We Reminisce: Portland Nearly Making History Against Dallas In The 2003 NBA Playoffs

By: 01.19.12
Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki (photo. Nike Basketball)

Their season should’ve been toast after Game 3, when Dirk looked like he could’ve gone for 60, and then strutted out of the Rose Garden like a conquering war hero, soaking in the boos Portland’s faithful was splashing down on their team. Their season should’ve been over again in Game 4, when the Mavs took another halftime lead, just 24 minutes away from a rematch in the semis with Sacramento, the team that had cut them up and stored their body parts in a damp basement somewhere the spring before.

And yet despite all that, we should’ve seen it coming.

“All we had to do was win Game 4,” one Blazer once told David Aldridge in the hallway after Portland had tied the series back up, “because I knew those (bleeps) didn’t guard anybody.”

We should’ve seen it coming because what made those Blazer teams interesting, what made them oddly loveable, was what made them believe they could still breath: an arrogant conviction by everyone that they could turn it all around by themselves; that tunnel vision that could kill them one night, and make them wholly unpredictable the next; that animal instinct that doesn’t know pity, only “seek prey, destroy prey.” Basically, the old Jail Blazer teams were a lot more fun than the more recent Frail Blazer teams because they were crazy. If anyone was going to come back from 3-0, it should’ve been the team that had one teammate (Z-Bo) punch another (the Kobe Stopper), and had everyone in the organization freaking out about what would happen when that one teammate’s (the Kobe Stopper) probation ended.

So starting from the third quarter in Game 4, which Portland won by 23 points, the Blazers pounded the Mavs into submission, Deebo-ing their way to layup, dunk, offensive rebound, layup, dunk… destruction. In Games 5 and 6, the Blazers won the boards by a combined 29 caroms. As David Aldridge quipped back in the day, the only reason it wasn’t a larger margin was because “The Blazers got tired of jumping.” In the first half of Game 6, they were up on rebounds 29-9. Dirk, Raef LaFrentz and Shawn Bradley had combined for one.

Playing right into the “soft as Eddy Curry‘s stomach” label he had at the time, Dirk ended that night with four points and zero rebounds. Meanwhile, Sabonis came off the bench for Portland, played only a dozen minutes, and yet he still had eight times Dirk’s rebounding total.

In Game 1-3, it was the shooting and versatility of Dallas’ Big Three – Dirk, Michael Finley and Steve Nash – that dominated. In Game 3-6, it was the opposite: the barbaric aggressiveness of Portland’s physicality. Then, Game 7 was played to a standstill for 43 minutes.

Perhaps it was injuries that did Portland in. Derek Anderson had arthroscopic knee surgery in the playoffs. Pippen dealt with knee problems that limited him more than any disagreement with management could’ve, and he had been their rock all year, playing point guard more and more as the season went on. Sabonis missed Game 4 because of his back. Even Dale Davis missed Game 7 after sustaining an injury two nights before.

But those are only excuses. They were did in because when it was absolutely necessary, Dirk was a beast, going for a Game 7 line (31/11/3 blocks in 46 minutes) that was filled with big-moment money plays.

This was the same season that Dallas famously blew a 30-point lead in a regular season game to the Lakers (who had a prime Kobe, Shaq, and enough brittle on the rest of the roster to dirty up the whole arena). Instead, the Mavs played a near-perfect fourth quarter when they needed it, and robbed us of a little more time with the one team that could make DMX look normal. Damn you, Nick Van Exel.

What do you remember about this series? These teams?

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