Much changes in 10 years and in yet another depressing reminder that none of us is getting any younger, it was a decade ago this week that the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks made NBA history in the worst possible way.
Let us jump into Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine, Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean or that thing Arnold Schwarzenegger uses to go back in time in The Terminator, and return to May 2, 2007. It was the beginning of Loserville, Texas.
No. 1 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 8 Golden State Warriors.
“It’s a series you never forget if you are a Mavs fan, a Mavs player, or coach,” said guard Greg Buckner, who played in that series and is now a team broadcaster.
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Quite frankly, it’s a series the NBA playoffs needs more of these days.
The Dallas Mavericks had won a franchise-record 67 regular-season games to earn the top-seed in the NBA playoffs. They were just the ninth team in NBA history to win at least 67 games.
The season before, the Mavs had reached their first-ever NBA Finals appearance, and actually led the Miami Heat 2-0 before making history by losing four straight.
The next season such a collapse would not happen again. Dirk Nowitzki was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player with a supporting cast that consisted of Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Devin Harris and Erick Dampier.
“I think that ’07 team was better than the team that won the title. We could have won 70 teams,” Buckner said.
Not sure I buy that but ...
The Mavs drew the eighth-seeded Warriors, who were coached by Mark Cuban’s BFF, Don Nelson. At that moment, Stephen Curry was 19 and preparing for his sophomore season at Davidson. Their best player was Baron Davis, and their starting guard was notorious hot-head Stephen Jackson.
At 42-40, the Warriors had their first winning season since 1993-’94, when they were also then coached by Don Nelson. Nellie had come out of retirement to coach the Warriors for a second time at the favor of former player turned front office exec’, Chris Mullin. Mullin was desperate to do something for a franchise that had not won a playoff series since 1991.
The Warriors needed to win their final five games of the regular season, which included a 111-82 crushing of the Mavs in the second-to-last game of the season, just to make the postseason, two wins ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers.
No matter, no top seed had ever lost a best-of-seven series in NBA history.
“It was a bad matchup for us,” Buckner said. “They were the one team we could not beat.”
The Warriors had swept the regular-season series against the Mavericks, 3-0.
And on May 2, 2007, the Mavs trailed 3-2 and headed back to Oakland, all in the hopes of preventing a historic NBA collapse that by point was inevitable.
Golden State won Game 1 by 12 points, and dominated the series.
“After the first game I remember thinking if it stays this way it’s not going to work,” retired Mavs’ color man Bob Ortegal said. “One of the best practice coaches was (Mavs coach) Avery Johnson, but Nellie was his equal on game night. This is going to sound pretty critical, but the Mavs never adjusted to what Nellie was doing. They would double or even triple team Dirk. Nellie took away Dirk’s strengths and the Mavs never adjusted throughout the series.”
Dirk was the Mavs’ second-leading scorer in the series, behind Howard. The whole series essentially fueled any critic who had ever claimed Dirk was just another soft Euro who could not score when the game got hard.
Davis averaged 25 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the series. Jackson averaged 22.8 points in a series in which he was ejected twice.
After one game at the American Airlines Center, Jackson was walking in the tunnel towards the team buses when he noticed he was being booed by Mavs’ fans who were behind glass inside the Old No. 7 Club. Jackson stopped and took out his loaded money clip and taunted the poor people with his riches.
“That team was not soft and they were dogs,” Buckner said. “They had something to prove. They were the outcast in the NBA.”
It remains the single biggest upset in NBA playoff history. The 8 over the 1 has only happened three other times:
2011: Grizzlies over Spurs, 4-2
The Warriors went on to lose in the conference semifinals, and the group that Nellie gathered in Oakland never did much after this. Rather than the Mavs, it was the Spurs who won the NBA title, 4-0 over LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Avery Johnson lasted one more season as the Mavs’ head coach before he was fired and replaced by Rick Carlisle. Dirk went on to become the first Euro to be named the NBA’s MVP, but he did not shed the “soft” label until he out-played LeBron and the Miami Heat en route to the 2011 NBA title.
“I never doubted he would get that championship; he’s too talented and he works too hard,” Buckner said. “When you have a guy that has that work ethic and a drive of an owner who wants to win, I knew he’d win it. Did I know he’d be the main focal? No. But I knew if he stayed in Dallas he’d get that title.”
Ten years later, the Mavs missed the playoffs while the Warriors were the top-seed in the West for a third consecutive season. They have won at least 67 games in each of the last three years.
As much of a low point as that Mavs’ series was, our Dallas Cowboys cleaned it up with a 13-3 regular season record to earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Naturally, on Jan. 13, 2008, they lost to the fifth-seeded New York Giants in the NFC’s Divisional Round at Texas Stadium.
Loserville was rolling.