Grades for the key players in the first round NBA playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver.
The Dallas Mavericks finished off the Portland Trail Blazers 103-96 in Game 6 in Portland's Rose Garden. Here are grades for both the Mavericks and Blazers.
Dirk Nowitzki: Dallas' All-Star forward didn't shoot all that well from the field, but Portland still never found an answer for him. Why? Because he lived on the free throw line, particularly late in games, averaging 10.5 free throw attempts over the six games. All those freebies bolstered his scoring number: a dominant 27.3 points per game in a slow-down series. He was the clear winner of his match-up with LaMarcus Aldridge and he was huge in Dallas' fourth quarter close out on the road in Game 6. He will need to shoot better from the field for the Mavericks to upset the Lakers, but he was money when it mattered in round one.
Jason Terry: Like Nowitzki, there's room for improvement for guard Jason Terry, who started slowly in the series as guard Jason Kidd and wing Peja Stojakovic both handled the early secondary scoring burden for the Mavericks. But, also like Nowitzki, Terry was big when it mattered most, finishing with 22 points in Game 6, including a number of huge shots, and playing excellent defense as well. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle singled him out for praise for the job he did containing and pressuring Brandon Roy, who was a virtual non-factor in the deciding game after carrying Portland to its two victories in the series. Terry knows he will need to get off to better starts against the Lakers but he sounded amped for the next round to begin.
Rick Carlisle: His team was favored heading into the series so Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn't likely to be showered in praise. He should be, though, as his team made all the necessary adjustments as this series unfolded. The Mavericks eliminated easys buckets for LaMarcus Aldridge, forced the Blazers to hit three-pointers, limited their turnovers and remembered to run their offense late. He threw wrinkles at the Blazers by mixing up his defensive assignments and was able to get production from his bench even though J.J. Barea had a forgettable series and Terry was a bit up and down. Most of all, he kept things together after a giant momentum swing following Portland's dramatic come-from-behind Game 4 win. A much bigger test awaits in Los Angeles, but he aced this one.
Overall grade: The Mavericks could very easily have won both of the games they lost and they were dominant at times during all four of their wins. The Rose Garden is a tough environment to steal a road win, though, and the third time was the charm. Their offensive balance and efficiency were excellent throughout and they exceeded expectations defensively and on the boards. They did it all against an inferior opponent, though, so there's a chance the ease of victory was simply fool's good. They won't have the luxury of letting wins slip through their fingers against Los Angeles.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
LaMarcus Aldridge: Portland's emerging leader and All-Star candidate played well and extremely consistently, but he was unable to dominate after strong showings in Games 1 and 2. Part of that was systemic: the Blazers turned to Brandon Roy more heavily, which tends to reduce Aldridge's touches and opportunities. But part of it was also Dallas' defense, which took away his lob plays, banged him up a little bit and succeeded in turning him into a jump shooter at times. The Blazers needed an over-the-top performance from Aldridge to overcome their lack of depth and poor outside shooting. He wasn't able to deliver. That fact shouldn't mar what was an excellent season for Aldridge but it will linger on his resume until he delivers a playoff series win.
Brandon Roy: It was a season to forget for Brandon Roy, who underwent dual knee surgeries and missed nearly half the year. Roy played better in the playoffs than he did down the stretch, rediscovering his clutch game and shot-making abilities in both Games 3 and 4. His fourth quarter in Game 4 will remain the stuff of legend for years in Portland. Over the course of the series, though, his limitations stuck out. His three-point shooting (38.6%) was abysmal, his struggles to play team defense remain a major liability and he wasn't able to get to the free throw line with any regularity. His 9.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists made him Portland's best bench player, but the Blazers needed him to step up as a true No. 2 option given Gerald Wallace's struggles. He wasn't able to do that, but it's understandable given the circumstances.
Rudy Fernandez: At the top of the blame game chart in Portland will be reserve guard Rudy Fernandez, who has cultivated a reputation for being soft and coming up small in big moments for years now. Fernandez was a total non-factor in the series, averaging just 2.8 points in 13.5 minutes and struggling to stay in McMillan's playoff rotation after playing 23.3 minutes per game during the regular season. Fernandez shot the ball without confidence and it showed in the numbers: 22.2% from the field, 30.0% from deep. He wasn't able to make plays with his passing or his defense, either. Blazers coach Nate McMillan singled him out for praise for his ability to handle Barea, but it seemed like he was just trying to be nice and/or build Fernandez's confidence. This series was a mess for Fernandez and it leaves his future in Portland very much in question.
Overall Grade: The Blazers desperately wanted to take a step forward in the playoffs this year and committed big money to Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace to make that happen. Instead, they go home at the same spot they did last season, losing a Game 6 at home in the first round. Portland showed heart and competitiveness at times during the series but their execution on both ends of the court was lacking for huge stretches. GM Rich Cho has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Unless the Blazers get Greg Oden back healthy or Roy makes a meaningful recovery of skill, it's difficult to see this core group advancing further in next year's postseason.