“The unpredictability inherent in human affairs is due largely to the fact that the by-products of a human process are more fateful than the product.“
It’s getting to the point where the Maverick offense is almost impossible to predict. The Mavs were unable to get the ball in the basket for long stretches against the Toronto Raptors, who despite their improved play of late, are dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. In the first half last night, the Mavs were scoring relatively well, but were turning the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate.
Then in the second half? A deluge. 58 points (which is notable considering the there were only 90 total possessions) dropped on the head of one of the league’s top defenses (currently ranked 3rd). The less surprising part was that Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 14-22 FG, seven rebounds, three assists) was the primary bread-winner, scoring 22 of his 37 points in the second half on 9-15 shooting. He was 6 of 7 in the third quarter, when the Mavs scored 34 points on an insane 16 of 20.
Dirk was mismatched against the likes of Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, but he abused any defender Doc Rivers assigned to him. But honestly, as brilliant as Dirk was in getting open off of picks and the like, Boston’s defense had a complete breakdown. I’d imagine that Nowitzki takes up a pretty substantial part of the scouting report, and yet he was frequently wide open for mid-range jumpers. He is the undisputed best player in a Maverick uniform, and yet the Celtics were leaving him open to double in the post or sending two defenders to rotate due to miscommunication. Even great defensive teams are due for some mental errors once in awhile, but the second half (and the third quarter, in particular) was just mistake after mistake after mistake.
What’s scary is how good the Mavs could have been offensively if Jason Terry (eight points, 3-12 FG) and Josh Howard (three points, 1-5 FG, three rebounds, four assists) had been in any kind of rhythm. JET didn’t score a single point within 15 feet of the basket (0-4 from that range), as he was denied at the rim and forced into tough jumpers after prematurely killing his dribble. Terry caught the ball looking to score, but simply failed to convert. But he kept his turnovers down, played some decent defense, and deferred at the appropriate moments. Josh, to his credit, kept his shot attempts down. But his play continues to frustrate. His recent play should already have him on thin ice, and every missed layup and long, contested jumpshot is another step closer to the freezing water beneath his feet.
But Dirk wasn’t carrying the offense alone. Erick Dampier (11 points, seven rebounds, four turnovers, two blocks), Drew Gooden (10 points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Jason Kidd (13 points, 5-7 FG, 3-3 3FG, 17 assists, three turnovers), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-9 FG, eight rebounds, two blocks) provided ample scoring support. Damp’s performance was especially notable for just how explosive of a scorer he was; all 11 of Damp’s points came in the third frame, where he also grabbed five rebounds and went a perfect 5-5 from the field. He was also surprisingly versatile, dropping a free throw line jumper and what I only know to describe as a runner (maybe a walker?) along with a few layups and some post work. That’s the closest thing you’ll ever see to an Erick Dampier offensive clinic, and it was against a pretty solid defender in Kendrick Perkins.
Gooden had a similar role in the first half, but in my mind Drew’s offensive contributions are far eclipsed by those on the defensive end. I’ll be blunt: Drew Gooden is not a strong defender. The rhetoric that he often “floats” on that end of the court is certainly true, and his concept of defensive spacing is certainly not in line with Coach Carlisle’s. But last night was a pleasant surprise, as Gooden combined excellent anticipation, great hands, and a high activity level to put together one of his best defensive performances of the season.
The shocking thing about Kidd and Marion’s performances was that there was really nothing spectacular about them. Kidd simply made the right plays, again and again, and his teammates finished inside. He displayed that incredible efficiency from the three-point line, which has become a staple of his time in Dallas. He played tough defense (even when switched onto bigger threats like Paul Pierce), pressured shooters, and initiated the offense. His numbers are absolutely stellar, but Jason Kidd only did what Jason Kidd does.
Shawn Marion’s outing was similar, with one notable exception: he finished. Marion’s time in Dallas has already seen him miss plenty of layups and several dunks, but Shawn maximized his opportunities last night. He was excellent in transition, but even more impressive with what he was able to do in half-court sets. Plus, his defense on Paul Pierce was admirable, even though it wasn’t totally effective. That happens when your primary objective on the court is to contain the league’s best players night in and night out. And though Pierce still scored 24 points while shooting over 50% from the field, Marion is putting in the effort to deny, bump, and challenge, and on the whole it’s working.
It was certainly an impressive win for the Mavs, but they hardly turned a corner. We’ve seen this team put up the occasional dominant offensive outing, and in truth, this was only half of one. It came against a quality opponent and a quality defense, but don’t misconstrue the Mavs’ third quarter brilliance for some sort of grand revelation. This team still only goes as far as Dirk can take them, and until Josh Howard and Jason Terry become more efficient and effective parts of the offense, Dallas will continue to struggle on that end of the court.
- Rajon Rondo (seven points, 12 assists, two steals) is tremendously improved as a shooter. He was 3 of 5 from 16-23 feet last night, and he’s managed to virtually eliminate one of the holes in his game. That shot doesn’t need to be his bread-and-butter, but being able to hit from that range consistently can really complicate things for the defense.
- Oh, and Rondo’s okay at passing, too. A lot of the Mavs’ defensive trobles came from collapsing too hard on Rondo’s lane penetration, which gave players like Kendrick Perkins (14 points, 12 rebounds, three turnovers, two blocks) all kinds of easy buckets. Not that Perk wasn’t a beast in his own right. The Celtics routinely sent him to work on the low block, and his array of turnaround jumpers was a clear homage to teammate Kevin Garnett.