Star Power on Display
Reflecting on these past four games I realize we are watching a pretty special series from the two biggest starts. Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony have been spectacular for their teams and pushing each other to new heights.
In Game 4 Dirk led his team with 44 points as Melo followed suit and poured in 41 points for the Nuggets. Consider their series numbers thus far ...
|FG||FG%||3 pt||3 pt%||F.T.||F.T.%||PPG|
We are watching an old western shootout. Each guy can score in a variety of ways and I think we can all agree Melo is a much more graceful scorer. But Dirk's awkward herky-jerky style always results in a picture perfect release and beautiful follow through.
How many times in Dirk's 46 field goal makes have you said to yourself, "No way that is going in!" Only to see the ball find nothing but net? Perhaps 20+ times? I know I am amazed at some of the shots Nowitzki not only takes, but makes.
In the TNT rip-fest that Chris Webber, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley had on Dirk before Game 2, I found myself liking Dirk's honesty in his interview. At no point did he say that KMart, Nene, or Andersen could stop him, he was just telling us how they defend him.
I'll admit that I don't like Dirk's whining when he doesn't get some calls, but what player doesn't talk to the refs? I know Nene has been known to plead his case incessantly.
It's no secret that without Dirk, the Mavs are not the same team and the Nuggets have challenged him to beat them almost by himself in this series. George Karl has basically refused to double-team #41 and often we have seen the Nuggets guards attempt to cover Dirk one-on-one. Dirk has been up to the challenge and more.
His adversary, Anthony has also been up for the task. Melo is one of the best pure scorers in the league and is having his coming out party in these playoffs. Denver fans have been treated to scoring barrages by Melo for six seasons now, but we have not been able to see Melo show his stuff in the post-season until now.
Melo was part of a great team when he was at Syracuse. Melo led that team in scoring with 22 ppg and famously all the way to an NCAA title. Melo's skill set allows him to excel on a great team and that is just what the Nuggets are.
I'm not saying Melo isn't capable of shouldering the load, but rather he is at his best on a team that plays unselfish basketball and allows Melo to showcase his wide skill set. Not only can Melo score with the best of them, but he has shown throughout this series that he can help his team in a number of ways, but so has Dirk.
These two superstars have been playing out of their minds and I hope that everyone can appreciate the ball being played in this series. Duels like this don't come along all the time and I appreciate and sit in awe of what these two players are putting on display.
More to come after the jump ...
Looking back more on Game 4:
- The Nuggets were a horrendous 32-44 (72.7%) from the foul line last night, but if you break it down ... Nene's 5-10 performance hurt the most. It does the Nuggets no good getting to the line if they are unable to make the Mavs pay. A bit more concentration from Nene, J.R. (3-5), or Kleiza (2-4) and we have a different game.
- Chris Andersen not playing killed the Nuggets energy level. Getting out-rebounded 50-34 has a lot to do with Bird not playing last night. Along with Denver being a bit less aggressive on the offensive glass. The Nuggets only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds and Birdman's 2.7 o-boards a game would have come in handy. I expect this problem to be corrected tomorrow night when the Bird is again able to fly.
- Officiating ... the refs have adjusted their play calling, but the Nuggets have not followed suit. If the whistle is going to be blown a lot more then the Nuggets must adjust to that style. Sending the Mavs to the foul line for 49 free throws game three and 43 last night for a total of 92 attempts in two games is ridiculous. The Mavs only attempted 43 free throws in games one and two combined as the gray shirts were allowing physical play. Denver must adjust to the style being called and not give up so many free attempts.
- Linas Kleiza should not be on the floor. The guy has a broken thumb in his shooting hand and was called upon to fill in for the Bird last night playing 20 minutes. LK is a scoring option off the bench and not a good one. The adequate replacement for a high-energy, offensive rebounding, and defensive minded player is not a guy who lives on the three-point line and is as defensively minded as France. No the adequate replacement is ...
- When the Bird couldn't fly and the Mavs are getting away with murder inside, you call in The Crime Stopper Renaldo Balkman. Kool has been sitting on the bench hiding behind his alter ego for too long and George Karl missed a great opportunity to throw a curveball at the Mavericks last night. We've all seen what Balkman can do in limited stretches and it was maddening to see Karl refuse to go to his "ace in the hole" last night. I don't know if Balkman would have been the difference, but I sure would like to have seen him on the floor over LK (who is trying to play with a broken thumb.)
- Chauncey Billups is one smart man. I counted two instances last night where the Mavs shot free throws on one end and Billups decided to bully his way into the lane and get to the foul line right away on the ensuing possession. Billups has yet to unleash another big time three point game (going 2-6 last night from deep), but I'd imagine that Game 5 in Denver with a chance to close things out would be perfect timing for another inspirational effort from CB7.
- I love the Rick Carlisle adjustment of benching Ryan Hollins last night in favor of giving Brandon Bass more minutes. Bass again proved in his 28 minutes that he can be the force Dallas needs off the bench. Bass scored 11 points and grabbed 6 rebounds, but gives the Mavs the toughness they desperately need.
- I wouldn't be surprised to see Josh Howard's feet fall off in Game 5. That guy has balls as big as cantaloupes. He is hobbled and wincing in pain on every camera shot and yet he found a way to play 34 minutes last night and scored 21 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Kevin McHale cut his career short playing on a bad foot in the playoffs with the Celtics and Howard could be doing the same thing here, but you have to stand up and cheer that guy.
- Anthony Carter is driving me crazy. In his 15 minutes he got beat by Barea a number of times and his "quickness" proved to be a non-factor as his lateral movement was what killed him. Karl went to the Billups, Carter, J.R. lineup and I hated every minute of it. I realize the bench was short without Bird, but Karl made it much shorter with his refusal to look for a creative option with The Crime Stopper. If there is any other reason why Balkman isn't playing I'd like to know it. At this point I'm just not sure it's all entirely basketball related.
It's always fun to do a lot of complaining after a loss and to look for what could have been done differently to prevent your team from losing. If there was a negative vibe in my bullets, please don't take that to mean I'm losing any confidence that Denver will win this in my predicted 5 games.
The Mavs put forth two heroic efforts in Games 3 & 4 and only were able to grab one win. Now it's time for the Nuggets to make their own adjustments, get the Bird soaring again, and close this series out just where many of you wanted it ... in Denver.