The immediate reaction to Game 2 will inevitably revolve around the Dallas Mavericks inability to close for a second straight game, but their poor end-game execution is a symptom of a greater problem, Rick Carlisle's poor personnel choices in this series.
At the close of the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki returned to vintage form and refused to be guarded by players (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) who have no business guarding him. The biggest positive from the game was Dirk's ability to get buckets driving directly at Ibaka; he showed just enough burst and skill to get by a player far more gifted athletically.
But his effort was negated by the Mavericks inability to block out and exercise judiciousness with the ball. After 8 straight points from the most indefensible player in the series, Dallas gave Kendrick Perkins two freebees before a turnover became a Durant 3. From there, a Marion missed three led to a pair of Durant free throws. While the team managed to salvage the sequence with a Terry three, they came up with a missed 15-footer from Jason Kidd on their final possession, effectively turning a 3 point deficit into 7.
And that, really, was the story of the game. Jason Kidd cannot play with the Thunder's guards. More damningly, he showed an inability to make the right play at crucial times -- the very reason he's on the floor in the first place.
I take no joy in pointing out Jason Kidd's deficiencies after he played an instrumental role in last year's championship run, especially the admirable job he did against Kobe in the Lakers series. But he simply cannot be on the floor for 37 minutes against Oklahoma City's guards. Against a back-court of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, there is no place for Kidd on the floor.
It's not like Dallas lacks options. Delonte West has played well throughout, making clutch shots to keep the Mavs in position to secure the win. Rodrigue Beaubois, meanwhile, hasn't even been given a chance to make plays with the ball in his hands so far. Sure, he will make mistakes, but he can provide the type of game-changing plays Kidd's "steady hand" and Carter's "experience" no longer can.
Carter, overweight and over-confident, has had problems of his own in this series. A 2012 Air Canada needs to play within himself for less than 30 minutes and do better than 7-23 with a 1:4 assist to turnover ratio. He's on the verge of becoming the 2012 version of Caron Butler -- a mass shooter who takes Dirk's shots and can't get quality looks in isolation situations or guard anyone.
Many will write off the Mavericks after their Game Two loss, but they don't have to be correct. Marion's length and athleticism will continue to give Durant problems; Dallas just needs to find better answers for Westbrook and Harden. Terry, Kidd and Carter aren't fast enough to keep up with them defensively, and Carlisle has two far better athletes (West and Beaubois) he can turn to on the bench.
In the end, his personal loyalty to his veterans cannot trump what he owes to the fans who ultimately pay his salary: the best possible team on the floor.
For more coverage of this first-round series, stay tuned to the SB Nation Dallas storystream as well as Mavs Moneyball.