“Wise are they who have learned these truths: Trouble is temporary. Time is tonic. Tribulation is a test tube.”
-William Arthur Ward
Defense wins championships. It also wins regular season games against the Clippers.
There were fleeting moments in which the Halloween Dallas Mavericks resembled the same team we saw lose to the Grizzlies just two days prior, but for the most part, they took advantage of their matchup with the Clippers by running the damn show. This L.A. squad is talented, but not all that successful in many regards. Dallas made that awfully apparent in their systematic dismantling of the Clips on Sunday, their second impressive all-around victory to date. The Mavs’ schedule hasn’t thrown them any particularly tough outs just yet, but the team defense has been commendable enough to look past the relative standing of Dallas’ opponents. Right now, this team is performing well against the opponents the NBA schedule-makers have put before them, and that’s all anyone could ask of them.
The Mavericks’ defense is elite right now. Their struggles in other areas are puzzling, but their overall defensive effectiveness has been a rather pleasant surprise. I’m not sure how much you can take away from that effectiveness given, again, the opponents that have been on the Mavs’ slate thus far, but it’s certainly to Dallas’ credit that opponents like Charlotte and Memphis are no longer having huge offensive nights at the Mavericks’ expense. We’ll learn a lot about the sustainability of this remarkable defensive success over the next three games (a home-and-home with Denver, followed by a game against Boston), but defensive rebounding aside, Dallas has shown up in just about every defensive regard. They’re forcing opponents to play to their weaknesses (like giving the Clippers license to shoot from distance, for example), swarming anyone who gets into the paint, and attacking the passing lanes whenever possible. This Mavericks team looks to have the makings of a pretty tough defensive outfit, and that evolution goes far beyond anything that Tyson Chandler brings to the roster.
Chandler helps, of course. But the Mavs’ improved defense has relied just as much on Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, and even Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, and Caron Butler. Great defenses often have a keynote talent, but for Dallas it’s been a team-wide effort that’s led to such resounding success.
The Clippers scored 88.3 points per 100 possessions. Think about that. Don’t even look at the differential, or the offensive rebounds for now. Just that 88.3 mark, and what it could mean. Validation or refutation is coming, but one way or another, this was a tremendous defensive showing.
The Clips’ effective field goal percentage was a pitiful 36.6%, and none of their top five shot-takers hit more than 33.3% of their field goals. There’s no statistical smokescreen there, just impressive, preventative defense. Oppressive at times, purely reactive at others, but limiting in almost every regard. The Mavs used their fouls wisely, played their opponents expertly, and contested almost everything. The open looks L.A. was able to create were the product of either calculated risks (Baron Davis threes, etc.), busted plays leading to busted coverage, or second chance efforts. The initial defensive action was strong all night, but once the Mavs flocked to defend any and every Clipper who made his way into the paint, they too often exposed their soft rebounding on the weak side. Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Craig Smith capitalized, as each of those Clipper bigs grabbed 3+ offensive rebounds. That could stand to change. But the initial effort that created rebounding opportunities through errant looks in the first place? Rick Carlisle could probably stand to get used to that.
We all could. Maverick fans, NBA fans, basketball fans, and casual Dallasites alike. This could be a rather fantastic team if they continue defending like this, and it should be fun to watch the Mavs try to live up for the precedent they’ve set for themselves. Dallas is 2-1, but the defensive aptitude they’ve shown thus far means more than any record ever could.
- Last week, Jason Kidd stressed the potential impact of the Tyson Chandler alley-oop, a statement which I downplayed. I may have been wrong. Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin aren’t exactly premier rim protectors, but the Chandler oop made several appearances on Sunday, including one on an unexpected lob pass from Caron Butler. The Butler-Chandler oop almost looked like a design play, so keep an eye out for it in the future.
- Blake Griffin is such an impressive passer. His vision, willingness to pass, and anticipation are all so impressive, especially for a rookie big. Saying that Griffin’s going to be special is very much implied at this point, but I’ll add that he’s going to be a very special passer, and perhaps already is.
- Caron Butler did a much better job of attacking the rim, and he was rewarded with 10 free throw attempts. It’s fine for Butler to only shoot 40% from the field when he’s putting up 17 points on 10 shots, but when he goes shot-hunting with a less efficient approach? That’s when he hurts the Mavs’ offense more than he helps. The spot-up jumpers are fine. The drives to the rim are great. Everything else — the jab-steps, the crossovers, the step-backs — he should do without.
- Fouling is Tyson Chandler’s religion, but in this outing he was only a part-time practitioner.
- The Mavs really improved their box-outs in the second half, after the Clips hit the offensive boards particularly hard in the first half. Considering the effort on the defensive glass was one of the more glaring problems in the Mavs’ first-half performance, it’s nice to see that kind of adjustment from Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, and Brendan Haywood.
- Baron Davis can be an infuriating player to watch for a variety of reasons, but some of his feeds are just phenomenal. Davis threaded a majestic bounce pass through several Mavs defenders to a cutting Craig Smith at the 6:13 mark in the second quarter, and if you watch it at just the right angle, it might change your life.
- Every basketball fan should love Eric Bledsoe.
- Some weird first-half free throw shooting for Dallas, who shot 7-of-15 from the line as a team in the first 24 minutes: Marion was 0-2, Terry was 0-2, Nowitzki was 1-3, Butler was 4-6, and Chandler was 2-2. Spooky.
- Haywood was fantastic. He was a no-nonsense finisher good for a few free dunks, far and away the Mavs’ leading offensive rebounder (he had four OREBs for the day), and chipped in 10 points and three blocks. He ran the break very well, helped maintain balance when Dallas shifted to more bench-centric units, and even drew an offensive foul. Just a terrific showing from Haywood, who outplayed Chandler for the first time this season.
- Jason Kidd hit a 66-footer. No big deal.
- Jason Terry’s shot selection has been a bit odd. He’s not shooting a poor percentage, but a few attempts stick out to me in particular over the course of the first three games. For some reason, JET has taken to occasionally pulling up for a long (the longest, really) two-pointer while tucked away behind a high screen. If he makes it, cool. It’s still the least efficient shot in basketball, and though Terry doesn’t have a hand in his face per se, it’s still a shot the Mavs should work to avoid.
- Shawn Marion’s defense was fantastic yet again (he forced a one-man 24-second violation around the 9:45 mark in the fourth quarter), but his offensive contributions (12 points, 6-11 FG) were welcome. He also had a gorgeous assist to set up Brendan Haywood for a dunk after luring a last-ditch-effort Griffin off his feet.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: There are a lot of solid options and no clear-cut favorites for Gold Star honors, so I’ll go with Brendan Haywood. His defense was fantastic both on the low block and against penetration, and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Haywood so active on the offensive glass. He was working hard to create extra opportunities and crushing home every one he got in his mitts. That’s refrigerator material to me.