Last night’s game against the Cavaliers was almost like the entirety of a relationship with a ridiculously hot girl that was way out of your league. You told yourself all along it wasn’t going to last forever so it wouldn’t hurt as much when the inevitable breakup took place. You didn’t go into it with many expectations aside from just enjoying the ride and seeing where it took you. After all, you knew better than to think it could work out, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be fun while it lasted.
Except somewhere along the way you started having so much fun that you forgot to keep your expectations in check. You began to actually fall in love, and you fooled yourself that she was feeling the same way. You still remembered here and there that she was way too hot for you, but you thought maybe there was a part of you that managed to rise to her level, that maybe she brought out the best in you. Then LeBron James came bursting through the foundation that held all those dreams up and shattered them — and the backboard — with a vicious dunk.
The painful part about last night’s loss to the best team in the East is that the Mavericks were up to the challenge. They’re clearly not as good as the Cavs, but when they come out executing like they did from the get-go Tuesday, they can play with anybody. What hurts is that anyone who has seen how flat this team has looked at times this season knows that the Mavs were playing as well as they were capable of playing — and it still wasn’t enough, not even for one game.
In the end, although Dallas shot the ball better than Cleveland by a large margin and led the vast majority of the game, they didn’t have enough to hold off a very good basketball team. I wrote above that the Mavericks played as well as they can play, but of course that’s not entirely true. They certainly shot much better than they normally do, especially in specific red-hot stretches, but they did end up committing 16 turnovers, three more than their season average and nearly twice the amount made by the Cavaliers. The turnovers were as big of a factor in the loss as anything, particularly the devastating Iman Shumpert steal that prevented Dirk Nowitzki from taking what may have been a winning shot.
There was a reason this game marked the beginning of an impossibly difficult portion of the schedule: Cleveland is a serious title threat, and beating them never comes easy. I expected a loss last night, home game or not, but because the Mavericks came so close to pulling it out, it wound up being a heartbreaking decision regardless.
Going into the half, Dallas led by just five despite shooting a tick over 58 percent, leading me to crunch some numbers and conclude if they could double their shooting percentage in the second half, they would be fortunate enough to add 10 more points to the lead. I tweeted this optimism to Mark Followill along with the prediction that Zaza Pachulia was going to add assists to his already steady supply of double-doubles for a first ever triple-double.
Despite my optimism and the fact it was even shared on-air, the Mavs were not up to the task of shooting 116 percent in the third and fourth quarters. That isn’t to say the team didn’t battle valiantly. Chandler Parsons dug in and put up his best scoring performance of the season with 25 points, and Nowitzki joined Zaza in double-double territory with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Hell, even Deron Williams netted his first double-double of the season, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists. Off the bench, JaVale McGee swatted three shots and contributed another 10 points.
It was a fine team effort. I’ve scarcely seen the Mavericks operating at such a high level this year. That made for some great entertainment, but when the final horn sounded all I could think about was how much it’s going to hurt in the playoffs when teams like the Cavs become the immovable obstacles blocking the path to a continued season. All I could think about after the game was how much I wanted the win, and how much easier it would have been if Dallas hadn’t looked so capable of getting it.