Last night, the Mavs had the distinct pleasure of being audience to their own implosion. They could only watch helplessly as the Utah Jazz forced turnover after turnover, catapulting themselves into transition and bringing the Maverick attack to a grinding halt. Dallas failed to execute in the half-court on a very basic level for nine minutes of the fourth quarter, which was more than enough time for the Jazz to put on a spectacular display of effort and intensity.
It’s a shame, really. The Mavs had played three quarters of good basketball to that point, and trailed just one point to the Jazz going into the fourth. Dirk Nowitzki had already totaled 26 points and Jason Terry, 18. Dallas had just closed the third quarter with a 7-2 run, and seemed poised to open the final frame with a bang. Not so. The Jazz countered with a quick 6-1 surge of their own, and though the Mavs were able to withstand the forces of gravity momentarily, the downfall was imminent.
This time around, it wasn’t the Mavs’ unwillingness to put the ball in the hands of their best player, but simply their inability; Andrei Kirilenko (13 points, 6-7 FG, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals) played stellar defense on Dirk to close out the game, and he used his speed and length to make even the most routine entry passes an impossible endeavor. Dallas was only able to attempt 14 shots in the quarter to Utah’s 23; the fourth quarter yielded seven turnovers for the Mavs and seven offensive rebounds for the Jazz. The Mavs have had trouble securing defensive rebounds on a few occasions this season, but in no situation all year has their weakness been more glaring. Kirilenko, Paul Millsap (25 points, 10-16 FG, nine rebounds, four blocks), Wesley Matthews (seven points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks), and C.J. Miles (17 points, five rebounds) simply outworked the Mavs on the glass, turning what could have been a decent defensive performance into a pretty miserable one. Utah’s first shot was typically a difficult one, but the array of layups and dunks for second chance points gave the Jazz an easy opportunity to put up points.
Paul Millsap was especially brutal, and his influence was more far-reaching than just the offensive boards. Millsap showed a bit of range in knocking down mid-range jumpers, which made him a perfect lineup substitution for the injured Carlos Boozer. And although Millsap proved to be plenty capable of knocking down the open jumper when spotting up, he didn’t let it distract from his inside game. This is a man that makes his living down low, and though he showed the kind of shooting ability any team would want from their power forward, he has no delusions about what his role is on the court.
But Millsap was countered by the brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 11-16 FG, eight rebounds), who dominated the first three quarters. But Dirk didn’t attempt a single shot in the fourth, due to his own ability to seal off his man, some poor passing from the perimeter, and Kirilenko’s relentless defense. If Nowitzki gets the touches he needs in the fourth, it’s likely we’d be looking at a very different result. But the Jazz have seen that play out once before, and were determined to disrupt the flow of the Mavs’ offense by denying Dirk. It’s hard to argue with that theoretical logic, and based on the result, it’s hard to argue with Utah’s actualization of that logic.
January was a rough month for the Mavs, and they certainly haven’t kicked off February in style. But Rick Carlisle’s strengths as a coach lie in his ability to adjust and adapt, which should be reason enough to hold onto hope going forward. We’ve seen how well the Mavericks are capable of playing on both ends of the court, and though the last few games have been rough, the Mavs aren’t all that far from putting together complete wins.
- Rodrigue Beaubois challenged a Paul Millsap layup attempt in the first quarter, and went down hard. He was able to walk off the court, and was warming up with the team at halftime, but he did not return. He’s listed as day-to-day with a bruised back, and could play as early as Wednesday.
- Jason Terry (19 points, eight assists, four steals) looks so much more comfortable as a starter than he did as a reserve. He’s giving the Mavs a huge spark offensively right now, and the contrast between his play now and earlier in the season is astounding. Enduring cold stretches is just part of being a shooter, but it looks like things are finally warming up for Terry and, in turn, the Dallas offense.
- A great battle between the point guards, as Jason Kidd (11 points, nine assists, two steals, two turnovers) and Deron Williams (18 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, two steals, four turnovers) both turned in impressive nights. Williams was obviously the better of the two last night, as he is on just about every other night. I can’t say enough about Deron’s game…it’s nearing the point where the difference between him and Chris Paul is a matter of preference rather than performance.
- Utah’s big fourth quarter run, keyed by their offensive rebounding, was actually achieved by going small. Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Millsap found a way to dominate the Mavs’ starters (but with Gooden rather than Dampier) on the glass, which doesn’t bode well. Rebounds are supposed to be the concession when teams go small, but the Jazz found a way to turn it into a strength.
- Eddie Najera is finally getting a little bit of garbage time burn. He’s played a total of four minutes between last night’s game and Saturday night’s. He’s also attempted two shots and made both, showing his shooting touch from the corner in making a three and a long two. He’s not exactly making the splash that Humphries is in Jersey, but the deal was never intended to bring in matching basketball talent.
- Josh Howard played just 11 minutes, and shot 1-4 from the field with two turnovers. Somebody change the “Josh Howard Doomsday Clock” to ten minutes ’til.