Tyson Chandler is the active, energetic big man the Dallas Mavericks have never had before. He's also a pretty good strategist.
Knowing the season was basically on the line in Game 5 of their first-round series against Portland, Chandler went to coach Rick Carlisle on Monday morning with a suggestion. Instead of always playing on the weak side of the offense, he wanted to move around to try getting more involved and to have a better chance at grabbing rebounds.
Go for it, Carlisle said.
Chandler wound up with 14 points and 20 rebounds, but his most important contribution might've been setting the aggressive, exciting tone the Mavericks needed to bounce back from a devastating loss and beat the Trail Blazers 93-82. Dallas leads the series 3-2, with two days to rest up before trying to close things out in Game 6 on Thursday night in Portland.
"He's got to be active for us, and he knows that," Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said. "Hyping the crowd, being vocal in the huddle. That's what he's been doing for us all year long. If he keeps playing like that, with energy, we'll be OK."
The Mavs were fresh off blowing a 23-point lead over the final 14 minutes of Game 4. Instead of having the Trail Blazers on the brink of elimination, they'd given the No. 7 seed new hope of pulling off the upset. Carlisle called it a must-win, a nod to Dallas being 0-4 in Portland this season and to the club having lost eight straight playoff road games.
Between Chandler's new role and a healthy use of a zone defense, the Mavs again found themselves up by double-digits early in the fourth quarter. Only this time they were able to protect it, forcing 10 straight misses and playing smart on offense. Although Dallas' shooting touch was off — the Mavs missed their first 10 3-point tries of the second half — they got to the foul line and won the rebounding battle.
Dallas not only outrebounded its taller foe 49-37, the Mavs grabbed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds. Chandler had 13, and swatted several more to guards near midcourt. His offensive boards were the most ever by a Dallas player in the playoffs and the most for anyone in the playoffs since Shaquille O'Neal had 14 in 1995.
"They played like they wanted it more than we did," said Portland's Brandon Roy, who went from scoring 24 points in Game 4 to just five in 26 minutes. "They played harder than we did. I thought they played a little tougher than in the first four games. They had more of a sense of urgency. Now it's our turn to show that same sense of urgency."
Nowitzki led Dallas with 25 points, 11 coming in the third quarter, when the Mavericks broke open a tight game with a 15-5 run. Still, everyone was waiting to see whether they could protect it this time.
Chandler made sure of it. He had seven rebounds in the final period, including one that resulted in a layup by J.J. Barea that put Dallas up by 17 and prompted the Blazers to call time out. As the home crowd stood and roared in approval, Chandler walked to the bench with a huge smile, nodding his head and rocking his shoulders.
"Coming out tonight, I knew my team would need me," he said. "After a bad loss, a lot of times it can carry over. Tonight, I wanted to bring energy and hope my teammates would feed off it, and they did."
Chandler was tenacious from the start, putting up seven points and seven rebounds in nine minutes. His teammates weren't as crisp, but they eventually followed his lead.
"At the beginning of the game, both teams were so jacked, neither team could even run a play," Carlisle said. "Hey, when guys are playing that hard, it's just playing basketball and making plays. Tyson was the recpient of some stuff and it was great."
History is certainly on Dallas' side to pull out the series. Of the previous 157 series tied at 2, the Game 5 winner has come out on top 83 percent of the time.
Then again, it could easily still go to a seventh game. The home team has won every game this series.
"Let's hope that it stays that way for us," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
Blazers center Marcus Camby warned that his club "can't rely on being home as a cure-all."
"We have to play a whole lot better," he said.
Jason Terry scored 20 points for Dallas and Shawn Marion added 14. Jason Kidd had 14 assists and four points, with his only basket coming long after the game was decided.
Andre Miller led Portland with 18 points and Gerald Wallace scored 18. LaMarcus Aldridge had only 12 points.
NOTES: Roy was booed when he first went into the game, but fans seemed to lose interest in him. ... The Blazers took a single free throw in the first half, for defensive 3 seconds. They took 18 in the second half. ... Miller has made four 3-pointers this series. He made four over the regular season. ... The Game 4 meltdown loomed over the Mavs because of its epic proportions. Only two teams had blown such a big, late lead — and Kidd happened to part of another with the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. He recalled that club letting up, just like this team did. He also recalled that the '02 Nets nearly did it again the next game, but held on for the win. They also won the next two games to reach the NBA finals. "It was a great learning experience because it brought us together," Kidd said.