Phil Jackson couldn't walk away from his final season with the Lakers the way he wanted to.
Kobe Bryant couldn't three-peat twice like his idol Michael Jordan.
And it's all because of the Mavericks. The Los Angeles Lakers, who wanted to face Dallas in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs rather than historic headache the Portland Trail Blazers, collapsed in a season-ending sweep.
Few thought it could happen. Of the 12 ESPN NBA experts polled, not one picked the Mavs. In fact, some had the Lakers winning in five.
How could such an unlikely result happen?
There are many reasons.
1) The Mavericks wanted to win more than people thought. Star big man Dirk Nowitzki is exhausted by the idea that the Mavericks keep having strong regular seasons, and then falter in the playoffs. One of the best shooters in the league, and a fierce competitor, Nowitzki played with a chip on his shoulder. This motivated Mavericks team refused to buckle.
2) Rick Carlisle is an under-rated coach. Carlisle has long been an ardent student of the game, and made some smart moves throughout the series. While the Lakers didn't make many adjustments, Carlisle let Kobe get his looks, while focusing on slowing down other players. The strategy worked, his substitutions were well-timed, and he did a great job of incorporating bench players Peja Stojakovic and Jose Juan Barea in the mix.
3) The Lakers are predictable. With the same starters as last season, it's not hard to do your homework on the Lakers, and the Mavericks didn't seemed to be too surprised by what the Lakers were doing. The Mavericks played both smart and tough defense on the Lakers, and it payed off. Tyson Chandler, in particular, made his presence felt on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. One of the problems with winning a championship, is your opponents get to know your patterns because most title teams stick to what works by not making many changes.
4) Jason Terry was on his game. A combo guard, it seemed like the Lakers would be able to contain Terry, unlike first round opponent, Chris Paul. Terry is not very fast, but he shot the lights out, especially in Game Four. He played with more focus than usual, and it could be seen in his stats. With the exception of Game Two, Terry shot better than 50 percent in each game.
5) The Lakers were fatigued. The stress of a long regular season for a team with aging stars seemed to have taken its toll. The Lakers looked tired in the first round when the New Orleans Hornets took the back-to-back champions to six games when many experts were anticipating a Lakers sweep. Gasol, in particular, looked fatigued, as he had trouble getting lift on his shots.
6) Bench play was one sided. While the Mavericks showed that depth was their strong suit, the Lakers proved that the bench was their biggest weakness. Aside from Terry, Barea toyed with the Lakers, and they couldn't respond to his quickness. Ron Artest had to clothesline Barea to send him a message, but it resulted in a suspension for Artest in Game Three, adding to the Lakers' problems.
7) The Lakers inability to close out games. With the exception of Game Four, the Lakers were statistically similar to the Mavericks. Normally clutch Kobe Bryant missed a three-point shot in the dying moments of Game One that would have given the Lakers the win, but he missed. The Lakers struggled in fourth quarters, while the Mavericks seemed to save their best for the final quarter.
8) Unexpected performances. Gasol was not on his game, yet Stojakovic was? Jason Terry hits nine-of-10 three-pointers in Game Four? Andrew Bynum only brings down five and six rebounds in Game One and Game Four, respectively? This was not quite the series many expected because certain players didn't play like they normally do.
9) The Lakers were vulnerable. This Lakers team didn't succeed in the regular season as easily has many expected, and it carried over in the playoffs. Bryant is human, and he can't be expected to carry a team on his back like he used to as he closes in on 33rd birthday. A team that has logged a lot of miles thanks to their vast playoff experience is susceptible to a slump. They didn't look like themselves in the playoffs.
10) The year of the upset. Historically, the favorites tend to win in the playoffs. but not this year. The Grizzlies, without main option Rudy Gay, knocked off the Spurs, and lead the series against the Thunder. The Orlando Magic were favored to beat the Hawks, but they faltered. The Bulls weren't expected to contend for the best record in the NBA, yet they pulled it off. Surprised the Lakers fell to the Mavericks? Based on what we've seen this season, you shouldn't be.
The Lakers will be more inspired next season.
As for the rest of the playoffs, the Mavericks might now be the team to beat.