There were dozens of reasons (that came in 3's) why the Mavericks were better than the Lakers. But the man in the middle gave Dallas the chance to down the champs.
Posted by Matt Moore
There will be talk of Dirk Nowitzki's excellence. There will be talk of the outright barrage that Jason Terry helped lead, along with Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd from the perimeter. There will be time to talk about the Lakers' abject mental and emotional collapse. But we should take a moment and recognize that, while the 3-point bombs may have given the Mavericks the points to overcome the Lakers, it was a man who was cast off years ago who truly brought the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals.
In the early months of 2010, Mark Cuban recognized the real problem with facing the Lakers. Sure, Kobe Bryant was going to hurt you and Pau Gasol's touch and post moves were going to seem overwhelming. The athletic talent is incredible. But the biggest advantage the Lakers have? Size and length. Pau Gasol, 7-0. Andrew Bynum, 7-0, Lamar Odom, 6-10. That's an absolutely humongous front line, even if only two of them are in the game at the same time. The advantage doesn't just come in first-shots or defending the rim, or offensive rebounds. It's in interrupting passing lanes and tipping in shots from six feet out. You could survive Kobe Bryant's perimeter onslaught. But the Lakers' massive size advantage could not be bested unless you brought in bigger and better players.
Which is what Cuban did. Cuban first traded for Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler. When that didn't work out, the Mavericks' management team, with Donnie Nelson at the helm, acquired Tyson Chandler. And all of a sudden, the Mavericks' entire identity changed. You had to really watch this year to notice it, and not just get caught up in the "same ol' Mavericks" talk that permeates so much discussion. The Mavericks were tougher inside, able to counter off the bench with Haywood. Dirk Nowitzki was no longer the tallest or most active defender.
Against the Lakers. Pau Gasol got a healthy dose of Chandler. While Gasol's failures are a whole other discussion in and of themselves, Chandler's defense both man-up and on help were a huge part of why the Mavericks were able to contain the Lakers defensively. No longer able to overwhelm the Mavericks inside, despite a stellar series from Andrew Bynum (right up until the point he committed one of the most embarrassing flagrant fouls in NBA playoff history), the Lakers just kept chucking 3-pointers. And they were unable to hit anything that even resembled a shot. Seriously, most of us thought many of them were passes.
The Lakers' problems go deep, and the Mavericks' successes even deeper. But Tyson Chandler not only helped negate the Lakers' biggest advantage, but even landed a few alley-oops. Chandler set the tone and brought the Mavericks a new attitude. It takes a lot of toughness to make the champs into wimps, to turn a dynasty to dust. After so many years as an after-thought, Tyson Chandler is the first line of defense for a team headed to the Conference Finals.