You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- First, the relevant information that transcends the scope of this game: Dirk Nowitzki left the game around the nine-minute mark in the second quarter after landing just a bit awkwardly on one of his trademark jumpers. There were no defenders in Dirk’s immediate vicinity, no flailing limbs to throw Nowitzki off balance or planted feet to disturb his footing. He just landed, winced, and left the game. The injury didn’t appear serious, but it very well could be. We’ll know more when Nowitzki gets an MRI later today.
- Even after losing Nowitzki for the night, Dallas did a great job of keeping pace with a Thunder team that was anxious to attack in transition. Kevin Durant (28 points on 21 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers, two steals, and two blocks) was his typically fantastic self, but the Mavs rallied to keep pace while going on some very effective defensive runs. The fourth quarter belonged to Dallas; the Maverick zone held the Thunder to just 12 points in the frame, as Durant and co. shot just 4-of-18 from the field for the quarter while turning the ball over five times. The zone is probably more effective with Shawn Marion and Caron Butler on the wings in place of Nowitzki anyway, and Dallas went into full lockdown mode in a game-turning fourth quarter. In most cases, I’m quick to dismiss the overvaluation of the fourth (over any other quarter, anyway), but in this case there was an observable change in momentum in addition to a literal turn on the scoreboard. After 36 minutes played, the Mavs were down two, and after a dominant defensive performance, they won the day by 10. Influential enough for me.
- When playing zone, Dallas seems to have found the perfect balance of ball pressure and reactive defense. They force opponents into tough shots by restricting access to the paint and allowing opponents to kill themselves with outside shots, but have a knack for attacking a ball-handler at just the right moment, or completely swarming a passer with limited vision at the perfect moment. The Mavs’ match-up zone looks like a legitimate long-term weapon, and though the playoffs provide a completely different preparation dynamic, zoning up seems to confuse the hell out of regular season opponents.
- Interestingly enough, the Thunder started off the game with a little zone of their own. Unlike earlier zones that the Mavs have seen this season, they didn’t seem too affected by it. Progress!
- The Mavs are still killing it from the three-point line. DeShawn Stevenson and Butler combined to shoot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 47.8% from distance. OKC shot a decent enough 35.3% from the three, but the discrepancy in percentage and attempts helped the Mavs almost double the Thunder’s three-point makes.
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jason Terry struggled through the first three quarters — both with Nowitzki in the lineup and without him — but came alive in the fourth. JET shot 5-of-8 and made his only three-pointer of the night in the fourth, which was home to 11 of Terry’s 13 points. This isn’t a terribly positive habit to fall into, but it’s nice to know that Terry isn’t so affected by a shooting slump as to miss a chance to soak up the bright lights.
- Jason Kidd (10 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, two turnovers) surged appropriately. With Nowitzki out of the lineup, the offense relies even more heavily on ball movement and spacing, which provides Kidd a perfect stage to showcase his showrunning talents. Kidd excels when given the pieces to run a balanced offense, and though the Mavs are unquestionably a lesser offensive team without Nowitzki, Kidd is a tremendous asset to have on a team with limited shot creation that could help Dallas keep their collective head above water if Dirk is forced to miss a little time.
- Terry’s defensive improvements are pretty subtle, but continue to impress me. As is usually the case on the defensive end, it’s all about the little things: stopping a Russell Westbrook fast break by attacking his dribble, closing out just a tad more quickly…I’m sure proper defensive effort is a big part of it, but Terry nonetheless deserves credit for figuring out how to boost his all-around effectiveness.
- Alexis Ajinca found some minutes in Nowitzki’s absence, and looked alright. Interesting to have a player with his height and length on the wing in the zone alongside Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler. Also: Ajinca hit a three-pointer, the first in his NBA career.
- Marion and Butler are crucial offensive contributors even under normal circumstances, but for the duo to add 41 points on just 37 shots is certainly notable. That’s more Marion than Butler, but Caron had a solid all-around night.