By Chris Le
It looked to be the Dallas Mavericks’ year. Entering the playoffs after a franchise-record 67-win regular season, in which their best player, Dirk Nowitzki, had a career year, everything was set for a run at the title: championship-quality defense (no doubt a product of Avery Johnson’s tough tutelage); a bench that was as deep and talented as any in the league; and the seconds-in-command, Jason Terry and Josh Howard, performing at an all-star level. Simply put, they were the best team in the league.
Then the Golden State Warriors happened.
After barely making the postseason (a seemingly impossible thought at this moment in time), the 8th seeded Warriors were set to face a Mavericks team they swept 3-0 in the regular season–a stat most pundits brushed off as insignificant. “The regular season is one thing,” they said. “The playoffs are another.”
Like boxing, styles make fights. And the Warriors’ entertaining and ferocious style of play proved to be an enigma for Dallas. The once-staunch Mavericks defense was reduced to Swiss cheese, suffering innumerable breakdowns and failed rotations, which were both a result and a cause of Golden State’s strategy. The Warriors seemingly run no set plays whatsoever, content with sprinting down the court, jamming the ball down their opponents’ throats. They make the Phoenix Suns look like the San Antonio Spurs. And, boy, do the Warriors love to shoot. Their proclivity to hoist three-pointers is about as liberal as Michael Moore‘s political views.
But this goes against one of basketball’s greatest axioms: Team defense beats team offense. Just not in this case. It’s ridiculous, yet utterly captivating at the same time to witness such recklessness produce success, especially in a game that traditionally demands structure and a slower pace the closer a team gets to the NBA Finals. I also can’t help but feel that the raucous Oakland crowd, indisputably the best in the NBA, only urges their team’s high-octane insanity. It’ll be interesting to see how the Warriors fare against the Houston Rockets or Utah Jazz, both of whom with their superior half-court games will be tougher matchups than the Mavs.
But the Warriors deserve to revel in glory, if only for a brief period of time, as no team in the league deserves it more. I know for sure Don Nelson has a grin from ear to ear. Just consider his situation: he comes out of retirement, crawls into the postseason and embarrasses a seemingly unbeatable team, which he used to coach for, in possibly the biggest upset in playoff history. Compared to this, the Rocky movies seem modest and probable.
Speaking of Hollywood storylines, what’s with all these celebrities suddenly emerging as Golden State fans? First, it was Jessica Alba on Sunday, and last night, it was Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson and Snoop Dogg. I sure don’t remember seeing their faces in the Oakland crowd when the Warriors were a perennial lottery team. But I’m not ready to label them as bandwagon jumpers just yet, since Snoop is still a straight-up G (despite his silly stint with No Limit Records and weak material as of late), and the hotness of Alba and Hudson excuses a lot of faults. Sorry, Owen — you don’t possess as redeeming of qualities, so it looks like you’re the only bandwagon-jumping celebrity.
But I digress.
If Dirk does in fact win the MVP — and by most accounts, he will — has a recipient ever been so harshly shown that he doesn’t deserve the award? Only one instance comes to mind, that in 1995, when David Robinson was presented the Maurice Podoloff Trophy during the Western Conference Finals. It was the Spurs versus the Rockets. And during his acceptance speech, he spoke of how immense an honor it was to be among so many great players. Robinson proceeded to list off the names of that season’s leading MVP candidates, but he omitted one crucial name — Hakeem Olajuwon.
Incensed, Olajuwon went out and abused Robinson, averaging 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.1 blocks, and 1.3 steals on the Rockets’ way to defeating the Spurs 4-2. And who could forget the “Dream Shake”? Still, Robinson was disproved by a fellow all-time great. Dirk put up dud after dud against a defenseless Warrior team that had no answer for him; there were no excuses for him to not dominate. But unsurprisingly, his streak of Pillsbury Doughboy-softness and flair for choking continued and culminated Thursday night with an 8 point, 2-for-13 shooting performance. This series so clearly confirmed his unworthiness as an MVP that I might possibly tolerate it if Steve Nash is given the hardware once again. Okay, maybe my feelings aren’t that strong, but you get the picture.
In the end, I can’t recall a series that has been as crazy, answering so many questions while at the same time producing just as many. And I have the Golden State Warriors to thank for that. Let’s hope they keep it up.