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Mavs relieve owner, fans with aggressive Game 5 win

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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DALLAS -- Under intense questioning, Mark Cuban refused to wilt, or even invoke his right to remain silent. He said anger had nothing to do with his strange and hurried departure from Game 4 of the Dallas-Portland first-round playoff series. Neither did frustration. No, the Mavericks owner walked out with 30 seconds left in a monumental comeback by the Blazers because six diet drinks had rushed through his body and, well, nature was calling.

And that's how BladderGate was born.

"Emotions had nothing to do with it," he said Monday. "You can ask the lady that was feeding me cokes."

Ask her if Cuban had to go to the bathroom? No thanks.

Even Cuban did not have his fingers crossed when explaining his actions. The moment was still dripping with symbolism because it captured how so many of the Mavericks fans feel about their team. The Mavericks are only the third team in NBA history to win 50 or more games 11 consecutive seasons, but in the last four years, they have won just one playoff series. Their most rabid fans are obviously loyal, but they are also tired of their team winning a lot when it means little and winning little when it means a lot.

It appeared Cuban had finally lost patience, too. The Mavericks had a 23-point lead late in the third quarter Saturday but completely lost their poise, confidence and competence. As the destruction was in its final stages, it seemed Cuban could no longer stand it.

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But Cuban denied that and said before Game 5 that if the Mavericks won the next two games, all would be forgotten.

He has a chance to be right.

The Mavericks protected their home court with a 93-82 victory over the Blazers on Monday night. Game 6 will be played Thursday in Portland and if the season-long trend continues, Game 7 will be back in Dallas Saturday. The teams have played seven games and the home team has won every time.

Gone was the Mavericks team that tip-toed through the fourth quarter of the Game 4 loss to the Blazers. The Mavericks were aggressive from the opening tip and their relentlessness on the offensive boards overpowered the Blazers. Dallas shot only 41 percent from the field, but had 20 offensive rebounds, with 13 of those by Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks outscored the Blazers 17-9 on second-chance points.

"[They] basically just dominated the boards," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "Tyson with 13 offensive rebounds and really those boards lead to fouls and also allowing them to get into the penalty early. And they just dominated the free-throw line."

Chandler ended the game with a playoff career-high 20 rebounds. His 13 offensive boards were also a playoff career-high and set a Mavericks playoff team record.

The Mavericks attempted 35 free throws to the Blazers' 20, and this time McMillan had no problem with referees. After the Mavericks had 29 free throws to the Blazers' 13 in Game 1, McMillan questioned the officiating and was fined $35,000 by the NBA. This time, however, he credited the Mavericks.

"From start to finish, we played aggressive," said Chandler, who also had 14 points. "We did the same thing in Portland but only for three quarters. Tonight we did it for four quarters and that's why we got the win."

The Blazers also did not get any magic this time from Brandon Roy. He scored 18 of his 24 points in Game 4 in the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, but since it was the Mavericks, the brilliance of that performance had been diminished -- at least in Dallas. The Mavericks have carried the label of "soft" for several years, so when they falter, it is always predictable that they will hear the same criticism.

Roy's Game 4 performance, however, was special. He willed his team to victory. The Mavericks switched their defense in Game 5, threw more zones and double teams at Roy and he ended the night with only five points on 2-of-7 shooting.

"We can't really worry about what other people say," said Dirk Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 25 points. "We have a bunch of veterans that want to play off each other and want to win. So yeah, it was a frustrating loss the other day but ... we just had to regroup a little bit. We had a day off yesterday and we got away from it a little bit and knew we had a job today and make things happen. And our crowd really carried us through."

Indeed the crowd seemed determined. If they did feel any frustration from the Game 4 loss and the threat of another first-round crash, it didn't show.

"The fans had it rocking in here from the jump," said Jason Terry, who had 20 points, "and we came out and set the tone early, and we were able to finish them off early."

Cuban was around for the end this time and he again dismissed BladderGate after the game. Winning apparently cures all conditions.

If the Mavericks go on to win the series, it will set Cuban up perfectly to say that losing a third-quarter 23-point lead provided his team with experience and motivation. It will have been the catalyst for their series victory.

If they lose, however, Cuban will look back at that Game 4 loss and know that is where the series was lost. And if that case, the reason for leaving won't matter.

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