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This Year Is Different (An Excerpt)

December 12, 2011 1 comment

“This Year Is Different” is published by Diversion Books and is available December 14, 2011. You can purchase it here.

By: Bob Sturm

It was a bit early to say the Mavericks had rewritten their legacy and reputation.

It was a bit early to say definitively the Mavericks were able to win road playoff games again.

It was a bit early to say the Mavericks no longer could be bullied in the postseason with physical and intimidating play.

It was a bit early to say the entire NBA was on notice.

But closing out Portland in six games with such tenacity and courage after a devastating Game 4 loss was a nice start in that direction.

Winning a playoff series should never be minimized. It had been five years since they’d won more than one, and now their prize was a meeting with the mighty Los Angeles Lakers. But the Mavericks would have a few days to catch their breath before that marquee battle. They could take pride in having outwrestled a very competitive Portland side that dragged them out into deep waters, knowing they were the survivors to reach the next shore.

“Tonight, Nowitzki, Kidd and Terry weren’t going to let us lose the game. It was simple as that,” Carlisle said. “There wasn’t going to be a miracle tonight. . . . Walking in this place and playing a playoff game is no fun, brother. This is the loudest place I’ve ever been. For our guys to hang in and be able to win in this environment is huge for us. To go through what we went through in Game 4, these things happen for a reason. But we feel our work has just begun.”

Nowitzki had both talked the talk and walked the walk. He scored 164 points in the six-game series — 60 more than his next-closest teammate, and never fewer than 20 in a game. With scoring totals of 28, 33, 25, 20, 25 and 33 against the Blazers, he was proving to be as deadly a weapon as in any point of his career. He had become that rare breed of player who could go on the road and make an entire arena groan when he released an open shot. When he started rolling, there was often no stopping him.

But Dirk would still need support. Perhaps his most dominating playoff series since 2006 had been in the Western Conference semifinals against Denver in 2009. Then, he amassed 172 points in just five games (28, 35, 33, 44 and 32), but Dallas lost the series. Nowitzki had delivered many times in many situations, but he could not single-handedly drag his team to victory. Neither could the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant before he was given proper help in 2008.

But perhaps this year truly was different. Nowitzki had battle-hardened, playoff-tested help. When his shot is falling, Terry can terrorize any opposing defense.Marion could lock down most top scorers and provide the loose-ball intangibles under the glass or in transition. Kidd’s vision and passing wisdom remained almost unparalleled. And then there was the big guy — Tyson Chandler — whose acquisition back in July 2010, frankly, disappointed many locals. Sure, he seemed to be an interesting player when healthy, but how excited could fans really get about a starting center who had started just 72 games in two years?

Well, they were excited now. And not just because Chandler wasn’t Erick Dampier. In the final two games of the Portland series, Chandler had realized all the potential that Cuban and Donnie Nelson had envisioned 9½ months earlier when they finalized the trade with Charlotte, beating Toronto to the punch. He not only had provided the best post play on both ends of the floor of any Dallas center in the “Dirk Era,” but he also appeared to be the William Wallace element the Mavericks always lacked. Chandler’s passion was undeniable, genuine and infectious.

Was he the alpha male? No, that was Dirk. But was he the guy who kept the bullies away from his buddies? Yes, he was.

A strange thing happened as Nowitzki left the court after Game 6. Many of  the Portland fans who had been rooting so hard against him suddenly showed their admiration and wished the big German continued success.

“They were great,” Nowitzki told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. “When we won and were walking off the court, a lot of them were yelling, ‘Go beat L.A.!’”

Earning opposing fans’ respect and a ticket to the conference semifinals was nice, but Nowitzki had much more on his agenda.

“It’s a nice win, but, I don’t really want to overrate this win,” he told reporters. “Our goal the last five or six seasons was always a championship. When I first got to the Mavericks, our big goal was making the playoffs. That goal obviously changed. Once you’ve been in the playoffs a number of years, you want to win it all.

“We understand that to win it all, you’ve got to take the first step, and that’s winning the first round. So we feel good about that. But we know we have a long way to go.”

That Nowitzki and Terry could play such big roles in dispatching the Blazers seemed especially fulfilling to their coach.

“These guys have been here a long time,” Carlisle said. “It is so meaningful for them both to help us move on. . . . I have grown to love these guys so much, and what they stand for, and what they’ve been through over a period of time that extends long before I got here. . . . Our team is a true team.”

The Blazers had been stout first-round opponents, certainly no pushovers. Their team wanted a fight and offered one. Their arena set the benchmark for what loud could mean. They forced the Mavericks to come together as a squad and see just how much agony and heartbreak they could stand. This series had been an ideal proving ground for what was ahead.

Bob Sturm, a native of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and a graduate of Liberty University, has hosted his half of the Bob and Dan Show on Sportsradio 1310, The Ticket in Dallas, Texas, since 1999.  Bob has also worked in television sports and has written sports blogs and stories for the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and Fox Sports Southwest.  He and his wife, Sally, and three children, Madeline, Brett, and Justin, live in Lewisville, Texas.