Before 2007, the last time the Warriors had made the playoffs, Chris Webber was a rookie, Tim Hardaway was mesmerizing defenders with his potent between-the-legs/crossover combo, and Chris Mullin was sniping jumpers from long range, sporting his trademark military haircut. After coaching this group of future Hall of Famers, Don Nelson was fired the following season after a slow start. Nelson then made a short stop at MSG, coaching with the Knicks before making Dallas his home for the next eight years. In Dallas, Nellie then led the Mavs to five-straight playoff seasons before resigning in 2005 and retaining his job as general manager.
After stepping down from what many believed would be his last coaching job, Nelson was re-hired by the Warriors after leading them to the playoffs and a 50-32 record 11 years prior. The 11-year Nellie-less playoff drought became the second-longest postseason absence for an organization in league history, before finally ending in 2007.
In the first round of the 2007 Playoffs, the Warriors matched up against a loaded Dallas Mavericks team that dominated the regular season with a 67-15 record, good enough for the sixth-best all-time regular season record. Golden State came into the postseason giving up an abysmal 106.9 points per game, placing them dead last in the NBA. However, while defense may win championships, a fast-paced, high-powered offense may get you out of the first round.
This style of play (Nellie-ball) had Golden State among the NBA’s elite scoring teams (106.5 points a game, second in NBA) and allowed for a team full of moving parts to alternate scoring and distributing roles. The Warriors had five players (who would all become NBA journeymen) average double-figures in the playoffs — with three of them putting up 19 plus per night. A scary thought is that the player who may have become the best out of the bunch only averaged eight points per game in his second year with the team. You may know him as Monta Ellis.
While Monta may have not been a major playoff contributor at that point, the five double-digit contributors were, for the most part, in the prime of their careers. Baron Davis put up silly numbers in the regular season with over 20 points and eight assists per game, and was primed for a euphoric playoff run where he upped his numbers to over 25 points a game on 51 percent shooting. B. Diddy’s acrobatic finishes and command from the point set the tone early and helped shape one of the most exciting playoff performances in postseason history.
The hype around the series (No. 1 versus No. 8) was recognized immediately, being that Donnie Nelson was returning to Dallas, the place he previously called home for over a decade as both coach and GM of the Mavericks. Nelson would face-off with his former player and the man whom he chose to be his successor, head coach Avery Johnson.
Dallas was a dominant force, entering the playoffs with the league’s best record behind franchise player Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged just under 25 points and nine rebounds per game on the year. Josh Howard was also having a breakout season, putting up 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest, and Jason “The Jet” Terry had already showcased his clutch gene in the previous year’s playoff run to the NBA Finals, putting up 19 points per game. The defending Western Conference champions would have been a handful for anyone, but Golden State was a unique and somewhat irregular squad.
A year after Bay Area rapper E-40 ghost-rode his whip all over MTV Jams with “Tell Me When To Go,” the Warriors were ready to wreak havoc as the league’s most fast paced team (by number of possessions per 48 minutes). Davis was already established as one of the most exciting and animated players, but he wasn’t alone. Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson were dynamic volume scorers who attempted 14 threes per game. Matt Barnes served as a crucial glue guy who showed up in multiple statistical categories, and Al Harrington fit in seamlessly into Nelson’s high octane offense, adding to Golden State’s firepower with his length and athleticism. Ellis, athletic Frenchman Mickael Pietrus and forward Andris Biedrins would fill out the remainder of the Warriors playoff rotation.
In Game 1 of the series, Baron Davis went nuts, nearly reaching triple-double status with a ridiculous 33-point, 14-rebound, 8-assist stat line in a Warriors win, 97-85. Davis scored 19 of his 33 points in the third quarter to give Golden State the advantage entering the fourth, and they rolled from there, holding Dallas to 35 percent shooting and leaving Dirk with a lot of Xs on his shooting chart (4-for-14 from the field).
After stealing Game 1, the pressure was on Dallas to respond in Game 2 and swing the pendulum back in their direction going into Oakland. Dallas received a combined 73 points from Terry, Nowitzki and Howard. While Baron Davis was held to only 13 points after erupting in Game 1, Captain Jack picked up the slack by dropping 30 (plus a game-high eight turnovers). Tied at 1-1, Dallas had made their adjustments and gained their composure, but nothing could prepare them for the new x-factor they hadn’t faced yet: the Oracle Arena.
In Game 3, Dallas entered a hostile environment, a “We Believe” environment. With the Oracle Arena painted throughout in yellow, it brought a unique sense of collegiality to the NBA’s Bay Area squad, years before OKC did the same in their first playoff run. Even those tuning in on TNT could feel the electricity in the building. Jason Richardson would take his turn, scoring 30 points as they owned the Mavs in a 19-point victory. B. Diddy chipped in with 24 points on 50 percent shooting while Dallas shot just 27 percent from deep.
Game 4 presented the Mavs with a similar situation, a chance to tie the series up again. They received an inspirational performance from Jerry Stackhouse, who dropped 24 points off the bench, but Baron Davis was back at it again with 33 points and eight rebounds, defeating the Mavs by four in a game that was tied entering the fourth quarter.
Dallas did take care of business in a must-win Game 5 at home behind 30 points and 12 rebounds from Dirk, who looked somewhat like a German Moses. Dirk was one of six Maverick players to hit double-figures in the scoring column on that night. While Dallas seemed like they had life left going into Game 6 at Oracle Arena, they struggled in preparing for Nellie-ball’s unpredictable offense.
The Mavs hung with the Warriors in the first half, entering the third with only a two-point deficit. Unfortunately for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, Stephen Jackson had something to say about that. Captain Jack (game-high 33 points) erupted for 13-straight points as part of a 18-0 third quarter. Jackson also broke the franchise record for three-pointers made in a playoff game with seven. (Steph Curry may have another record to break) Offensively, Dallas had no way to match it as Dirk picked a bad day to have his worst game of the playoffs, adding just eight points with a plus/minus rating of negative-25.
Just as one Warrior fan’s sign read, Baron Davis and his crew would “shock the world,” becoming the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 in a best-of-seven series, obliterating a deflated Mavericks squad in Game 6, 111-86. In the end, Golden State’s unpredictable and frantic style of play served as the kryptonite for a highly-favored and experienced Dallas Mavericks team. Long before Steph Curry lit up opponents with his unguardable skill set, there was a group of talented, in-their-prime journeymen who played themselves into fat contracts because of their memorable 2007 “We Believe” playoff run.
Was this one of the most exciting playoff teams ever?
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