder, on either block, in either direction, in a number of ways, the sheer amount of possibilities and ways for Dirk to score sometimes boggles the mind. His mind, most importantly. It leads him thinking way too much, trying to set up the perfect shot, when sometimes a one-footed fadeaway off of no contact from 17-feet is a 70 percent proposition.
He has to know this; but when you're as mindful and well-prepared as Dirk is, you can't help but wonder (as you pull up in the triple-threat position), "is this the best I could have done?"
Thinking too much means dribbling too much, spinning too much, pumping too much ... and all of the sudden you have two seconds on the shot clock and Kenyon Martin(notes) has just beat you to the spot and blocked your shot. On the ball.
So, go quickly, men. You're that good. And, with 85 combined points from Dirk and Carmelo in Game 4, it's safe to say that these two are aware of their station. Lucky us.
Distressing perimeter defensive decisions from Antoine Wright(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes) early in this one, but Dallas kept the pressure on offensively with superior spacing. Fantastic spacing and quick movement that allowed Dirk to do his thing, while leaving all sorts of angles for Jose Juan Barea(notes) to drive into.
Dirk Nowitzki may have carried the Mavericks, but when the team was at its lowest ebb, Josh Howard(notes) was the man. The Mavs were down 14 points after 17 minutes of play before Howard caught a pass from Nowitzki cutting to the hoop, scoring the first two of his nine points to finish the frame, allowing Dallas to enter halftime with merely an eight point deficit. He also played great defense on Carmelo Anthony, as if that matters. Melo had nine points in the second quarter.
Once the Dallas turnovers dried up, the game was theirs. It's not easy to do, against Denver. The team doesn't gamble, at least not overtly (stop laughing), but it always seems to will itself into a series of defections or outright steals. Of course, spacing is a good tonic for that, but so is concentration. They had the spacing in the first half. Once the concentration came around, it was all over.
Or, "it became a close game." Denver is too good. They went down to Dallas, played 96 minutes, and were outscored by one point. But "too good" doesn't mean anything when you have a 1/3 screen and roll, Anthony Carter(notes) ends up on Dirk, and Dirk makes a quick, decisive, move to toss in two. Dirk's been brilliant, all series, but I haven't seen him open up like this in a while. It was like last March. It was like 2006-07. It was like November of 2000. It was so much fun.
44 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block ... four turnovers! Dirk had four turnovers! He's topped four turnovers (games of four, and five) just twice since late January. You go. Reckless, Dirk. Wreckless, Dirk. Lovely.
Other things helped. Jason Terry(notes) and Barea didn't exactly clean the glass Kidd-style, but five combined rebounds from two smallish guards in 48 combined minutes helps. It really does. 11 from a small forward in Howard helps, as do the 10 (alongside six assists, three steals, one turnover, and 13 points) caroms that Kidd collected. Dallas out-rebounded Denver by 16. Denver's power forward, Kenyon Martin, only managed two in 33 minutes.
In the end, though, it was Dirk. 19 points in the fourth quarter. A consistent, go-to option that the other team couldn't check, despite its best efforts. And, if a few flagrants aren't given (by players, refs, whatever; I don't care to get into that), if a few technicals don't pop up, then we could be saying the same about Carmelo Anthony. The beauty of the game, the beauty of the playoffs. Game 5 is on Wednesday.
A couple of TV notes ...
Charles Barkley and some of the TNT crew assumed the Nuggets would win in a walk, mainly because Kenyon Martin would be so upset. Instead, Martin had an awful game.
Chuck should know better. First off, Martin can't take over a game. He's a fine player whose basketball IQ I respect, but he's not someone who is going to go off. If someone did something to upset J.R. Smith(notes), yes, Smith could turn the tide. Not Martin.
And it certainly wouldn't have done anything to help Martin's defense on Dirk. Chuck should ask himself, "if someone bagged on Otis Thorpe's mom between games, would Otis have had an easier time with me?" I think not. Otherwise, spot on work as usual from the Turner crew.
I liked the work P.J. Carlesimo did in the first few games of the playoffs, but he was replaced by Steve Smith for this game, which bummed me out, initially. I've heard Smith on Bobcat and Hawks telecasts for a while, along with his NBA TV gig; and while I dig him, he doesn't really sway me in either way.
In Game 4, however, he was as good as I've ever heard him. Great calls, from Smitty, all night long.
The fact that this Mark Cuban/Kenyon Martin thing has gone this far is just an absolute joke. And, I'm sorry, but this is on Mark.
I fully cop to the fact -- the fact -- that Kenyon Martin is the dirtiest player in the NBA. I've thought so since 2005-06, though there was definite evidence that he was the dirtiest well before that, he didn't really vault ahead of the rest of the pack in my eyes until that season. He's done nothing to dissuade me, since. If anything, he's gotten worse.
This is coming from someone who appreciates Kenyon, likes him, and has been watching him play basketball since he was 18. I like him, but I know he's dirty. He takes cheap shots, not just thuggy shots, but cheap shots. Meant to annoy, meant to hurt, shots. And his cheap Game 1 takedown of Dirk Nowitzki isn't even close to an example of such. For Martin, that was a tangle of arms and feet. That was nothing. Watch him in the lane in a game against the Grizzlies in February, after the whistle has blown. He's dirty.
And if Mark Cuban went on his website and offered us 800 words as to why Martin was the dirtiest player in the NBA, I'd love it. I'd applaud it, I'd link to it, and I'd head on over to Ballhype and give it a big arrow-up. He'd be right, in that regard.
But to yell that out at Martin's mother? No reason for that.
And, two days later, to have made no concession about needlessly involving his mother in this? Far, far worse. And there's no excuse for that.
I don't care that Martin is dirty. I don't care that Martin's mother made no secret of being "Kenyon Martin's mother" at the American Airlines Arena in Games 3 and 4. You don't involve her. Go at Martin, go at him with all you have, but leave his mother out of it. And for Cliff Barnes' sake, if it's over two days later, have the decency to toss out an apology or note of regret.
You know why, Mark? Because you turn 51 in a few months. Because you're better than this. Or, at least, you should be. And I don't care if Martin is being a foul-mouthed thug in response ... he's 21 years younger than you. And if he were acting like this at 41, much less 51, I'd rip him. You have no such excuse.
You're good for the game, Mark. You're great for the league. Better than that? You're absolutely the best for your team. For any team. You care, and not in a way that means you rock a foam finger or toss ridiculous contracts at whatever flavor of the free agent summer comes down the pike.
You care enough to work at your gig, for your team, for your fans. You care enough to explore every possible avenue in order to improve your team, given the confines and constraints of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. You are ceaselessly searching for new revenue streams and clearer, most useful information in order to bring a championship to Dallas.
And I know what's it's like to see your team have a win taken from its grasp by a referee's call that should have gone the other way. It's crushing. It's enervating. Your chest hurts, your blood pressure rises, and god help the closest breakable thing.
But taking the time to recognize and shout down someone's mother? Going out of your way to shove a cameraman, at your age? At any age? If J.R. Smith pulled the same stunt after Game 4, I'd ask for a suspension. If Dennis Rodman gets 11 games for harming someone he deemed an annoyance that was just trying to do his job, why should you get off?
You should be the owner to end all owners. The guy we'd all kill to have running our favorite team. The best ever, in spite of the luck and the circumstances that sometimes conspire to keep the best away from a championship ring. And yet, every so often, we're reminded that you still have some growing up to do. And that's unfortunate.
I'm leaving my original thoughts, unedited, in this post because, let's face it, this should have been taken care of well before early Tuesday morning. And my thoughts about the initial outburst, and the shove of the cameraman, stand. That said, Cuban deserves our respect for putting this post together. You don't get a lot of these that actually drip with sincerity, so that was a refreshing read.
Cleveland 84, Atlanta 74 (Cleveland wins series, 4-0)
It's hard to knock a guy that made three of six three-pointers. It's hard to knock a guy that won the game with two terrific drives into the lane. Well, watch me bend from the knees. Heavy lifting, time.
This game was a bit of a throwback to the Cavaliers of old, and the LeBron James(notes) of old. You can't help but cringe a bit when he pulls up for those off-balance three-pointers, because even if they go in, the fact that he shoots a different type of three just about every time he pulls up makes the shot so, so difficult. And it bails out the defense. And, I'm sorry, but this guy's footwork still has a long way to go.
Now, this makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable, but there was a reason he had to shoot fadeaway jumpers against the hopelessly-slow Mike Bibby(notes) in Game 3. He just doesn't have the footwork on some nights to make those would-be drives work, instead relying pretty much exclusively on quickness and strength.
But he still finished with 27, eight rebounds, and eight assists. And he put the Cavs on his back down the stretch. And he's the best player in the game. Doesn't mean I can't nitpick.
About 104 points per 100 possessions for Cleveland, a pretty lousy number. They also missed 12 of 26 free throws, but luckily a hot mark (10-18, 56 percent) from behind the arc put the Hawks away.
That's the difference between this year, and the ugly 2005-2008 era Cavs -- that touch from long range. Mo Williams(notes) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) combining to shoot 10-24 isn't all that hot, but when your point guard/center combo knocks in five of eight from behind the arc? And Delonte West(notes) fills in all the holes with 21 points on 13 shots? Six assists, from the man Dr. Jack Ramsay calls "Delon-tee?" Tired of questions? I hear you.
The Hawks? They're the Hawks. You know these guys, and you won't have to watch them until next October. Joe Johnson(notes) needed 18 shots to score 18 points. Worse, Flip Murray(notes) needed 15 to score 14. Marvin Williams(notes) dunked once, but missed his other six attempts, and Mike Bibby might as well have already been backing Rajon Rondo(notes) up at this point. Too soon?
Josh Smith(notes)? Too little, too late, but I have to appreciate the way he came out and tried to get to the rim on most attempts. 10-12 from the line, 26 points on 16 shots; and though he still threw up some iffy perimeter looks, he helped.
31.5 percent shooting for the Hawks, though, who were just manhandled by the Cleveland defense in this series.