Fast Breaks: Mavericks vs. Blazers, Game 5
After giving up a historic rally and watching its series momentum get wiped away with two losses in Portland, Dallas pushed back in impressive fashion Monday night. The Mavs re-established themselves as the series favorites with a 93-82 win over the Trail Blazers to take a 3-2 lead. Tyson Chandler had one of the best playoff games of his career with 14 points and a career-playoff-high 20 rebounds, Dirk Nowitzki added 25 points and Dallas' zone defense never let Portland find its rhythm.
• Before examining at any other line on the stat sheet, take a good look at Chandler's performance. It's not difficult to see that more than any other player on the court, Chandler was the reason Dallas reclaimed the edge. Chandler is a key player in this series because the athletic Blazers don't possess a good match for his powerful 7-foot-1, 235-pound frame. He showed the difference that matchup can make by scoring 14 points on just four shot attempts. Chandler did his damage by drawing contact around the rim and getting to the line, where he buried 8-of-12 attempts. And his rebounding neutralized Portland's solid defense, which held Dallas to 41 percent shooting. But any benefit the Blazers could have received from those successful first-shot stops disappeared every time Chandler pulled down one of his 13 offensive rebounds -- two short of Moses Malone's league playoff record -- which led to 17 second-chance points.
• Chandler's aggressive play inside showed that Dallas has learned from some of the mistakes that led to its Game 4 meltdown, when the Mavericks stopped throwing the ball inside and gave up a 23-point lead. Dallas established Chandler on the low block early, and he responded with six points and five rebounds in the first six minutes. Nowitzki scored with ease on isolations, and Shawn Marion added 14 points. Combined, those three had 53 points, shot 47 percent from the field and pulled down 32 rebounds. That emphasis on the inside game helped Dallas produce 40 points in the paint.
• But while Dallas dominated the paint on its end, the Blazers' primary offensive option was rarely seen working inside. For the second consecutive game, LaMarcus Aldridge played like a secondary option rather than the offensive leader he has become this season. Rather than setting up on the low block, Aldridge was easily pushed out of the lane and seemed content to receive kickouts for face-up jump shots. That role worked well when Brandon Roy was a three-time All-Star, but now that Aldridge is the face of the franchise, Portland needs him to establish the tone for the game and let others play off him. That hasn't happened in the last two games. He made only 6-of-15 shots on Monday, and the most tell-tale sign of his reluctance to work inside was his lack of a single free-throw attempt. Compared to his first three games (23.7 points per game), Aldridge is averaging 8.7 fewer points and 4.2 fewer shots in Games 4 and 5.
• The Mavericks' aggressive game plan also led to one of the biggest keys in the outcome: their ability to get to the charity stripe. By going inside, Dallas regularly drew contact and got to the free-throw line. In fact, the Mavericks made seven more free throws than the Blazers attempted. And while that kind of disparity prompted Nate McMillan to complain about the officiating after Game 1 (and led to a $35,000 fine), the Blazers' coach couldn't make the same argument Monday. This time the disparity was clearly the result of Portland's shot selection. Aldridge settled for jumpers rather than setting up inside and matching Dallas' physicality. Drives resulted in kick-outs rather than strong finishes at the rim. And while the Blazers scored more points in the paint (46) than the Mavs (40), many came off cuts and open layups rather than set plays and aggressive drives. It's hard to grouse about the lack of calls when you aren't giving the referees any reasons to make them.
• Roy's memorable Game 4 provided a warm and fuzzy conversation piece for a couple of days. But reality returned on Monday. The Blazers went on a 15-4 run spanning the first and second quarters after Roy entered the game, with some of that production coming off a Roy assist and a layup. But Roy (2-of-7, five points) couldn't sustain the throwback form he showed Saturday. The good news, if you're a Portland fan, is Roy came out aggressive and attacked the basket early and often while creating opportunities for his teammates. But the way he missed -- shallow shots that rimmed out or bounced off the back iron -- suggested he didn't have the same legs he found two nights earlier, and offered a reminder that moments like Saturday are going to be welcome luxuries few and far between.