For once, things went the way of the Trail Blazers. Following a pair of seasons soundtracked by the snap of ligaments, the Blazers found themselves in the postseason, with momentum, and a favorable match up against the Dallas Mavericks. While the Mavs were the higher seed with the superior record, their atrocious playoff history of Chernobyl-esque meltdowns has been well documented. Plus, Portland "matches up" better with Dallas, which is a technical basketball term for "they aren't the Oklahoma City Thunder, so the Blazers at least have a remote chance of defeating them."
Of course, things didn't quite work out that way in the opening game of the series on Saturday night, as Dallas toppled Portland by the score of 89-81. Taking a break from guarding bridges, the trollish Jason Kidd unleashed a flurry of three-pointers, draining a half-dozen shots from beyond the arc and finishing with an astonishing 24 points (he normally averages a third of that). In lieu of defending Kidd, the Blazers focused on mouth-breathing Kraut Dirk Nowitzki, seemingly holding the Mavs' top player to a frustrating performance (35% shooting from the field), yet when the dust settled Nowitzki somehow emerged with 28 points. Best known for postseason vanishing acts that would make most magicians blush, Nowitzki dropped 18 points in the final quarter of the contest—the majority coming from the charity stripe.
Seeing how Nowitzki was granted as many foul shots as the entire Blazers' roster, Portland coach Nate McMillan had some choice words for the officials, comments that the NBA head office frowned upon. McMillan was fined heavily and now has $35,000 less in his wallet (well, bank account—since he's far too sensible of a man to carry around that much cash). If anything, McMillan's financial punishment should have been levied from his stubborn insistence to continue to rely on the sad remnants of Brandon Roy in the final quarter of game one. A far cry from his former All-Star self, Roy has become a serious defensive liability, while his jump shot has become well acquainted with the rim, but never the net.
As for game two, it was more of the same. While Kidd dusted off his ancient bones for a breakout performance in the opening game, Peja Stojakovic was the next Mavs player to time travel from the '90s and punish the Blazers. Stojakovic's surprise game two performance (21 points), combined with yet another lights-out shooting effort from Kidd (18 points), helped propel Dallas to a dominating second half lead. The Blazers clawed back, but with less than five minutes remaining, Portland could no longer keep their heads above water and finally succumbed to the Mavs well-balanced attack. Dallas won 101-89, a defeat that marked the second consecutive game where Portland's offense failed to break the 90-point threshold.
All the wishful thinking that Dallas was an ideal foe, a vulnerable team with a dubious track record in the playoffs, was for naught. In a best-of-seven series, a two game deficit is a postseason death sentence. In fact, in the history of the NBA—dating all the way back to the short shorts era—only 14 teams have won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games. While the Blazers will welcome their return trip home, it should be noted that the Mavs have the best road record of any team in the Western Conference. Plus, unless Portland fans are allowed to spill onto the Rose Garden floor and guard Kidd, it might not even matter. As the series heads west for game three on Thursday, the Mavs inch closer to silencing the deafening chatter of the critics, while Portland is forcefully pushed towards yet another disappointing playoff exit.