PORTLAND – The Dallas Mavericks have set foot on this scorched playoff earth before. So you’d think they would know how to avoid making the mistake again … and again .. and again.
Yet all the chatter coming from their locker room after their stunning meltdown and Game 4 loss to Brandon Roy and the Portland Trail Blazers was about how they “let their guard down” and “eased up” with a 23-point cushion late in the third quarter. The Blazers won 84-82 behind 18 fourth-quarter points from Roy.
Even Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle agreed that his team let off the gas with that big lead. “I think we let up a little bit,” Carlisle said. “I don’t think there’s any question.”
But that’s a convenient explanation for a team with as checkered a playoff history as the Mavericks have in recent years. They’ve been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in three of the last four years. You take nothing for granted with a resume like that.
They were 13 minutes and 19 seconds away from a commanding 3-1 series lead and a chance to close it out in Game 5 Monday night at home when it all fell apart.
They even managed to wake up the ghosts from their ultimate collapse in the 2006 NBA Finals, when they took a 2-0 series lead and city officials started planning parade routes only to see the Miami Heat stun them by winning four straight games and the Larry O’Brien trophy.
After doing basically whatever they wanted against the Blazers in the third quarter the Mavericks froze up in the fourth. While Roy was shredding them on the defensive end, they couldn’t find the basket on the other. They went eight straight possessions without so much as a free throw.
“It’s tough to find a word,” Dirk Nowitzki said, doing his best to make sense of yet another playoff meltdown. “It’s definitely a tough one to sit on. Now we have to fly home four hours on that one. Frustration is definitely at a high level.”
When asked if he could remember a more painful playoff loss, Nowitzki had to think about it, which says a lot about just how epic a meltdown this was and how extensive the Mavericks’ playoff follies have been.
“This is definitely up here,” he said. “Because there is a huge difference from being p 3-1 and 2-2. This is definitely up there with the most frustrating losses, but like I said, we have to shake it off. The good thing is we have to win two out of three and we have two at home. That’s the only positive.”
The Blazers outscored the Mavericks 35-15 after trailing 69-47 late in the third quarter. The gradual surge woke up a Rose Garden crowd that had grown uncharacteristically quiet during that third quarter power outage when the home team couldn’t buy a basket.
As the Blazers kept pushing, behind a wunderkind effort from Roy, the Mavericks simply could not stop them.
Carlisle took the blame for not making a defensive adjustment on Roy, who worked against single coverage for basically the entire fourth quarter.
“I’m going to take the blame for that,” Carlisle said. “There are different things defensively that we cold have done. We should have done some different things, so I’m going to take the blame for that. We’ve got to move on quickly. It’s disappointing and everything, but the NBA season has a lot of highs and lows, and we have to keep going.”
That will be tough to do if they don’t find a way to put this latest meltdown behind them before Monday.
“We’ve been through tough losses before,” Carlisle said. “It’s not easy, but for us, we’ve got to get back on the plane, get back home and study some things that went wrong. The turnaround time is not real great, so we’re going to have to get back and get ready to play on Monday night.”