“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
The Mavs needed this. Not just to avoid going on a four-game losing streak, though that’s certainly important. But even more important than Dallas’ need to not lose was their need to flat-out win. A game like this one isn’t so much about celebrating an end to failure as it is putting together something productive and presenting it in a meaningful way. Success is determined by wins and losses, and though the Mavs have played well for some if not most of 144 losing minutes, it’s crucial that the Mavs find success in 48 minute spurts. In the grand scheme of things, it’s about playing well. But for now, it’s wins and losses that could get the Mavs where they want (and need) to go; anything less than the third seed means a second round collision course with the Lakers, which is no good. As much as I’m sure the Mavs wouldn’t mind soaking up the sun, Los Angeles is not a place you want to be in the playoffs until every other option is exhausted.
So, a nine point win against a team like the Warriors? In which Dallas surrendered a career-high 46 points to Monta Ellis on just 23 shots? It really doesn’t seem like much on paper, but this was kind of big.
First, let’s start with the completely insane: the Mavs’ defense on Monta Ellis was a little bit better than you’d think, based on Ellis’ ridiculously efficient shooting line. He did finish with seven turnovers (a decidedly Monta-like number), and while Jason Terry couldn’t do all that much to slow Ellis down, it wasn’t for lack of effort. I mean, take a look at the shot chart for Ellis. That’s a lot of long two-pointers for a guy who can get to the rim at will, and though I have complete faith in Ellis’ ability to hit the mid-range jumper, that’s pretty much exactly the shot they want Monta taking. He made eight of his 12 attempts from 16-23 feet, which when you think about it, is just stupid good. Some of those were contested and some weren’t, but in terms of shot selection, I think you take those looks over forays into the paint any day. (Only four of Ellis’ 23 attempts came at the rim; that’s about half his season average.)
I mean, there are nights where you make shots, and there are nights where you make this shot (via BDL):
Ellis was the Warriors’ offense last night, as the rest of the roster managed just 38.9% shooting from the field. When Ellis subbed out for a few minutes rest to start the fourth quarter, the Mavs promptly went on a 5-0 run. Without their star in to run the offense or, at the very least, create a shot for himself, the Warriors’ offense completely broke down. Moves and passes on the court were made without purpose, and we were able to see first-hand why Monta Ellis ranks second in the league in minutes per game (41.8 per): the Warriors don’t have any other choice.
We’ve seen similar sequences from the Mavs this season. With Dirk on the bench and Jason Terry and Josh Howard struggling, the Maverick attack was somewhat directionless. Not so against the Warriors. Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 7-11 FG, seven rebounds) wasn’t the team’s high-scorer and probably wasn’t even the most impressive Maverick; Jason Terry led the Mavs with 21 points and six assists, Shawn Marion scored 18 on a wonderful 11 of 19 from the field (and nine rebounds to boot), and Drew Gooden ran the floor with ease, and punished the Warriors to the tune of 16 points on just nine shots. But Josh Howard, the prodigal son, looked to have finally found his way home. His spot-up three-point stroke still needs some work, but Josh chipped in 19 points on 9-15 shooting, with a couple of assists and rebounds. Howard just looked so natural on the floor, as if his season hasn’t been eclipsed by the dark clouds overhead and some woefully inefficient play. You could easily accuse Howard of being a bit of a black hole, and this season has been no exception. But Howard didn’t force much at all against Golden State, and though his two assists don’t really grab your attention, he wasn’t stopping the ball. I’d almost forgotten what that looked like, but Howard’s game was a pleasant surprise.
In terms of offense, it really was a complete team effort. That’s five Mavs with 16+ points, and Jason Kidd (six points, 16 assists, six steals, four turnovers) orchestrated masterfully. The Mavs ran the ball down the Warriors’ throats to start, and beat Golden State at their own game; Dallas forced turnovers, got out on the break, and built up an early lead. It’s one that the Mavs would never relinquish, although the Warriors did bring the game within four points with 5:11 in the fourth quarter.
I know that sounds like this was another one of those games. But it really wasn’t. The Warriors had clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit, but from the moment they narrowed it to three, the Mavs took off. Or more specifically, Dirk did. Nowitzki scored six straight before the Warriors could even respond, and from that point on the Mavs simply matched Monta Ellis and the Warriors shot for shot. For once, the Mavs weren’t dodging bullets in the final seconds, and honestly it was a bit of a relief. I’m all for the dramatic, but once in awhile it’s nice to just breathe.
- Eddie Najera got the start at center, as Erick Dampier sat out another game with a left knee effusion. Najera didn’t contribute much in limited minutes (no points, just one rebound), but did show a bit of his potential value: Najera drew three charges, including two on Monta Ellis. Considering that the only thing that may have kept Ellis from playing the entire fourth quarter was foul trouble, that’s huge.
- I couldn’t be happier with Drew Gooden’s shot selection. With a guy like Drew, the last thing you want to see is him fall in love with his own jumper. I thought that might be the case after watching Gooden drain his first jumpshot of the night just 40 seconds after entering the game. But to Drew’s credit, he used that first made jumper as a weapon throughout the night. Ronny Turiaf and Andris Biedrins were the primary covers for Gooden, and after making that first jumper, they were both tempted to respect it. Gooden made the textbook move and turned to the shot fake, which was more than enough to goad the eager Turiaf and Biedrins into a block attempt. A few drives and a few trips to the free throw line later, and you have one of Drew Gooden’s best offensive nights as a Mav (in terms of shot creation).
- The Warriors really were not accounting for Shawn Marion. Most of his points just came during broken defensive sets or off of very basic pick-and-roll action, but he looked like a serious offensive weapon against Golden State’s defenders.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, two rebounds, two assists) looked completely healthy after that nasty fall on Monday night. And he actually got some decent burn playing point guard, too. Beaubois played 16 minutes while J.J. Barea played just eight, designating Roddy as the back-up PG of the night. There’s plenty to look forward to, but his play is certainly a reminder that his play at the point is a work in progress. I still see him as a good second string point at the moment, but there’s nothing wrong with bringing him along slowly, getting him in-game experience with minimal pressure, and easing him into the life of an NBA point guard.
- Devean George sighting! George scored five points on 2-6 FG for the Warriors, which is about six more points than he ever scored as a Maverick.
- Dirk has ditched the large, bulbous elbow brace he’d been wearing for the last month or so in favor of a more traditional arm sleeve. Needless to say, the thinner “brace” didn’t have any kind of negative effect on his shot.
- That said, Dirk did injure his right thumb, which has since been declared a mere bruise. So much depends on Dirk’s right hand, and if nothing else, his minor injury reminded us of the mortality of it all.
- The Mavs had 32 assists to the Warriors’ 13.
- Corey Maggete had 20 points (8-19 FG) and nine rebounds for GS and C.J. Watson had 14 points on 5-10 shooting. It was probably the quietest 34 points I’ve ever seen.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard. As I mentioned before, Howard not only played well, but played unselfishly. It’s a thing that’s easier said than done for a guy in Josh’s position, and though I know he’s desperate for redemption, that desperation didn’t overcome his fairer basketball instincts.
Shot distribution data from Hoopdata.