By Scott Spangler
It looked like the Los Angeles Lakers, who on Sunday were swept 4-0 in their second round playoff series by the Dallas Mavericks, lost Games 3 and 4 in the last five minutes Friday night. It is obviously easy to say this now, but it was my feeling at the time.
The Mavs were down eight midway through the fourth quarter in Game 3, and responded with a 20-7 run to close. When Dirk Nowitzki hit a lefty hook to give the Mavericks the lead for good, there was no mistaking the Lakers’ body language.
Only moments earlier, a must-win, yet could-win situation for the Lakers was in play. As they left the court of American Airlines Center, eyes cast down and shoulders slumped. The final minute of Game 3 robbed L.A. of any ambition that might have remained.
The Lakers played defense at a high level most of Game 3 – championship caliber defense, in fact. On Sunday during Game 4, it was gone. Maverick guards got in and out of the paint at will. Jason Terry was the beneficiary of a lot of it, as he nailed several open threes, but J.J Barea made his way in the painted area with ease. Even 38 year-old Jason Kidd got inside for kickout passes to open teammates.
Sunday was just the day Dallas shooters were really knocking them down. Of course, that will happen when the opponent isn’t giving much in the way of resistance.
And once threes started falling for Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic, L.A. packed it in. Andrew Bynum started short-arming everything, except J.J. Barea. Lamar Odom was thinking about a beach. Phil Jackson pondered life after coaching, but certainly not peyote.
Might the Mavericks have left the door open once shots stopped falling? Tough to say. Since shots kept going down, we will never know for sure. Dallas has been guilty of easing off the pedal before, and not just in Miami five years ago.
This is the club that led Portland 3-0 in 2003, only to see the series go seven games. And the Lakers are the one franchise that would seem capable of making that type of history. Until now, Dallas would seem the perfect victim.
But again, shots kept falling for the Mavs. The defense continued to smother Kobe Bryant and dared others to convert. No one stepped up and the Los Angeles Lakers went quietly, without much of a fight.
All due respect to the two-time defending world champions. This is a trophy kill for the little Mavericks, a team that many believed wouldn’t survive Portland. There’s much to be proud of for Mark Cuban and Dallas fans everywhere.
Still, the effort Sunday wasn’t what one would expect from a champion. Perhaps all Laker will had been sapped through three games. And maybe, Dallas just took it.
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