Mavs extend series as Dirk outduels Melo
With the score sitting at 116-114 and 00:30 second remaining in the game a bit of déjà vu entered into my head.
Dallas coming off a full timeout, for the 1,254 time got the ball to Dirk and he once again went to work against Kenyon Martin around the free throw line. Dirk, predictably, faded away and air balled the shot ... and I thought, "Here we go again!" But alas a late whistle came that put KMart on the bench with his 6th foul and sent Dirk to the line for his 16th and 17th attempts of the night.
Nowitzki sank both shots essentially icing the game and giving the Mavericks their first win of the series.
Dirk scored 44 points on the night going 14-25 from the floor and 16-17 from the foul line. Dirk's work at the charity stripe surely looked better than the 5-10 performance Nene displayed. It was a rough night for Denver's big men as Nene and KMart combined for only 11 points and Birdman wasn't able to even spread his wings.
Chris Andersen was sidelined with a mysterious stomach illness and Denver clearly missed the Birdman tonight. Bird, averaging 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.33 blocks against Dallas provides much more than just what his stats show and his presence on the floor was surely missed. Heck, that's why this petition was created for him.
Bird's importance on the floor is equal to what Josh Howard provides for the Mavericks. And wow, Howard had a gutsy performance tonight. Playing 34 minutes and scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds on two wrecked ankles is definitely commendable.
Filling in for the injured Birdman was Linas Kleiza. LK logged 20 minutes scoring 7 points (on 2-7 shooting), grabbing 3 rebounds, and
amazingly some how lead the team with a +17, but he is not the game changer and lane enforcer that Bird is and Dallas took advantage scoring in the paint all night. I found myself once again wishing for Renaldo Balkman as his energy and hustle would have been worth some burn in my book with Andersen sidelined.
Melo played a tremendous game in his own right. Melo dropped 41 points on 15-29 shooting (2-5 from three, 9-11 from the foul line), 11 rebounds, and 5 steals ... including a pretty poke away from Josh Howard that led to a fast break dunk the other way. But Melo could not shoulder the load tonight ... Billups added 24 points and J.R. chipped in for 19, but it just wasn't enough as the Nuggets struggled to pull away from Dallas and maintain their leads.
This game was about making runs. The Nuggets came out of the gate quickly and ended the first quarter up 34-23 and everything was running smooth. Denver was 5-6 from three-point land and there seemed to be no doubt that the sweep was on.
In the second quarter the Nuggets pushed the lead to 49-35 after a pretty J.R. Smith reverse dunk. Denver was in control of the game and having their way with Dallas. But things changed after the half with Denver leading 63-53.
Throughout much of the regular season the Nuggets have let 10 point leads disappear as fast as they can get them. Last night was no different. Just four minutes into the third quarter Dallas went on a 12-3 run and the game was on.
Even little J.J. Barea got in on the act making layup after layup and scoring 10 points off the bench. Denver had made him a non-factor in the first three games, but Barea was able to get into the lane time and again tonight ... I have a feeling the Bird would have been able to put a stop to that, but I digress.
Denver had an opportunity to earn their first playoff sweep ever, but they will now have to come back to Denver in front of what will surely be a frenzied arena Wednesday night.
I'll post some more thoughts on the game in the morning, but first must add one more thing ...
Kenyon's family ...
TNT reported after the game that "several fans" were ejected from the stadium for yelling at and throwing things at KMart's family. What a despicable act. Kenyon is labeled a "thug" by much of the league for his play on the court as his aggressiveness is often mistaken for "thuggery."
What is not widely know is that Kenyon sits on the Board of Directors for the American Institute for Stuttering, participates in the Nuggets' Read to Achieve program, provides meals for the Denver Rescue Mission, makes charitable donations (Hurricane Katrina), is a spokesman for the March of Dimes, and speaks at local high schools like Denver's Montbello High School for their "Pass on Violence" campaign, and has purchased tickets to every home game for less fortunate families.
KMart grew up in Dallas and much of his family still lives there. For his hometown fans to treat him and his family this way because their owner felt like calling him a "thug" after his team lost is completely inexcusable. I hope the guilty parties are permanently banned from attending future Mavericks games.
Mark Cuban has still not publicly apologized to Martin or his family and some guilty fans have just made things worse.