-Alfred, as played by Michael Cain
The Mavs have yet to present their magnum opus of home wins, but the formula for their nail-biting win over the Thunder as scribed a bit differently than their other near-letdowns. The effort level was not only consistent, but sufficient, and though the Mavs scored just 19 points in the first quarter while allowing the Thunder a nine-point lead, it was not for lack of trying. The level of execution was clearly sub-par, but in such instances, the Mavs must continue to run. They must continue to rotate. They must continue to drive, and help, and slash, and box-out. Too many teams have been discouraged by the ball refusing to go through the hoop, when effort level should exist in a vacuum.
On some nights, the Mavs would give in. The picks would be weaker, the moves less decisive, and the help defense a step slow. But to their credit, Dallas never ceded the competitive edge. This team knows that it can beat the Thunder, and just as importantly, knows that it can stop Kevin Durant.
Shawn Marion is the man for that unenviable task, and he clearly knows something that the rest of the world does not. How else do you explain KD’s 22.2% shooting against Marion and the Mavs this season, and his 6-18 performance last night? How else do you explain Durant’s seven turnovers, three above his season average? Durant was put on this planet to score the ball, but something in Shawn Marion’s defense has made that objective incredibly difficult. Yes, Durant still put up 30 points, thanks to his 16 attempts from the line. But I’m not sure that anyone in the NBA today is a better man-up defender of the Durantula than the Mavs’ own Shawn Marion, and considering KD’s ridiculous season thus far, that’s quite the compliment. If you’re having trouble with kids sneaking into your garage to steal a trinket or two, you might want to call Shawn. If you’re having trouble convincing a jury of your innocence, you might want to call Shawn. And if you need to close off and defend your borders from an incoming army of up-and-coming All-Star small forwards, you should really, really call Shawn.
Oddly enough, despite of the truly admirable job that Marion did on the defensive end, he probably wasn’t the Mavs’ defensive MVP for the night. That honor goes to Jason Kidd, who played the scouting report on Russell Westbrook to perfection in the first half…only to see Westbrook nail mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper. Naturally, Rick Carlisle and Jason Kidd adjusted, and in the second half, Kidd made defensive play after defensive play. Westbrook was six of nine from the field at halftime, to the tune of 12 points. By game’s end, he was eight of nineteen (that makes two of ten in the second half, for those not in the number-crunching mood) with just 18 points. Kidd’s two blocks tied Erick Dampier for a game-high, and his four steals put him in a class of his own. When the Mavs needed stops, it was Kidd that created possessions out of thin air. When Kevin Durant had a chance to tie the game with 30 seconds left, it was Kidd who challenged his shot, negating Durant’s height advantage with superior effort and technique. Oh, and in between the stops and deflections, Kidd managed to drop 11 points on 50% shooting while totaling 11 assists to just one turnover.
Then there was Dirk Nowitzki, who looked more or less unstoppable against single coverage. 32 points on 18 shots is a tad impressive. Though five rebounds and four turnovers isn’t what you’d like to see out of a star power forward, you take what you get with a guy who can score like hell and hit what was essentially the game-winning shot. Dirk had the Mavs’ final six points, icing the Thunder and putting up just enough to to eek out a victory.
Jason Terry was kind enough to join Dirk in the scoring column, as JET did went to work in the second half en route to a 21-point night on 9 of 17 shooting. It’s no surprise that the Mavs operate at a completely different level offensively when Terry’s shot is falling, and this win belongs to him as much as it does to Marion, Kidd, or Dirk. His looks ranged from obscenely open to closely contested, but JET is a shooter, and once his aim is properly calibrated for the basket’s sweet spot, he’s tough to deter.
- Josh Howard had a horrible offensive night. He was not only shooting blanks but shooting plenty of them (2-14 FG), as the Mavs looked to him often in the absence of Dirk and JET. In theory, that approach is sound; Howard is the most natural wing scorer the Mavs have aside from Terry, and his ability to create his own shot trumps the rest of the rotation easily. But the Thunder were practically daring Josh to pull the trigger from mid-range, and though he was happy to oblige, the Mavs can’t be happy with the result. Howard’s shot selection remains his biggest flaw, and on a night where he simply can’t find the net, he’s not in a position where he can shoot himself into a rhythm. Those are shots that should be going to more efficient scorers, and while I’d very much like to see Josh scoring big in the flow of the offense, I’d rather he not make it his personal mission to chuck up jumper after jumper.
- Rodrigue Beaubois and Byron (the artist formerly known as B.J.) Mullens, who were swapped for each other on draft night, logged a combined zero minutes. It’s a fun time to be a rookie.
- Eddie Najera was suited up for the game, but did not play.
- James Singleton logged seven minutes of action, grabbing two rebounds and…well, not much else. But he appears to be stepping into Kris Humphries’ role as a reserve power forward. I’d expect that to continue, particularly on nights where Shawn Marion is locked in to the three on defensive duties, as he was tonight against Kevin Durant.
- Though Josh had a tough night, he did have a hand in saving the game. Jason Terry missed two free throws with four seconds remaining, leaving the door open for the Thunder to get one final shot. They had no timeouts remaining, and thus Nenad Krstic had to get the ball into the hands of a playmaker in a timely manner. Westbrook was ready and waiting, but when Krstic attempted the outlet, Josh Howard tipped the pass, wasting crucial seconds off the clock. It wasn’t an outright steal, but it was still a tremendous play at a crucial time.
- J.J. Barea has definite value off the bench, and though that role prevents him from applying consistent offensive pressure over long stretchers, it may be his best with the team. He can step in, catch defenses off guard, and create some confusion for half-court defenses.
- Dirk was able to get to the line at will, and his 15 attempts were a huge reason why the Mavs posted an absurd .557 free throws per field goal. That’s a nice parade to the free throw line for a team that sparingly, and oh, every single one of those free throws means a hell of a lot.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…I don’t know, man. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion are all great candidates, with Jason Terry as a possible dark horse. You guys can decide this one; sound off in the comments with your choice for the Gold Star of the Night, with an explanation if you’d like.