You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- This game was a prime demonstration of Vince Carter (14 points on nine shots, three assists) as a post-up option. It’s not about the buckets scored, but the opportunities created; Dallas ran their offense through Carter on the block in the second and third quarters, and VC was able to respond by drawing fouls, getting to the rim, and attracting plenty of defensive attention. Carter was such a convincing post threat that the Thunder left Dirk Nowitzki wide open in the opposite corner in order to blitz him down low. That kind of rotation barely seems possible, but mismatches like the ones Carter was able to create often force opponents into drastic measures.
- Nowitzki (26 points, 10-16 FG, 1-5 3FG, six rebounds) may not have matched last year’s playoff performance in magnitude, but Monday night was a return to normalcy. The last time these teams met, Dirk looked rushed and uncomfortable. He hesitated before shooting open jumpers, and didn’t put much effort into establishing position at “his spots” on the floor. This performance was “vintage” Nowitzki, if they do indeed make months-old vintages. His footwork, ball fakes, and spins were all in playoff form, and though Dallas didn’t lean on Nowitzki’s offense as heavily as they did in the postseason, he was every bit as efficient as the Mavs could have expected him to be. I hope you enjoyed the first of what will undoubtedly be many brilliant showings for Nowitzki this season.
- Also nice: Nowitzki was only credited with three assists, but he made quick, productive passes all game long. The Thunder were able to rotate and negate the impact of some of those feeds, but we should never tire of seeing a scorer of Nowitzki’s ilk as such a willing passer. It’s a beautiful thing.
- Russell Westbrook’s final shooting marks (8-for-20 overall, 0-for-2 from beyond the arc) sound about right, but I’m legitimately surprised that he only had two turnovers. To Westbrook’s credit, he didn’t settle for that many jumpers. To the Mavs’ credit, they ate Westbrook alive when he got deep into the paint, attacking both his dribble and his release. Westbrook’s style and overstated clash with Kevin Durant will bring him plenty of heat as it is, so it’s a bit unfortunate that he’s currently fueling the fire with poor, inefficient play. It happens to every great player from time to time, but Westbrook’s rut is horribly timed.
- The Mavs’ offense featured some good movement in the first quarter, but an all too familiar lack of shot making. Their effective field goal percentage in the first frame hovered around 35 percent as a result, a horrid mark that would even impress the consistently errant New Orleans Hornets (NOLA has averaged a 41 effective field goal percentage thus far this season). But the Mavs turned things around in a hurry with minor gains in the second quarter and a barrage in the second half, all of which brought the Mavs up to a far more respectable 52 percent by game’s end. That single-game mark hits in top-five territory, and though we haven’t seen any proof that the Mavs are capable of sustaining that kind of shooting over multiple games with their new-look roster, we’ve now at least seen their capability.
- Jason Terry (15 points, 6-12 FG, 3-5 3FG, three assists) hit some big, momentum-stealing shots and had some nice setup passes, but I’ll walk away from this game most impressed with his defense. Terry was tasked with guarding Westbrook, Eric Maynor, and James Harden at different stages of the game, and he did a terrific job of staying in position to challenge shots without fouling. He squared Maynor up and refused to be beat off the dribble. He funneled Westbrook into the help of Brendan Haywood. He challenged Harden’s shot as the shot clock ticked toward zero, but didn’t allow himself to be baited into a foul. Just smart, simple defensive plays by Terry all night long, which allowed him to function as hugely positive influence during his 32 minutes on the floor.
- Haywood and Ian Mahinmi combined for 16 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks in almost 48 total minutes, and both did a terrific job of shading as help defenders. Dallas hedged hard on pick-and-rolls all night to keep Westbrook and Harden in check, and while that strategy left them temporarily vulnerable to rolls from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder were hardly able to work the ball to their open bigs. The Mavs’ rotations were very sharp, and while Rick Carlisle and his staff will undoubtedly find some areas for improvement in their breakdown of the film, good judgment calls were the unexpected norm. Bravo, Mavs — now let’s see it 60 more times.
- The two centers also combined for seven offensive rebounds, and were a few bobbled balls away from several more. Oklahoma City hasn’t been a great rebounding team this season, but the Mavs were able to keep pace with them nonetheless, and prevent that area of the game from tilting in the Thunder’s favor.
- I don’t know that Lamar Odom (eight points, 2-4 FG, five rebounds, two assists, one turnover) was really any more comfortable on Monday than he was a few days prior, but some open opportunities — a parting of the seas after an offensive rebound, and a runout for an and-one layup — certainly helped matters. I suspect Odom will take what he can get to jumpstart his offense, and the fans at the AAC certainly seemed appreciative of the hustle and buckets he was able to provide.
- Brian Cardinal logged just one minute and 39 seconds of court time — all is right with the world again, and the Mavs’ incredibly likable reserve can return to the seldom-used role to which fits him best. Let’s never again speak of the days when he played for 10 or 15 minutes a game for Dallas, eh?
- Shawn Marion clanged his fair share of runners, but he also finished with 17 points and did a fantastic job of beating Durant to his spots. KD is as tough a cover as there is in the NBA, but Marion held his ground and forced Durant to compromise his. It’s always odd to say that a player should be credited with game-changing defense when his assignment hit for 27 on 21 shots, but such is life when playing against one of the best scorers — nay, best players — in the league.
- At the risk of sounding redundant: Delonte West sure knows how to work the screen-and-roll game. Better yet: he knows how to work away from screens to his advantage, sending overplaying opponents into a rushed counter-rotation.
- Thunder rookie Reggie Jackson — a pretty impressive prospect for OKC to have in their back pocket — missed three straight three-pointers in about a 40-second span. Thabo Sefolosha was surely missed — though not by the Mavs, who snuck in a chuckle at the rook’s expense.