By Will Martin
One of the great things about driving long distances to cover an event is having time to think. The weekend travels took me to San Antonio for a return trip to the land of the Spurs and something I never got to experience before. An actual Game 7! Funny in that all ticket stubs for any events since 1996 have been saved and placed in an album, you’d think there was something in that pile that had a Game 7 attached to it. Not to be the case.
Leaving Dallas and heading South via the I-67 towards Austin my mind went back to 9/29/13. What kind of Dallas Maverick team was going to appear night after night, game after game? There was some actual fanfare for the arrivals of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, seasoned veteran Samuel Dalembert, the return of Devin Harris, and new addition DeJuan Blair.
The bar was raised from being a .500 team at 41-41 in 2013 to one that would toy with 50 wins and be a 7th or 8th seed ‘one and done’ when the playoffs began in April. Having a healthy Dirk Nowitzki all season also an added plus. Traffic to San Antonio was incredibly light and the weather was warm and wonderful.
The Dallas Mavericks of 2013-2014 were like the girl with the curl. When she was good, she was very good. When she was bad… consider how right before the All-Star break Dallas was able to handle their business at Indiana of all places to go into the break with momentum.
In the space of nine days Team Carlisle actually put a whipping on the heavily favored and heavily liked Oklahoma City Thunder. Twice! As I neared Austin it dawned on me how Monta Ellis was a real Iron Man, having played every game. More on Mr. Ellis shortly. In case you wanted to feel nostalgic here is the last sight seen of the Dallas Mavericks after Game 7 at the AT&T Center.
January 2014 was when Devin Harris returned from a complicated foot surgery. To quote my friend Chris Arnold (from the ‘G-Bag Nation’ morning show with Gavin Dawson and Mike Bacsik mornings 10-3 on 105.3 The Fan) ‘This shall now stop the bleeding”. This would prove to be true as the season progressed.
That bloody issue being spoken of was the number of leads in double digits that were lost. It began in Atlanta (headed by that coach who stood beside Gregg Popovich for 18 years, Mike Budenholzer) in the early part of winter. Again the lost lead would rear its ugly head with an an overtime home defeat to the Toronto Raptors after a lead of 20 was somehow lost.
Nearing the city of Buda the thought of ‘What If’ entered my mind. By my count there were seven or eight games that the Mavericks lost where a huge lead was theirs to have. Had you cut that deficit in half this team would have entered the NBA Playoffs as a 6 or maybe a 5-seed. Different scenario for a different date. November 2013 was one where many a Mavericks fan would pull their hair out and wonder, ‘Can we play defense?’.
The answer came when March arrived. One source of pride for Dallas all season was the wonderful mix of youth and energy the bench would provide. Beginning with Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Devin Harris, Jae Crowder, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin, and Brandan Wright.
Remember how in the space of 24 hours to begin the month of March North Texas went from 85 degrees to 24 on Texas Independence Day no less? Dallas got to enjoy that evening playing a game in San Antonio where they got clobbered and lost by a double digit amount. Fans and friends alike said, ‘The Spurs are the one team we don’t want to face in the first round of the playoffs’. At that time the Mavs had lost nine in a row to San Antonio in their rivalry. It became ten with a home loss on April 10th.
New Braunfels was within my sights and of course my mind raced back to what was witnessed on March 16th and March 24th when Monta Ellis was under the weather, injured and less than 100% yet willing this Mavericks team to victories home and away over the Thunder with a very limited Russell Westbrook. The overall team play of Ellis, Nowitzki, Calderon, Marion, and Dalembert appeared to be clicking on all cylinders.
The playoff destiny was in the Mavericks hands all of March and April. Just like their fellow AAC dwellars there was an issue with two pesky rodents from Arizona and Tennessee trying to break up the party plans of the Mavericks. A playoff entry meant a 13th visit in 14 years. Dallas controlled their destiny…
Now 40 miles outside of reaching San Antonio I thought back to those road wins at OKC and also an improbable victory over the faster, and younger Phoenix Suns to keep a 7th seed at the ready and playing the Thunder. No one wanted to see a Battle of I-35 with a team that Dallas had not defeated in a while.
All Dallas had to do was win in Memphis on the final day of the season and #7 was theirs. It took overtime to decide the fate of a 106-105 defeat to Zach Randolph and company to know that the Mavericks (49-33) would earn the privilege of a Spurs Round 1 opponent.
‘This will be painful. This will be a sweep. No chance in hell we even a game’. This was the inner mutterance as this series began which was typed onto this very website. Easter Sunday brought some surprises as Dallas had a ten point lead that disappeared in the last seven minutes as a team went flat 90-85. Game 2 was a 21 point blowout 113-92 Dallas to end a streak.
All of a sudden Games 3 and 4 came back to the AAC within the confines of MFFL strong tee shirts and 20,000 maniacs making noise. Game 3 was one for the ages as Vince Carter hit a walkoff game winner at the gun 109-108. San Antonio too Game 4 93-89 in which a 20 point San Antonio lead was lost along with an ejection for DeJuan Blair. That walkoff win in Game 3 by far the best moment of the 2013-2014 season and here it is once again.
Game 5 at the Riverwalk the Mavericks showed mettle despite falling behind early 21-8. No answers for the tandem of Parker, Ginobli, Duncan, and Leonard. Game to Spurs 109-103 and a return to Dallas. Game 6 was the game that in my mind the Dallas Mavericks made fans out of non-believers with their physicality, the double-double presence of DeJuan Blair (10 points 14 rebounds) and a 29 point performance (his second in the series) for Monta Ellis in a 113-111 thriller.
Note: in the space of a week THREE wins against the Spurs after two years of nothing. Added to this backdrop a genius idea by Mark Cuban and team for a #MavsChant which borrowed from ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street”. My chest is still sore. My ears would be ringing for a week, my mind (upon entering the Howard Johnsons where my Spurs stay would take me) kept going back to what Rick Carlisle said back in November.
“I believe in these guys. It’s my job to get them ready”.
For six games in the playoffs the Dallas Mavericks were exactly that. With a Game 7 on the Riverwalk indeed I took my first trip back since the 2013 NBA Finals Games 3 and 4. Yes, the AT&T Center was loud and raucous, the internet in the balcony sucked, San Antonio-namely Tony Parker-exploded for 24 points on an afternoon where the Spurs played their most complete game of the year in a 119-96 thumping of the Dallas Mavericks, effectively ending their season, but not taking away from what was and what could have been.
Note the very first thing that Gregg Popovich shared with the media post game.
Rick Carlisle was quick to discuss how much love he had for this current group of players. It is his hope that he, Donnie Junior, and Mark Cuban can bring the whole team back. You know that cannot happen. Beginning with Shawn Marion I hope the Mavs Nation realizes how lucky we were to have the Matrix in this building.
The ride back home to Dallas Sunday was quiet, sleep deprived and with one major thought…
Will Shawn Marion be back?
“I’m looking at maybe two, a couple of more (years of playing in the NBA),” he said. “I think I’m going to have to call it after that. I think it’ll be time. It’s not all about basketball. I have a son now. A lot of it is predicated on him.”
“I’ve actually never really experienced free agency,” Marion said. “After your 15th year in the league, it’s a weird feeling, I guess. I’m not even thinking about that. When July 1 comes, I’ll look at my options and see what option is best suited to me to add to my legacy”.
My guess: Miami. Which is not to say Shawn won’t be back after his playing days.
“This is a great city,” Marion said. “The fans here are amazing, even media guys are awesome. It’s a great environment here. Mark and Donnie have built an amazing franchise here. It’s like a family here. … I would love to add to the ring I have. I’m going to retire here, regardless. I’m going to be a Dallas local here in the coming years. I’m going to make this my home.
Names you will be hearing about for 2014-2015: Luol Deng, Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, and Trevor Ariza. It will get interesting after July 1st. It was a great season with plenty of ups and downs. With Monta, Jose, and Dirk in the triad two big presences are all that keeps this team from entertaining rehashing the fun of 2010-2011.