“I’m in my prime. There’s no goal too far, no mountain too high.”
Maybe this game didn’t have all the glitz of the last two victories, but a seemingly pedestrian eight-point win over the Hornets speaks volumes more about how far the Mavs have come than most blowouts ever could. The flash didn’t manifest itself in a gaudy final margin, but it was every bit as present in the beautiful fast breaks, the offensive rebounds, and the trips to the free throw line. Yes, I do realize that I just described free throw attempts as ‘flashy,’ and no, I’m not taking it back.
The Mavs’ games in Utah and Phoenix were trips to Fantasy Island. Realistically, you don’t expect to skunk a team without them showing even the slightest signs of life; these are talented teams that should be expected to make a run at some point during every game. Against Phoenix, a team holding their final playoff hopes in their hands, the Mavs punched their way through a mirage, and escaped unscathed. Against Utah, the Mavs punched their way through a formidable foe, unexpectedly paralyzed by forces yet to be determined. But against New Orleans, the Mavs punched and punched, and finally they met some resistance.
The Mavs have had no problem with paper tigers this season, but we’ve seen them stop dead in their tracks when faced with a real cat’s roar. It would’ve shocked no one to see the Mavs falter after a short run of success, against an opponent that certainly has their number. But they didn’t. For once, it wasn’t that easy. For once, the Mavs weren’t the victims of their own stereotype.
This is a team that has pouted all season. When the shots fall, everything is great. When those shots stop falling, the entire team goes with it. The transition defense slows to a halt, the ball movement disappears, and the entire roster’s body language is visibly altered. When the shots stopped falling last night (as they did in the second quarter, when they went over seven minutes without a made field goal), the team coped. The free throw line helped to stop the bleeding, the defense kicked it up slightly, and by the time the offense was righted in the third quarter, the Mavs still nursed a decent lead. Demonstrating an ability to endure the emotional highs and lows of a game is critical of any quality team, and the Mavs showed that ability in spades last night.
It was a game where so much went wrong for the Mavs, there was still so much to appreciate. Josh Howard had another brilliant game (25 points, 11 rebounds). He started things off in usual fashion, scoring 10 of the Mavericks’ first 15 points. Howard really is the weapon the Mavs should have had in last season’s playoffs, but didn’t; the Hornets have no simple way to guard him, as Howard made Rasual Butler and Peja Stojakovic look silly on numerous occasions. New Orleans could put James Posey on Howard, but then lose what is possibly their best defensive option for Dirk. It’s exactly the conundrum that San Antonio faced in the playoffs of 2006. Also: it’s possible that Josh Howard is the only player in the league who starts every game with a “heat check.”
After watching this game, I’m convinced that “letting Chris Paul get his” might be the Mavs best plan of attack, if for no other reason than a lack of alternatives. Give Paul space and try to make him take the jumper, but if all else fails let him try to create for himself on every single play and hope he wears himself out over the course of a game or series. Jason Kidd can’t stay with him, Antoine Wright’s slightly better but still relatively hopeless, and Jason Terry is Jason Terry. If everyone stayed home on the shooters and make Chris Paul score every point, the Mavs wouldn’t need to rely on great offensive nights from their stars to get the win. Or maybe Paul would just go for 100. I’m confident one or the other would happen.
I’m honestly surprised we didn’t see more of Erick Dampier. He played over 28 minutes, but his time on the floor saw marked rises in both offense and defense. He had 12 points (5-5 FG) and 8 rebounds, but those numbers don’t do his activity level or contributions justice. The offense opened up when Damp added the scoring inside, mostly due to Jason Kidd’s awareness and passing ability. Damp was splendid in this one, and it should tell you something that the Hornets’ two significant runs (11-3 to close the 2nd quarter, and 15-1 in the 4th) both came with Dampier on the bench.
Twenty offensive rebounds. Take a second to realize how incredible that is, and then give Josh Howard and Brandon Bass a hearty pat on the back for hauling in 6 misses apiece. The Mavs were able to shoot 40% from the field and still lead throughout, and the offensive rebounding was a huge part of that. A huge ‘E’ for Howard’s efforts to keep the ball alive late in the fourth, when every offensive board meant trimming valuable time off the clock.
The Mavs’ shooters were dominant from outside against Utah and Phoenix, but no-showed (5-24; 20.8%) from three against New Orleans. This is not just a team getting hot and beating teams that are out of their league. This is a team actualizing its potential, maximizing the production of its role players, and proving that it has what it takes to gut out tough games. None of this is substantial enough to guarantee a trend, and Mavs fans have been burned far too many times this season to become true believers on a night’s success in Dallas. We’ve seen three games of real progress…is it too much to ask for about twenty more?
- Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 8 rebounds, and I don’t even know what to say. It doesn’t quite match Chris Paul’s 42 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, but that’s just Dirk being Dirk.
- The Hornets died on the court when Chris Paul took a breather on the bench. Can you even imagine how CP feels watching James Posey try to post up during his five minutes of rest on the bench? It’s hard to imagine him doing more to help his team win, and having to watch your team immediately surrender a 7-0 run the second you hit the pine has to be a bit unsettling. Paul is an MVP candidate, for sure. If he’s not in your top three, you’re nuts.
- Jason Kidd had 15 assists and 7 rebounds, but just 3 points. Still, the guy alters the game in ways that only the die-hards can appreciate. Call him old or point out his flaws if you’d like, but this guy is a monster.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass, who laid the smackdown on his former team with 8 points and a career high 13 rebounds…mostly because I felt guilty for not mentioning him. A usual display of dunking and boarding from The Animal. BEAST.
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