DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks will face elimination when they take the court Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series which L.A. leads 3-2.
Win or lose, the outcome almost feels like an afterthought at this point. There was even the possibility that this series could have ended with no winner being decided at all.
Indeed, it has been an emotionally taxing week for the Mavericks, the NBA, and the nation as a whole. Dallas rode the highs of Luka Doncic’s overtime buzzer-beater in the thrilling Game 4 victory to a 43-point blowout in Tuesday’s Game 5 that put the Mavs one loss away from seeing their season come to an end.
With Game 6 hours away on Thursday’s originally scheduled day, the series and the league came to a sudden halt.
As the Milwaukee Bucks’ game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday got closer to tip-off, social media became flooded with news that the Bucks were refusing to take the court, and the team eventually decided to sit out the game to protest the shooting of Joseph Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back by police seven times during a traffic stop. This wildcard strike by the Bucks players led to the league postponing the remaining games through the rest of the week, and the NBA season was on the brink of a second shutdown in one year.
The first stoppage was issued by the league to protect the health of players and fans during a global pandemic.
The second interruption came as the players used their considerable platform to seek police accountability and criminal justice reform and provide a voice for those that are marginalized and ignored.
Milwaukee’s decision to withhold labor led to a show of solidarity by the WNBA, MLS, and MLB, with postponements in their games as well. It was the first player refusal since 1961, when members of the Boston Celtics sat to protest racial injustice.
Mavericks Center Dwight Powell is on the NBA rules committee, and described a situation where players had grown frustrated by continued police brutality and systemic racism.
“I think we’re experiencing a lot of high emotions from the events that took place over the last several months, to be honest, which I think for us in this situation came to head just a few days ago with the incident with Jacob, and I think all of us felt that at a high level,” said Powell.
“I think the actions that Milwaukee took, we were all on board to support them because we understood that feeling of, if you had watched the video (of the Blake shooting) or not, just hearing how this man (was shot), it’s painful, it’s disgusting, it’s a disturbing, and it makes you take a step back and really kind of think about things in a different light.”
J.J Barea may be playing minimal minutes in this playoff series, but his mentor role on the team continues to be priceless. Barea described meeting with his Mavericks teammates and listening to their experiences.
“Things that we didn’t know about each other came out, and I’m proud to be on this team, proud of my teammates and for everything that we’re doing. It’s not easy to talk about those things, talk about where you’re from, things that happened before, stuff like that, but it’s good. It’s good that we’re talking about it and that’s the only way that things are going to get better,” said Barea.
“As players of the NBA we are doing a great job of being here to use our platform to talk about what’s going on in the world, so I think it’s really important that we keep playing and we keep using our voices.”
So the Mavs will play on.
In a series that has been full of intrigue, Sunday is shaping up to be no different except that the unity displayed by the players in the league could perhaps dull the sharpened edge that these teams had been slashing each other with in a heightened battle that had seen both teams getting under each other’s skin.
These two teams likely won’t back down from each other, but their on-court animosity will seem almost trivial going forward after the brotherhood in the NBA was on such prominent display. Nevertheless, there are still on-the-court questions to answer.
Which Paul George is showing up for Clippers? George had an emotional breakthrough in Game 5 that led to a physical breakout 35-point performance in L.A.’s blowout win. George admitted to feeling the pressure to perform from social media as well as feeling depressed in the confines of the NBA quarantine zone.
Do the Mavericks push the series to seven? If the Mavericks lose, they will pack up their belongings and head back to Dallas after more than a month of being in Florida. Win or lose, the match-up against a top seeded team like Los Angeles has allowed the team to measure up against a championship contender as they head into the offseason.
Doncic is averaging 29.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists in his first playoff series at age 21 to show that he can hang in the limelight of the NBA playoffs.
The Mavericks will also have an eye toward what is next for Kristaps Porzingis, who is out for the remainder of however long Dallas survives. Doncic’s big man running mate will likely need surgery and will be on the mend going into the beginning of next season.
For Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, just having the team on the court is already a win.
“We’re very privileged to be in a position where there is a platform, and simply doing the thing that we love,” said Carlisle. “Playing and coaching is a form of action toward social justice. It’s a great blessing, so the player’s decision to continue to play is huge and we’ve got to move forward from here.”
There will be a winner in Sunday’s game between the Mavericks and Clippers, and regardless of which team comes out on top, the call for action will remain.
As part of their continuing effort to combat racial inequities in the Dallas area, the Mavericks have pledged to make the American Airlines Center a polling location for the 2020 election.
“I’m very excited that Mark is for sure one of the most supportive owners of us as players in this fight in everything that we’re doing, but also in his own right he’s trying to find ways to affect change in Dallas and in the U.S. at large,” Powell said. “So, for us having one of the biggest polling centers in Dallas County where anyone from Dallas County can come and vote is huge.”
The Mavericks have also pledged a $1,000,000 Personal Protection Equipment donation to the Dallas Independent School District. The donation will cover PPE for every DISD student and staff member and will provide face shields, reusable masks, hand sanitizer pumps, antibacterial wipes and personal hand sanitizer units.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘care,’“ Carlisle added. “The players care about what’s going on in the world, and they care about action. A lot of us here are sick of hearing the term ‘keep the conversation going.’ Action is what everybody wants.”
Do you think the Dallas Mavericks will be able to survive their injury woes and even the series against L.A.? Share your thoughts with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.