“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
With this season’s Mavs, there is no switch for Rick Carlisle to flip. They need not token motivational speeches, or external motivation, or emotional incident. There’s simply an internal trigger that brings everything into focus. There’s a gentle whisper in the ear of the team leaders with a simple message: It’s winning time.
A Serge Ibaka dunk put the Thunder up 75-71 with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and over the subsequent seven minutes (in which the Mavs went on a 21-5 run), the Mavs were a whirling dervish of defensive stops and heady offensive play. The sloppy execution by OKC was a perfect contrast to Dallas’ patience with the basketball. As the Mavs looked to seal the win and wrap it in a bow, they refused to give into the temptation of contested jumpers or solo heroism, and as a result, they reaped the benefits of open jumpers and, well, solo heroism. Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-17 FG, 11 rebounds) had already established his offensive rhythm, but the Mavs continued to execute their game plan. Sometimes that involved getting the ball into Dirk, but even those possessions were carefully executed and fed the ball to Nowitzki at his favorite spots on the floor. The spacing was excellent, and when OKC’s pressure proved to be too much, Dirk was quick to kick the ball to an open teammate around the basket or at the 3-point line.
On defense, the Mavs managed to exploit the limits of the Thunder offense. As I made note of prior to yesterday’s game, Russell Westbrook (16 points, 6-19 FG, six rebounds, five assists) is a terrific talent, but if it’s the point guard’s job to manage the offense on critical possessions and under difficult circumstances, Westbrook failed. He worked so hard to get into the paint, and it’s hard to rip a guy when he’s putting forth that kind of effort. But last night was an excellent case study in the differences between a veteran offense with a point guard in the truest sense, and a young, developing team still in search of its offensive mojo. Westbrook didn’t have a bad game and the loss hardly falls on his shoulders, but if the Thunder had a different breed of point guard, does the blanketed Kevin Durant get more open looks? Does he get the ball in space, on the move, or from the spots on the floor in which he likes to operate? It’s hard to say conclusively given the stellar defensive effort by the Mavs, but the end result is a bit telling.
The Thunder certainly didn’t give up, and the manner in which they attacked the basket late in the game is commendable. But the Maverick D was ready and waiting, helping and covering to counter screens and giving OKC’s shooters all the room in the world and dared them to shoot. It was the same philosophy that allowed the Mavs’ zone defense to be so effective in the second and third quarters, and a logical plan of attack against a team that ranks 23rd in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
The crowning achievement of the Mavs’ defense was their shackling of Kevin Durant (12 points, 4-18 FG, four turnovers). It started on the ball with Shawn Marion and Josh Howard, who limited Durant’s touches through ball denial and crowding. When KD finally got his hands on the ball, he faced pressure on his shot from Marion and Howard, pressure on the dribble from Jason Kidd, and pressure on his drives from Erick Dampier and Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs were able to take away everything that makes Durant so brilliant, and those looking for a keynote performance from the Maverick D need look no further than their work against Durant and the Thunder.
Oh and by the by, Dirk Nowitzki looked pretty much unguardable. He had a few turnovers, but Ibaka and Green, for all their best efforts, were more or less hopeless.
- James Harden (12 points, six rebounds, three turnovers) and Jeff Green (15 points, 7-11 FG, 11 rebounds) were the OKC offense, and I mean that in ways both good and bad. Green was especially remarkable with his range and his touch around the basket, but the fact that the Thunder offense was left to lean so heavily on Harden and Green (who combined to score just 27 points) is a bit problematic. OKC’s offense isn’t very good to begin with, and without big contributions from Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, they’re going to have a hard time winning games.
- The Mavs were able to weather another minimal scoring performance from Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, five assists). He ran down the shot clock needlessly and even committed a double-dribble violation while trying to break down his man at the top of the key. Not exactly what you’d like to see out of your team’s second best scorer, regardless of who is matched up against him.
- Rick Carlisle is definitely tightening up the rotation, as only three Mavs (Howard, Gooden, Terry) managed to get off the bench. More to come on that topic later.
- 15 points and three turnovers for Josh Howard, whose offensive efforts were productive, if not pretty. I can’t say I’m too proud of Josh’s shot selection, but again, he came up big. 15 points in a 14-point win? I wouldn’t say that every bucket was crucial, but finding scoring relief with Dirk on the bench is paramount right now.
- Jason Kidd was Jason Kidd. That is all.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, he’s pretty good, right? Good enough to drop 35 on 18 shots, good enough to impact the game defensively, and good enough to take over the Maverick offense and make all the right plays. Nowitzki is as good as it gets in the NBA right now, and the Dirk we saw last night had virtually no weaknesses in his game.