PORTLAND, Ore. -- There are plenty of reasons to believe Portland will win Game 6 on their home floor and push the series back to Dallas for a winner-takes-all death match on Saturday. You can point to Portland’s ridiculous crowd giving them a big advantage. You can note how Brandon Roy has been virtually superhuman at home. The home team has won every game both this series and all season long (9-0). Vegas says Portland; why shouldn’t you?
But from where I’ve sat and what I’ve seen, Dallas has definitely been the better team in this series. If it wasn’t for a superhuman quarter -- one of the greatest individual 12 minutes in the postseason history of the league -- Dallas would be at home with their feet up waiting for the Lakers/Hornets series to end as opposed to back in Portland preparing for Game 6.
The common reaction by most fans and media to the 23-point collapse in the final 14 minutes of Game 4 was “same old Mavs.” You heard “gutless,” “chokers,” “soft” – all of that was in play once again. And though I understood the logic, I didn’t buy any of it. It’s simply not what I’ve seen.
If this were the “same old Mavs” they would have lost Game 3 by 20. Portland stormed out the gates to a 10-2 lead before the blink of an eye and it sounded like a hurricane was engulfing the building. But Dallas weathered the storm and had their chances. You didn’t even hear the normal complaining about the late Jason Kidd trey being counted for two. Dallas liked what they’d done, and they were very confident for Game 4.
Then they played like they believed they were the superior team. They spanked the Blazers for almost three complete quarters. They were smothering on D. It was their game. They had it won. And then something crazy happened: Brandon Roy did something epic. They blew the lead. It was an embarrassing moment and, for many Mavs fans, it was Eli Roth remaking Groundhog Day. Brutal, painful recall.
But as quick as everyone was to compare it to other Mavericks playoff disasters of the last half-decade, it didn’t feel that way to me. It felt like any number of regular-season games I’d seen in which a team gets up big, starts coasting and then they get run over. Except it wasn't the regular season and there was no shrugging it off. They had been too good, too dominant. This wasn’t like getting punked physically by an upstart Golden State team or a CP3-led New Orleans squad. This was falling asleep at the wheel. Embarrassing? Yes. Regretful? Of course. Catastrophic? Not so much. Teams don’t recover from catastrophies.
While everyone suspected Dallas would fold in Game 5, I didn’t see it that way because I DON’T think this team is like Mavericks teams that weren’t up for the fight. Giving up the ghost? Not this year. Not this team.
Dallas was really good in Game 5, especially in the second half. And if you’d watched every second of this series without the context of the immediate past, you weren’t even remotely surprised. That’s what this group of guys has said all year long – whatever happened before this season has nothing to do with us. Then they went out and proved it.
And that’s what I fully expect to happen in Game 6. I imagine they’ll be as good on the road as they were in the first seven quarters of Games 3 and 4. After the Game 5 victory, Tyson Chandler soaked his ankles in a bucket of ice as he waited for a television interview. He stared at a box score that said he’d just recorded 20 boards and 14 points in an 11-point grinder.
And he was frustrated. The series should have been over already. There was no celebrating, only the intense focus derived from a most serious unfinished business. He was still angered over Game 4. His performance and the team's victory reinforced the bitterness of a ridiculous postseason fumble. Previous incarnations take a knee. But that's not in the plans. But saying that means nothing – it has to happen on the floor.
It did in Game 5, and the Mavs have a chance to really prove something on the road in a situation in which they're not expected to win. But this isn't the same Mavericks team that has let a battered fan base down the last several years. And they intend to prove it in the most hostile environments – on the road in Portland for Game 6 Thursday night. A chance to bury the past awaits, and this group relishes the opportunity.