Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FT/FG ORB% TOR
Dallas 81.0 109.9 48.5 37.9 25.6 16.0
Portland 100.0 48.5 11.8 27.5 16.0
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The glory of Dirk Nowitzki’s late-game heroism surely isn’t lost in Dallas, but even those who expect Dirk to save the day on a nightly basis should take a moment to appreciate his impact at its most elemental. The instant recognition of a mismatch. The spin away from a double team. The awkward stumble transformed into a graceful release. Nowitzki may not have been perfect throughout Saturday’s game, but after a lion-hearted 28-point, 10-rebound performance, there should be no question of to whom the game belonged. Even after all of these years, these playoff runs, these brilliant games, and these fantastic, singular moments, Nowitzki’s basket-making, fist-pumping routine in the fourth quarter just never seems to lose its luster. Maverick fans have never felt championship catharsis, but it’s nights like this one that validate the viewing experience; Nowitzki is a giant in this game, and to see him at the height of his powers — as he was during an invaluable 16-point fourth quarter burst — is a distinct pleasure.
- That said, the Blazers — particularly LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum — did a tremendous job of bothering Nowitzki as much as possible on the offensive end. Their defensive success didn’t quite last, but Nowitzki’s game-saving performance shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Portland pestered Dirk into an uncharacteristic six turnovers, and held him to 7-of-20 shooting from the field. This isn’t the first time Nowitzki has struggled against Portland, and it may not be the last; although Aldridge is no all-world defender, he has a skill set that makes him uniquely capable of taking on the role of Nowitzki’s primary defender. None of that stopped Dirk from dropping 28, but there’s no question that Nowitzki’s battle for efficiency will be ongoing.
- This is a win to appreciate, but the reasons for concern were quite apparent. Dallas was as fantastic from three-point range (.526) as Portland was horrible (.125), largely because Jason Kidd (24 points, 9-14 FG, 6-10 3FG, four assists, five rebounds) caught fire and Nicolas Batum (14 points, 6-14 FG, 1-7 3FG) now only holds vague memories of what it’s like to be a three-point shooter. The shooting percentages of both players and both teams are likely to equalize, and though it’s not impossible to fathom that Kidd could be a reasonably effective scorer for the span of an entire series, relying on that idea seems like an especially dangerous proposition. Kidd’s scoring production will inevitably wane, and when it does, Dallas will need more than 10 points from Jason Terry and more than six points from Shawn Marion. The unpredictability of the Maverick offense can work in their favor on some occasions (Who would expect this kind of outburst from Kidd?), but not without a caveat of uncertainty; it’s not a matter of which supporting player will assist Dirk on a given night, but if one will at all. There are plenty of capable scorers on Dallas’ roster, but the reason why we applaud Kidd for his 24 points is the opposite of the reason why we applaud Nowitzki for his 28.
- Additionally, Andre Miller (18 points, 7-13 FG, six assists, four rebounds) and Nicolas Batum had a lot of success in the post against the undersized Maverick guards. Playing Stevenson for nearly 20 minutes helped to hedge the impact of those guard mismatches, but their potential remains. Even if those opportunities result in just a few buckets, the balance in this series is so very delicate; Dallas and Portland both have an opportunity to tip the scales through subtler measures, and to get a handful of easy shot attempts every night could end up making a substantial difference.
- Dallas still doesn’t have much of a counter for Aldridge other than Nowitzki’s off-setting scoring. Tyson Chandler had his shot, but Aldridge is able to work his way into prime position and bury hooks over Chandler’s outstretched arms. Brendan Haywood is more capable of battling Haywood in the post, but the fact that Aldridge scored over six more points per 36 minutes while Haywood was on the floor this season (per NBA.com’s StatsCube) is no fluke — Haywood is just as incapable of limiting Aldridge as Chandler is. Shawn Marion even got to try his hand in defending Aldridge on the block a few times, but one nice strip doesn’t change the fact that it would be a horrid matchup. The Mavs need to help against Aldridge as much as possible until they get burned, I fear for Dallas’ ability to keep their heads above water once Portland starts hitting their shots from outside.
- The Mavs attempted 29 free throws in this one, a notable number made even even more so by the game’s low pace. There were only 81 possessions for the night, so Dallas’ 29 free throws convert into a 37.9 free throw rate, an elite mark by league-wide standards, much less by the Mavs’ own. Getting to the line has never been the Dallas’ strong suit, but Nowitzki’s ability to draw fouls turned out to be vital.
- Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy — deemed an x-factor and a difference-maker in this series, respectively — were non-entities. Wallace was active, but seemed phased out; his drives lacked resolve, and his activity on the court didn’t translate into any tangible benefit. Four of Wallace’s nine missed field goals were blocked attempts, a fitting tribute to just how oddly ineffective he was in attacking the basket. Roy had one of his rougher nights, the type of hiccup that has become all too common since his latest return from injury. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, nor should it deter us from still seeing Roy as an important player in this series; he may not be productive every game, but Roy has the potential to spark runs, to break the Mavs’ momentum, and to impact the game as either a scorer or a playmaker. As for Wallace, doesn’t a performance like this in a losing effort only reinforce his status as an x-factor?
- To the Mavs’ credit, they were able to keep their turnovers to a reasonable level. Nowitzki picked up six on his own, but Kidd, Terry, and J.J. Barea only turned the ball over three times combined. Considering just how pesky the Blazers can be in the passing lanes and against ball-handlers (they ranked second in the NBA in opponent’s turnover rate this season), that’s huge.