Monday, June 19, 2006 Updated: June 20, 1:47 PM ET
The upside of anger
By Scoop Jackson Page 2
MIAMI -- What, in the end, made them mad?
Was it the timeout call by Joe DeRosa that took away the Mavs' chance to win the game? Was it the unavailability of Jerry Stackhouse due to an unjustified suspension? Was it the fact that Dwyane Wade by himself had the same amount of free-throw attempts as their entire team? Was it the disrespect that they've felt since they set foot inside Miami?
What made Avery Johnson snap in the game (one tech called in the third quarter, one extreme expression of dissatisfaction at the end)? What made him come to the podium after the game for the first time without changing clothes (his charter flight was leaving for Dallas immediately after the media session) and sit behind the microphone and do the "black man leg tap" that has stopped many a brotha over the years from going overboard? What made him say in the most condescending, facetious voice, "You think the free throws lost us the game?" to a reporter when asked if he thought missed free throws cost Dallas the game?
Avery Johnson was just a little ticked off.
What made Jason Terry and Devin Harris use the term "controlled anger" when describing how Johnson spoke about how they have to win Game 6 after losing Game 5 like this?
What made Josh Howard and Adrian Griffin politely short-answer every question asked them while trying to get dressed and get out of Miami?
What made Dirk Nowitzki kick the game ball into the 300 level of the AmericanAirlines Arena after the game, then kick the watercooler and everything else on his way to the locker room after that?
What made Mark Cuban almost have to be escorted from the court by security?
What made them act this way? What (finally) pushed them to this point?
At what point did (will) the anger consume them?
Anger is a funny thing. But at this point, if you are the Dallas Mavericks, it damn sure doesn't make you laugh.
And most won't laugh. Most will say the Mavs need this anger to get back to where they were three games ago.
But did it have to happen like this?
With incident after incident going against them, this middle passage of the Finals felt like a conspiracy.
I mean, how mad is a team supposed to not get when they've had Stackhouse, who had come off the bench and outscored Miami's entire bench during the first four games of the series, get suspended on a foul that Shaq admitted wasn't as hard as his daughters hit him when they jump to hug him when he comes home? And then you lose the battle from the bench 23-12 and your team loses in overtime by one?
I mean, although the Mavs have to be upset about the missed free throws by Howard that would have given them a three-point lead with 54 seconds left, the more disturbing reality is that David Stern may have used the opportunity to suspend Stackhouse as a personal vendetta power move against Cuban because of their "indifferent" relationship. And that Stackhouse not playing is ultimately why the Mavericks are one loss away from not getting an NBA championship trophy instead of one win away from clinching one.
And then factor in that Wade and the Mavs both went 21 of 25 from the free-throw line, followed by "the Chris Webber" that the refs knew no coach in the history of the League would call, forcing the Mavs to waste their final timeout.
I mean, if that doesn't produce 12 angry men, what does?
And after the game it had gone from their faces and words into their hearts.
"We were already mad after Game 4," Dirk said after Game 5. "They suspended one of our players " he echoed, then used the word "frustration." Then he said what a leader who has had his leadership questioned is supposed to say: "We'll take that attitude with us back home."
"Are we angry right now?" Terry responded to the obvious. "There's no question about it. If you feel any other way, you shouldn't be in a Mavericks' uniform."
Which sums up the state they are in. A place where they have to be able to play "us against the world" basketball with the pressure of not losing a game while not losing that anger.
It's the only way they have to win, to play two angry games. Leave Miami with that emotion on lock until the opening tip of Game 6, then slowly release it until the final buzzer of Game 6. When Stackhouse can be the angriest of them all -- and execute through anger the way Terry did against the Spurs, after his anger got him suspended for a game and almost cost the Mavs the series.
But that's a tough thing to do in this situation, at this stage. Because unlike before, the Mavericks knew where the source of their anger was, they knew that "part of it" was of their own infliction. But now, where do they start?
Who do they blame?
And, more importantly, how do they control the anger when pressure is the stronger entity and will play a larger role in whether they get the "W" or take a final "L"?
As mad as they wanna be, the next game the Mavs play is their elimination game -- not the Heat's. And although closeout games are said to be the hardest, being down 3-2 has to put pressure on the Mavs to play within themselves and within the structure that got them those two wins in the first place.
When they weren't angry.
When they had everything in control. When they were winning games against Miami by 10 and 14, when the crowd in the American Airlines Center in Dallas was rowdy, loud and proud, but not "hostile" -- as Pat Riley and Shaquille said they expect upon their return. When being in the Finals was new to the Mavs, fun, before they realized that the Operation BC against their owner was maybe truth. That maybe them not winning is bigger than them.
Which is why Avery Johnson has to be careful how he approaches his team about executing the upside of this anger. He can't afford to turn his team's anger into madness when his mission should be turning his anger into management.
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.