“Better late than never…right guys?”
The thing about establishing a goal and a corresponding brightline is that you need to be prepared to fall short of it. Obviously that’s not the preferred result, but even the most worthy competitors need to eventually brace themselves for the possibility of failure.
That may be what stings most about Sunday’s loss in Los Angeles. The Mavs no doubt realized that this was the toughest game on their four-game road trip, and if there was a spot to drop a loss, this would be it. Yet the Mavs hung around, enduring an inspired first half performance from Pau Gasol (or a lackluster performance from the Mavs’ defense, take your pick), and took the lead at the 8:49 mark in the 4th quarter.
The Mavs, those with flaws much deeper than their bench, overcame a 15 point deficit and had extended a lead of as much as 5 points. This could have been the season’s defining moment, a point at which everything the team hopes to accomplish and the often troublesome product they have fielded thus far come to a sharp divergence. This was a team on the brink of creating something beautiful on a Sunday afternoon on national television. But, as you know now, it wasn’t to be.
With a little help from his friends, Antoine Wright actually smothered Kobe into an 0-4 first quarter. It was only fitting that Kobe put similar shackles on the hot-handed Jason Terry to effectively end the Mavs’ run in the fourth, shift the momentum considerably as the Mavs struggled to dribble the ball cleanly, much less score.
Still, one has to ask why exactly Jason Kidd is taking the biggest shots of the game, and why exactly our star point guard is committing silly ball-handling errors and careless turnovers on overambitious passes. The great points of the league can see the angles no one else can see, and make the passes no one else can make; part of that comes from pure ability, and the other part comes from the will to complete those types of passes. Kidd showed every bit of that will, but maybe he was a little too willing to attempt to thread the needle through three defenders on the break when a lob or kick-out would have done just fine.
The defense continues to be the problem. In the first half, the Mavs were getting good looks, but just failed to capitalize. Meanwhile on the other end, Pau Gasol was having his way, three point shooters were left wide open, and Kobe Bryant eventually remembered that he is, in fact, Kobe Bryant. The Mavs again show a complete inability to defend any player on the floor that could be described as ‘quick,’ and the man defense was sliced and diced on the way to a 66-point first half for L.A.. But there is a bright spot defensively: the zone continues to baffle opponents. It’s effectiveness would no doubt dwindle in a playoff series, in which coaching staffs (staves) can tech and teach specifically to counter it. In the regular season, on the other hand, it’s managed to slow down two of the league’s most potent offenses while only surrendering one key weakness against the Lakers: the lack of rebounding in the clutch. Lamar Odom turned excellent defensive possessions for the Mavs into entirely too many opportunities for the Lakers. Of course when the Mavs went away from the zone to secure more rebounds, the Lakers just beat them outright. Fun.
It’s also definitely worth noting that the zone is a vicegrip for opposing second units. The Mavs bench isn’t particularly skilled defensively, but what they lack in talent and fundamentals on that end they make up for in hustle. Barea, Singleton, and Bass, coupled with say Antoine Wright and Jason Terry, can smother opponents’ bench lineups that lack the sort of penetrating playmaker needed to make smart passes against the zone. We saw this in full effect against the Lakers sans Kobe, and equally so with the Blazers sans a healthy Brandon Roy.
Dirk played very poorly by his standards. His shot was off the entire night, and this may be the first game of the season where the Mavs came back to make things interesting in spite of him. Credit that to Jason Terry, who made an absolutely batty seven threes. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and this one stings more than a game that just slipped through our fingers.