akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

DALLAS — Leave it up to a 20-year-old rookie, and the mom who helped raise him into the man wise beyond his years – and the person whom he lost to cancer two months ago — to put his Dallas Mavericks’ 3-0 NBA Finals series deficit into the right perspective.

One game at a time, and one special three-pointer at a time.

The moment the Dallas Mavericks took the lead for good in Friday night’s Game 4, which turned into the third-biggest blowout in NBA Finals history, came soon after a Luka Doncic drive into the lane ended with his pass to the right corner that found the hands of Dereck Lively II, a.k.a. the least-likely person on the floor to become an offensive threat above the arc. Microcosmic of the team trying to prove that this series is still up for grabs despite the grave situation, Lively caught, raised up and released a three-pointer, trying to give Dallas an 11-10 lead.


Just like that, the Mavericks’ last deficit of the game was no more. That one-point lead turned into 13 by the end of the first, 26 by halftime and, before the end of the fourth quarter, the bulge was as big as 48 points as Dallas smoked the Boston Celtics 122-84 to send the NBA Finals series back to Boston for Monday’s Game 5.

The confidence that Dallas has in coming back to turn the series around is as abundant as Lively’s assurance that his first-ever three-point make would come in the biggest basketball stage. Where Lively’s confidence came from in making that shot, as well as the three other field goals and two free throws he made this evening, is not in question.

“It’s for her,” Lively said about the three-pointer. “She helped me make it. She’s going to help me make a lot more. She helped me make the free throw. She helped me make reads.”

She is Kathy Drysdale, Dereck’s mom and a standout basketball player in her own right, a 1,000-point scorer at Penn State from 1988-1992 who helped the Lady Lions become the first school in the Northeast to reach the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Poll.

She has always been Dereck’s biggest fan, up until and beyond the day Lively was drafted by the Mavericks last June out of Duke, as she sat right behind the Dallas bench for the first few games of her son’s career and attended community functions in the Dallas area with Dereck.

She will always be the strongest person Dereck will ever know, as he has told stories of the days when he grew up at home and Kathy would barely be able to make it downstairs or even talk, the effects of being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and fighting cancer for 11 years.

She passed away on April 12 at the age of 53.

The teammates Lively gained by being taken in by the Mavericks grew even closer to him in helping his growth and dealing with his grief.

“They’re my family. We’ve developed a lot of trust with one another, a lot of chemistry,” Lively said. “That trust just comes down to if you get blown by, they know I have their back. Just at the same time, I know if I got blown by, I got people behind me to back me up. It’s really just doing whatever up can to make sure whenever one steps, we’re all stepping with him.”

Before her passing, Kathy was able to see Lively turn into a key contributor to a Dallas team that made a sharp pivot to becoming a contender when it made a couple of trade deadline deals for fellow center Daniel Gafford and forward P.J. Washington Jr. From February 14, six days after the Mavericks made those trades, to March 31, Lively averaged 8.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and shot 76.3 percent from the field, teaming with Gafford to create a formidable defensive interior that was equally as active on the offensive end when slamming home lobs from Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

“I think people forget that he’s a rookie doing this stuff. He’s been amazing the whole season. Just watching him grow was unbelievable,” Doncic said about Lively. “It’s fun having him out there with me and call him my teammate. It’s unbelievable and it’s a pleasure to have him.

Lively’s return to the team after being away to deal with his mom’s loss came to start the playoffs, and his activity inside continued to spur Dallas all way to its first NBA Finals appearance. Even in Wednesday’s defeat, his impact on both ends of the floor almost was decisive as the Mavericks just came up short in its valiant comeback bid after a 21-point deficit was trimmed to one late in the fourth.

He carried Wednesday’s momentum into Friday, notching his second consecutive double-double on Friday with 11 points and 12 rebounds — seven of those boards coming on the offensive glass.

“D-Live was great,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “His energy was great. His ability to give us second opportunities. He displayed his range tonight with the corner three. He was really good. He’s been good. Giving us second opportunities, picking up a foul, getting the offensive rebound, was needed. I thought he did a really good job this evening.”

In the white hot crucible that is the NBA Finals, Lively just joined Magic Johnson as the only other 20-year-old with multiple double-doubles in the league’s championship series.

“Whatever doesn’t kill you really makes you stronger,” Lively said when asked what he has learned about himself during the run to the Finals. “No matter how many times you get hit, knocked down, get up, get up harder than you got knocked down. Hit them harder than they hit you. Like I always say, throw the first punch. What it really comes down to is when you get punched, are you going to throw one back or are you just going to concede?

Kathy Drysdale showed her son (and, by proxy, his new family with the Mavericks) how to fight and how not to concede. Much like tonight, and probably what will occur for as long as Dallas still believes Lively and his family’s fighting spirit can carry them in making the near-impossible a reality.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday evening’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals, with photos taken by ALOST staff photographer Ross James. After clicking on a photo to enlarge the picture, press the left and right arrow buttons on either side of the caption to scroll through the rest of the pictures that appear on the first page. Also, click on the numbers and/or arrow appearing immediately below the picture grid to load the next set of photos. There are 36 pictures in total.

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Tags : Boston CelticsDallas MavericksDereck Lively IINational Basketball AssociationNBANBA Finals

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