Last Sunday saw the (re-)resumption of the NBA and NHL after a half-week of postponed games spurred by the leagues’ players in what was called a “boycott” in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Though the gravity of the boycott and its societal implications should not be lost, the intricacies of social justice movements are for other columns. In this space, it is our charge to revel (or wallow, as it were) in the actions that actually took place on the respective playing surfaces.
In a matinee Game 6, the Little Mavericks continued their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Sadly, it would prove to be the last time we’ll see the Mavs in action until the beginning of next season (whenever that will be — 2021?) as Luka and the boys fell to L.A.’s league-best defense by a score of 111-97, ultimately relinquishing the series, four games to two.
The effort managed by the good guys was exponentially better than the dismantling suffered in Game 5 (a ghastly 154-111 public shaming) — with a gap as narrow as a six-point Clipper lead in the fourth quarter — but one never really had the feeling the Mavs were in much of a position for a Game 4 redux. The stunning buzzer-beating come-from-behind victory from the weekend before just might have exhausted all of the remaining magical fairy dust left in Dallas’ enchanted drawstring sack, and without it, they plummeted back to cold hard ground. Having lost their second-best player in Kristaps Porzingis for the series, the ramshackle cast of career journeymen and undrafted bench players just couldn’t provide enough support for second-year star Luka Dončić.
Despite the first-round exit, Mavs fans should rejoice. The young team proved they can run with the league’s best, albeit maybe a half step behind. Going into next year, with Dončić — who has yet to even test the heights of his ceiling and already looks like a perennial MVP candidate going forward — a healthy Porzingis (while it lasts), and the returns of Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson, Dallas should help push its depth players back into the roles and limited minutes best suited for them. There are definitely some pieces to build around for the next 10-plus years. There is no doubt Luka will win championships. Somewhere. It’s up to the front office to ensure that it’s in Dallas.
Just as the Mavericks and Clippers were bro-hugging their goodbyes on Sunday, the Stars entered the first of back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinals. The game was over half-way through the first period as the Stars charged out to a fast 3-0 lead, holding Colorado without a single shot on goal until the period’s final minutes. The Avs would ultimately make it interesting, potting three of their own goals throughout the second and third, but Dallas managed to hang on, winning 5-4 and taking what at the time looked to be a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Unfortunately, this is where the fun and yucks for the Dallas faithful ended. Little more than 24 hours later, the Avs saw the Stars’ fast 3-0 start from the night before and raised them two more, scoring five unanswered goals and holding Dallas to just four shots in the first period. Not exactly how you want to begin a potential elimination game.
Question marks started floating over Stars fans’ heads when word came down shortly before puck drop that Ben Bishop would start in goal. To say that Bish, who has borne the mysterious injury designation of “unfit to play” since Game 2 of the previous series, against the Calgary Flames, was shaky in his return is an understatement. He let in four shots in just 2:36, one tick shy of an NHL playoff record for fastest four-goal span. Anton Khudobin would then allow a goal on the first shot he faced once Bishop was chased back to the bench after less than 14 minutes of work. A 5-0 deficit in the first is a tough hole to climb out of.
The goaltending was terrible, but the play in front of the netminders was no better. The Stars got into penalty trouble quickly and then couldn’t sustain any offensive zone pressure, managing just nine shots at Avs third-string goalie Michael Hutchison — who was forced to start due to injuries — at the midpoint of the game.
Instead of sending Colorado home, Dallas just may well have let them back in what was once a one-sided series. Statistics show that a team up 3-1 in a best of seven in the Stanley Cup playoffs goes on to win the series 91% of the time. Let’s hope Dallas doesn’t find themselves as part of the 9% that don’t.