If it wasn't clear before, it is now. The Mavericks are better than the Lakers.
It's really that simple. And the great thing about Game 3 is that it looked like the Mavericks were better, even when they were losing.
I've watched a lot of sports over the years. And it didn't take long to see that the Lakers were the desperate team Friday night, while the Mavericks were the professional, confident team that knew it would be fine. In this game, the Lakers played like the underdogs, and the Mavericks played like the favorites.
Phil Jackson was a big part of that perception.I grew up near Chicago, a Bulls fan, and I watched all six of their championships. And I've never seen Jackson as angry as he was with Pau Gasol. Never. Knowing what I do about Jackson, I felt like his anger was somewhat calculated -- like this was his last, desperate effort to get Gasol to turn his game around in the playoffs. But whatever percentage of Jackson's anger wasn't calculated ... was desperation. Jackson knew that if they didn't win this game, they were cooked.
Once again, Dirk Nowitzki was incredible, his best yet: 12-19 shooting, including 4-5 from three-point range, and he scored 32 points. And he just seems different in this playoff run ... it's hard to explain, because he is still trying to be the good teammate by passing the ball to the open man, and he's doing that. But he is also demanding the ball, just absolutely demanding it. I've never seen him so determined before.
After the game, Dirk was asked the obvious reporter question, How do you avoid looking ahead? I loved his answer: We gotta go for it. We're not good enough to coast or relax or anything. We gotta go for it, with the same crowd, the same hype. I've seen a lot in this league already, I don't want to be the first one.
I'm a never-say-never kind of guy ... so I won't declare This series is over! There's just no reason to do that until it actually is over. But, it is becoming clearer with each game that the Mavericks are simply the better team. And if the scoreboard isn't enough evidence, Game 3 should be.
I didn't grow up a Mavs fan, so I'm not saddled with their entire 30-year history and the negative thoughts that come with it. As I watched the Mavericks play from behind for nearly the entire second half, they still looked in control. They looked like the favorite -- they knew they would come back and give themselves a chance to win at the end. And on the other side were the Lakers, scrapping and fighting for that lead, but then melting in the final minutes.
Had the teams been wearing opposite uniforms, this game would have looked oh-so-familiar. But because it was the Mavericks playing with confidence, and the Lakers with desperation, it was .... unusual, to say the least.
Other random thoughts:
Did you ever think you'd hear Peja Stojakovic get a compliment for his defense? Neither did I, but Rick Carlisle gave him one, and he was right: Peja did a great job on Odom the last six or seven minutes. As great as Bryant is, and he's unguardable, Odom is right there with him as one of the most difficult match-ups in all basketball, because of his versatility, his size, length, skill. So, we needed Peja's shooting out there, but the job he did defensively was equally as important.
During his pre-game interview with Chuck Cooperstein on ESPN radio, Rick Carlisle mentioned that while the Mavericks have held their own on the boards, they had been out-rebounded in each of the first two games. Tonight, the Mavericks won the rebounding battle by four.
Jalen Rose (ESPN analyst) said that the Mavericks outscored the Lakers 60-20 on free throws and three-point shooting.
In his post game comments, Phil Jackson said this: We still believe we're going to win the next game, and we'll go for there. On paper, that looks like a confident statement. But if you heard him say that, and you heard his tone of voice, you know it was anything but confident.