Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FT/FG ORB% TOR
Dallas 95.0 107.4 47.2 18.9 30.4 12.6
Oklahoma City 109.5 63.5 38.1 20.0 27.4
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Moral victories may be the panacea of foolish NBA fans, but I have a very hard time classifying this absurd 48 minutes of Mavericks basketball as anything but. Just days removed from getting trounced by the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets in back-to-back home games, the Mavs were right back where they were last May: fighting down to the wire with an impressive Oklahoma City Thunder team, scraping together runs for a chance to take the game.
They were there. They took it. Kevin Durant (30 points, 10-16 FG, 11 rebounds, six assists, six turnovers, one steal, two blocks) was just cruel and poised and fantastic enough to take it right back, on a somewhat predictable play that was executed with enough interesting wrinkles to bring about its success. Durant hit a hell of a shot and played a hell of a game, but the Mavericks are starting to look like the Mavericks again, and that in itself is something worth celebrating.
The defense still isn’t where it ultimately needs to be, but the effort was substantially better than it was in the first two games. Conditioning undoubtedly plays a role there, but so does attention to detail; the Mavs were making a concerted effort to box out on every trip down the floor and were set on providing a better defensive front. The result was a completely different defensive complexion, as the Mavs actually looked like a team with the capacity to play successful defense. There’s a clear need for more focus and plenty more work on the defensive end, but where there’s life, there’s hope.
Dallas’ offense was a bit sloppier than usual (though that’s reflected more in their shooting percentages than their turnover numbers), but they still posted an improvement of 13.6 points per 100 possessions relative to their average over the first two games. That improvement starts with Dirk Nowitzki (29 points, 9-17 FG, 10 rebounds, four assists, four turnovers), who at times looked shockingly similar to the monster that killed the dreams of each and every playoff opponent he came up against last season. Nowitzki’s improvement gave the Dallas offense a steady base, and from there the Mavs’ stellar passing took over. The ball darted around the perimeter, hitting open shooters and making the Thunder defense scramble. It found its way inside, as Jason Kidd (three points, three assists, three turnovers, five steals) and Jason Terry (16 points, 6-17 FG, nine assists) set up the Mavs bigs for easy dunks. It found its way to Nowitzki plenty, and Dirk kicked it out to the open man after drawing double teams.
Can you hear the moving gears? The faintest sound of metal shedding rust? Dallas is getting closer to business as usual, and even a Durant buzzer-beater can’t quash the pleasantness of that prospect.
- Plus, it was nice to see the Mavs succeeding in what were formerly areas of weakness last season. I’ve professed concern over this Mavs team’s potentially dismal offensive rebounding, but on Thursday night Dallas grabbed 30.4 percent of their own misses. Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, and Sean Williams were all incredibly active on the offensive glass, and often worked in tandem to tip rebounds to one another. That’s hardly the Maverick norm, and it was good to see such a hardened commitment to creating additional opportunities.
Dallas also changed up their defensive profile, as a team that used to challenge shots well and force few turnovers gave up a 63.5 effective field goal percentage while forcing a turnover on over a quarter of Oklahoma City’s possessions. That eFG% allowed will need to come way down, but the inflated turnover rate makes me wonder: is a scrambling pressure defense a better fit for this group than the system previously anchored by Tyson Chandler? Dallas doesn’t have the same defensive infrastructure anymore, but they do have length, savvy, and a handful of capable thieves. This particular game may be misleading given the sloppiness of the Thunder offense, but there’s something to be said about the way Kidd, Marion, and Delonte West created turnovers. Russell Westbrook’s erratic play was partly to blame, but this game could bare the blueprint for a more aggressive defensive style. Maybe that’s not the recipe for the Mavs, but considering the long-term concerns in Dallas’ defensive rotations, it could be an option worth considering.