“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.”
I’m going to miss these Mavs-Rockets games. No opponent has been a more compelling foil for the Mavs all season. In the first two games, the Mavs flipped the script on huge second quarter runs, turning the game’s momentum on a dime and completely demoralizing the Rox. In the last two, Dallas and Houston have battled for 48 minutes (or more) only to see the Rockets edge out the Mavs by way of just a few more successful possessions. All four contests were particularly noteworthy for a variety of reasons, regardless of whether the final margin was three or 31.
As far as losses go, I don’t see anything revolutionary or catastrophic about the Mavs’ final L of 2009. Dirk Nowitzki (11 points, 3-12 FG, seven rebounds, three turnovers) had a pretty terrible offensive game, and though the rest of the Mavs provided ample support (including 46 bench points), Dallas simply couldn’t overcome such a woeful shooting night from the undisputed leader. Dirk didn’t have to make every shot for the Mavs to stay competitive, but he couldn’t make any shot when the game was very much up for grabs. A few long misses on Dirk jumpers segued perfectly into Houston’s transition offense, which exposed the Mavs’ real troubles. Though the Mavs would often stop or stall the Rockets’ primary break, there was entirely too much damage done on the secondary offensive wave. Trailing three point shooters and late cutters put significant pressure on the defense, and though the trailers and cutters themselves didn’t always convert opportunities into points, they did force the Mavs to scramble in order to compensate. It was a non-issue when the Mavs were playing small ball (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Gooden), because that lineup switched on every screen and rotated onto every shooter. But with a more traditional lineup, the Mavs were often out of position to contest the Rockets’ threes or their entry passes.
In a game where Dirk’s offense isn’t clicking, that makes all the difference. Add in a poor performance on the defensive glass, and the shortcomings compound into a loss. Not exactly a perfect storm, but the Mavs’ woes on the defensive end were notable enough that the Rockets were able to seal the game late on a pair of 3-pointers from Aaron Brooks (who was sensational; 30 points, 6-12 3FG, four rebounds, four assists) and Shane Battier (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists). It’s never a good thing to see an opposing player go off like that, particularly one in the mold of previous Maverick-killers. But Brooks had one of those nights, and the bizarre decision from Rick Carlisle to shift to the zone defense only made matters worse for the Mavs on the perimeter. There are essentially three things which break down the zone defense: long-range shooters, mid-range shooters that can make smart passes, and offensive rebounds. The Rockets boast plenty of the former, the second is practically Luis Scola’s epithet, and Houston is 8th in the league in offensive rebounding rate. Brooks’ quickness and activity creates a certain illusion, but using a zone defense against the Rockets plays right into their hand. That team is simply too smart and too skilled in all the right ways for a zone to work, and it gave Houston a boost when the Mavs had them on the ropes.
But that decision wasn’t symptomatic of some greater fault that lies within Rick Carlisle, just as the Mavs’ sub-par defense wasn’t symptomatic of anything other than the realities of an 82 game season. There will be nights where some things don’t quite come together and there will be nights where nothing comes together. The key is to make sense of them and deal with them accordingly, understand what went wrong, and move on. There is entirely too much going on in the regular season to get bent out of shape over a three point loss to the Rockets that very nearly went into overtime. Last night’s game wasn’t the ideal way to usher in the new year, but 2010 is here and the Mavs face the Lakers on Sunday. Hit the film room, gents.
- Shawn Marion (16 points, 8-12 FG, nine rebounds, a steal and a block) and Jason Terry (20 points, 7-12 FG, four assists, two steals) were excellent. Marion started the game brilliantly and Terry more or less closed it, with both taking advantage of Houston’s lack of shot-blocking inside. Marion went to work with his usual runners and post-ups, but he also had great success simply cutting to the open spot around the rim for easy finishes. Plus, Marion showed his defensive versatility in his ability to defend both Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry. Terry used perimeter picks and his pure speed to drive around his defender, resulting in six of JET’s 12 attempts coming at the rim. Terry was legitimately looking to finish his layups, rather than driving into the lane simply as a means of getting to the free throw line. It showed, as JET converted five of his six attempts deep into the paint.
Jason Terry's FGA Breakdown
|At Rim||<10 ft.||10-15 ft.||16-23 ft.||Threes|
|12-31-09 vs. HOU||6.0||0.0||2.0||1.0||3.0|
- A rough night for J.J. Barea (four points, 1-6 FG, four rebounds, three assists), which makes sense considering I spent yesterday singing his praises. Sheesh, you try to do a guy a favor…
- Neither Dirk Nowitzki, nor Jason Terry, nor Josh Howard, nor J.J. Barea scored in the first quarter. The Mavs trailed 17-24 at the end of the frame.
- Drew Gooden (10 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a block) could very well be on his way another roll, as he completely outplayed Erick Dampier (three points, five rebounds, a steal and a block). Damp had previously had some success against the Rox (8.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks in the first three games against Houston), but could only manage to stay on the floor for about 17 minutes last night. That said, it wasn’t a very productive night from the center position as a whole. Dampier really struggled offensively (0-3 at the rim), and though Gooden contributed on that end, he struggled defensively.
- Shane Battier reacted pretty dramatically to an out of bounds call (and to his credit, he was pushed in the back by Dirk) with 44 seconds remaining, and he was assessed a technical foul with the Rockets ahead by four. That’s a pretty huge call late in the game, and though the Mavs weren’t able to capitalize on it (though Jason Kidd had a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer), I’m still a bit surprised it was even called.
- It’s odd that the Mavs had a pretty significant advantage in terms of free throw rate, but still coughed up the game. Especially considering that Dirk only got to the line for four attempts, which is a bit more than half of his season average.
- Carl Landry (15 points, including nine of the Rockets’ final 15) and Luis Scola (12 points, 6-12 FG, 13 rebounds) did their jobs. Nothing to see here, just a couple of pros getting done what needs to get done. Move along, sir, move along.
Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.com.