“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”
-Edward R. Murrow
For the purposes of this recap, the fact that the Mavericks lost is almost certainly a good thing.
I find it a bit difficult to rail on a team for winning. The explicit goal of playing in the NBA is to win games, and though there are millions of ways to accomplish that feat, the end result reads the same in the standings. All wins are obviously not created equal, but in a game where the Mavs are the victors, their weaknesses and limitations are easily disguised. The shoddy defense, the offensive impotence, the poor rebounding, the lack of consistent execution — all shoved into boxes in the corner of the garage, covered with a sheet, and forgotten.
Until a night like tonight. The defense we’ve come to expect from the Mavs’ strong start has been nonexistent in their last two contests, and any offensive momentum the Mavs have built in the past week was exhausted in the first three quarters against the Phoenix Suns. By the time the fourth came around, Dallas’ offense could do little other than sputter.
I have no intention of denying the Suns their due. They were relentless in their activity and ball movement, and were a huge part of the Mavs’ offensive collapse in the final quarter. They held the Mavs to just 16 points in the fourth on 6-21 shooting. Grant Hill (seven points, five rebounds) played terrific defense on Dirk (19 points, 5-11 FG, five rebounds) throughout, but of course he didn’t do it alone. The Suns’ ability to deny Dirk the ball late in the fourth quarter was absolutely tremendous, and that’s a team-wide effort. That’s Channing Frye cheating over a bit to help in the post. That’s Jared Dudley denying a pass. That’s Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash) making the entry pass just a little bit more difficult. This is how you phase your opponent’s best player out of the game, and the result speaks for itself.
Of course it didn’t exactly help matters that Phoenix was getting to the basket at will. The Suns had 22 attempts at the rim compared to the Mavs’ 12, mostly due to poor rotations in the paint; Erick Dampier’s (12 points, four rebounds) minutes and mobility were limited and Drew Gooden (eight points, three rebounds) looked suspiciously like Drew Gooden. And on the perimeter? The Mavs were lost, doubling Amar’e Stoudemire (22 points, one rebound, five turnovers) in the post at the wrong moments and scrambling to account for Steve Nash (19 points, 11 assists). The mayhem left plenty of shooters open from behind the arc, where the Suns’ collection of marksmen nailed nine of their 15 attempts. 38 of Phoenix’s 73 attempts came from highly efficient spots on the floor, and they added 31 free throw attempts just for the hell of it. That’s three very efficient ways of scoring for the Suns, contributing a total of 82 points on 51 estimated possessions.
Needless to say, that’s not exactly championship caliber defense. And the offense that scored just eight points in the final seven minutes? Well, that’s not even quasi-contender quality. The Mavs are past the point where they “need to figure these things out,” and on to “they really should have figured these things out by now.” Things should be getting easier on the offensive end, and the defensive game plan should be second nature. That hasn’t happened. And though it seems like centuries between now and the playoffs, the post-All-Star stretch will fly by. The Mavs are far from a lost cause, but if they’re to peak at the right time, they should probably get started with their marked improvement relatively soon.
- Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, five assists) looks to be in an offensive rhythm. One can only hope that this is more than a mirage, and that the productive, efficient JET is here to stay.
- Josh Howard’s (seven points, 3-10 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) presence on the court was pretty damning. I so badly want to defend Josh’s play because I think he’s putting in the effort, but his performance is hardly worthy of significant floor time. He’s losing his man on defense, he can’t convert on jumpers or in the lane, and he’s stopping the ball. Rick Carlisle’s in a tough place in managing Howard’s ego, playing time, and trade value, but something has to give.
- The Mavs looked great working against the zone, as they moved the ball to the open area of the floor, drew in the D, and kicked it out. The Suns tried their hand at zoning up for just two possessions early in the game, and two Jason Kidd jumpers later (one two-pointer and one three-pointer), they were back to man-to-man.
- Amar’e Stoudemire had a weird game. He grabbed just one rebound in 27 minutes. He sat out the entire fourth quarter. He floated. He scored .0.84 points per minute. He could get moved, and after the game he was all smiles. If you can make any sense of those events, then by all means.
- Dirk Nowitzki’s last field goal attempt came with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Yikes. To steal a line from Hedo Turkoglu on what could have helped Dirk contribute more down the stretch: Ball.
- I’m convinced that Jared Dudley may be the perfect role player. He works hard, he rebounds, and he completely overcomes his limitations by playing smart defense, limiting his shots to where’s he’s most effective, and moving without the ball.
- Goran Dragic (13 points, 4-6 FG) isn’t a “completely different player” from last year, but he’s skipped a step in his evolutionary process and become an instant contributor. He was much more of a scorer than a playmaker last night, but Dragic is capable of doing both playing either guard position. He continues to find ways to make himself more and more useful.
- Obligatory mention to Louis Amundson (12 points, 5-7 FG, two blocks), whose play kept Amar’e off the floor.
- The Mavs shot .500 from the field, Marion chipped in 15 points and 8 rebounds, Dampier added 12 points, Jason Kidd notched 13 points and six assists and J.J. Barea scored eight points on just five shots to go along with four assists. Combined with Terry’s production, that’s about all you can ask from the supporting cast. Makes you wonder what could have been offensively if the Mavs hadn’t completely fallen apart in the fourth quarter, doesn’t it?
- Black eye on Shawn Marion’s game: Marion missed a fairly basic look from short range with the Mavs down three and under a minute remaining. Dallas then gives up a layup to Steve Nash (not Marion’s fault), and is forced to go into fouling mode (only kind of Marion’s fault).
- Just for fun, look at the contrast between this picture from Tuesday and this picture from last night.
Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.