The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 98, Los Angeles Lakers 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 7, 2011 under Recaps | 10 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-05-07 at 11.31.55 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0119.555.235.825.014.6
Los Angeles112.249.413.429.512.2

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • I did not even remotely anticipate having to tell Mavs fans to take deep breaths for all of the best reasons after the first three games in this series, but here we are. Inhale. Exhale. Never underestimate the heart of a chicken before it hatches in the cart before the horse, and all that. Dallas is in a great, great place — a greater place than one could possibly have imagined coming into this series — but just for the sake of finality, let’s see what happens in the remainder of this series before we start looking forward to who the Mavs may potentially meet in later rounds. Celebrate the first three wins and praise the Mavs for this incredible accomplishment, but be patient and be mindful of the opponent at hand. Dallas has certainly been the better team in this series, but L.A. isn’t quite finished yet.
  • It’s adorable to watch the entire country appreciate Dirk Nowitzki (32 points, 12-19 FG, 4-5 3FG, nine rebounds) as if he were a great novelty rather than an established wonder. Yes, he’s that good. Yes, pretty much all the time. It’s terrific that Dirk’s public narrative is being rewritten with every big shot and every heady play, but really, it never should have come to that. The degree of diametric star-praising and star-targeting that goes on by NBA analysts is absurd. There is room for shades of gray; every Maverick loss isn’t an indictment of Nowitzki’s heart or toughness or ability, just as every win isn’t necessarily an affirmation (though due to just how fantastic Dirk is, this is largely the case). There’s plenty more nuance to the game than the goings on in the superstar strata, and while I’d be the first to tell you that Nowitzki is a truly phenomenal player, I’d also be the first to remind that playoff success is inherently a team accomplishment. We use rings and playoff wins to gauge the careers of individual players against each other, but the Mavericks’ shortcomings over the years have not been part and parcel to Dirk’s. He’s had some bad games now and again. Perhaps he struggled in this series or that. Yet overall, Nowitzki is one of the top playoff performers of the modern era and of all time, and while I’m happy to see the narrative turn, the root of the problem that bizarrely diminished the postseason repute of one of the game’s top performers still exists. Think for yourselves and evaluate for yourselves — stories from the ether are great, but the best antidote for over-the-top narrative exaggeration is our own capacity to reason.
  • From ESPN Stats and Information: “Dirk Nowitzki finished with 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the floor as he notched his 10th straight playoff game with 20 or more points. Nowitzki feasted on Pau Gasol offensively as 27 of his 32 points came while being guarded by Gasol. This is not a huge surprise as Nowitzki is 19-of-25 from the floor for 45 points against Gasol this series.” On the flip side, Nowitzki has done a tremendous job of defending Gasol in this series. Dirk held a clear matchup advantage, but I had assumed there would naturally be a little more give to balance Dirk’s take. Hasn’t been the case so far, and as much as we can blame Gasol’s complacency on offense and whatnot, Nowitzki has been there, denying post position, battling on the back-down, challenging everything, and finishing the play with a box out.
  • L.A. benefited from a great performance by Andrew Bynum, a more efficient night from Kobe, and Lamar Odom’s best showing in the series thus far — and still lost by a 7.3 efficiency differential. The Laker offense performed well — perhaps even well enough to win — but no one in this series can even attempt to guard Dirk Nowitzki effectively, nor defend the Mavs on the whole. Dallas has executed relentlessly on offense in this series. All of the blown pick-and-roll coverage, the inability to cover the corner man after a swing pass, the confusion in rotation? That’s all coming because the Mavs are pressing precisely the right buttons to make the Laker defense squirm. Dallas has the personnel and the ball movement necessary to really create problems for L.A.’s D, independent of the Lakers’ effort or execution. Dallas’ offense is just rolling right now because the ball-handlers continue to make smart decisions and those moving off the ball are cutting hard. The Lakers are a step behind, rotating late and getting stuck in coverage, and frankly incapable of keeping up with the extra pass at this point. That final swing, kick-out, or dump-down is what has broken the Lakers’ backs in this series, and it should offer Rick Carlisle such sweet relief to see his team working and working and working through every possession while the opponents share looks of exasperation.
  • Peja Stojakovic (15 points, 5-11 FG, 3-7 3FG) is everything the Mavs had hoped he would be, and while his outside shooting was great, his defense was just as important. Stojakovic refused to be exploited; whether guarding Kobe off the dribble or Odom in the post, he did a terrific job of challenging shots to the best of his ability. Had Peja’s defense not held, today could look very different for both teams; Shawn Marion (two points, 1-7 FG, eight rebounds) wasn’t exactly on the top of his game, and Stojakovic was able to act as a key cog in Dallas’ perimeter attack because his defense allowed him to stay on the floor. Peja nailed so many big shots in this game, but he was only able to because of the big stops he earned on the other.
  • As of right now, Jason Terry is averaging a 21.0 PER for this year’s playoffs, the highest mark of his career. He’s dropping 16.8 points per game (with the sandbagging pace of the Portland series keeping the numbers reasonable) on 49.1 percent shooting. He’s posting his highest playoff true shooting percentage since 2005. It’s not quite right to say that this is the Jason Terry of old, because honestly, this version is better. As fantastic as it is to see JET’s jumper falling again, what has impressed me even more (in both this series and the previous one) has been Terry’s unwillingness to settle. He’s driving to the hoop more often and more effectively than he has at any point during his career, and it’s those baseline drives and runners in the paint that have taken his efficiency to new heights…along with the fact that, yeah, he’s just hitting more shots more often. Bravo on both counts, JET.
  • Aleksthethird

    Excellent points, particularly no. 2. One of the few things I dislike about the NBA is the way players (and teams) are labelled or stigmatised after one game, one series, one season. It happens all the time and it us to see games with preconceived notions, which takes away from the experience. To some degree this is unavoidable, because human brains work with pattern recognition, but in the NBA it's very extreme. I don't understand why players have to be a narrative or an image, it's so much more fun when you just watch what happens instead. (I realise this last sentence is damn close to “watch the damn game”, so, I apologize, but it's true.)

  • Hector N Rosales

    Players and team become abstractions like that through history, but the past obviously isn't the only factor for evaluating future performances and Dallas is proving that. Because in this series (even though Dirk individually has always been great, not matter what you heard) right here and right now the Mavericks have a special chance on Sunday to build the proper momentum that hopefully propels them into the Finals this summer.

    On the note of player labels however…

    It seems (as far as the media is concerned at least) that on national TV Pau is transforming into Dirk's former “soft” label and it has to be because Dirk is literally destroying the Spaniard on both ends of the court. Its great to watch for all us avid Laker-Haters out there

    GO MAVS!!!

  • http://twitter.com/KirkSeriousFace Kirk Henderson

    Even J.A. Adande can't help himself, writing yet another story about the Lakers struggles instead of the Mavs rise. A week of this nonsense, with not near enough credit to the fact that a bunch of 30-somethings who have never reached the promised land are fighting and playing with near wreckless abandon. The offense, the effort, the fluidity is just amazing.

    MFFL

  • http://www.facebook.com/ajleff Andrew Leff

    The difference in Game Three was the same as in the first two. The Mavs had good passing (assists on 70% of field goals), good outside shooting (41.4% from downtown), and they limited turnovers. They even forced two LA mistakes in the final four minutes that turned into four Mavericks points. That late turnover by Fisher–big credit due to Chandler–was the difference in the end. Check it out:

    http://bit.ly/jgjjI4

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  • Big12SouthChamps

    I think one of the biggest differences in this Mavs team than in previous seasons is that the Mavs are playing real team basketball. Unlike the 2006 Mavs that were dominated by a very good Heat TEAM (not just Dwayne Wade), this is a team not just the Dirk Nowitzki show. This team has a great bench that allows the starters to get some rest. I think a lot of credit should also go to Rick Carlisle who is doing a great job of putting the players where it will work the best. If the Mavs stay focused they can win game 4.

    • Trippoli

      i hated those days of iso-based offense. even when we run the iso, it starts closer to the hoop, and there's a good chance it results in a kick out and the open man ends up with an uncontested shot. didn't used to see that. props to dirk for evolving to where passing out of the double team is a strength instead of a flaw. we're seeing a finely tuned team offense operating at a very high level. and there's very little let up, if any at all, when the bench takes the court.

  • kehntangibles

    Laker fan here. I thought we were the better team coming in to the series, but we were not. I'm going to spend a long and bitter offseason stewing over everything we did wrong (it's a long list!), but this 4-game abomination has just as much to do with everything that the Mavericks did right. Congratulations – you were the better team this series and please obliterate Miami or Boston if you face them in the Finals.

    I'm going to go watch some porn now, because at least that way I'm assured of a happy ending.

  • Glove

    Lakers fan here saying congrats to the Dallas Mavericks on a great series and phenomenal 3 point shooting. Good luck in the next round. The better team won.

    • Eduardo Roman

      I saw the Kobe post conference, and he is a real gentleman, I'm a Mav fan, and I'm so happy with the win but I think the LAL deserve better, specially for Pau, Kobe and Jackson.