The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 25, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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

  • Ricky Rubio (17 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, four steals, seven turnovers) did a terrific job of getting the Wolves good looks both inside and out, be he hardly did all the work. Minnesota’s bigs fought hard to get good interior position and create contact once they received the entry pass, and the perimeter players worked diligently for a slice of open floor. The Wolves’ offensive success was hardly constant, but they at least seemed to know what worked and what didn’t, and sought to capitalize on their in-game strengths. Dallas, despite being a team of mismatch creation and utilization, didn’t quite share in that approach.
  • That said, there was a time in this game when the Mavs were pushing the pace not only as a means of getting easy transition buckets, but also forcing opponents to scramble into mismatches. On one particular first-quarter possession, Rubio was mismatched on Lamar Odom, giving Delonte West a chance to pull the ball out for a fake entry look before darting a pass to a wide open Brendan Haywood for an easy dunk. Haywood’s defender had snuck away to help on Odom, and West had correctly identified not only the mismatch, but its ripple effect.
  • The most succinct explanation possible for why the Mavs withered away on offense: they settled. Rarely is it so simple, but Minnesota applied defensive pressure, and Dallas recoiled. No rally. No response. There were simply too many pull-up threes and too many lazy sets. The Mavs tried to speed up their futile comeback attempt with quick jumpers early in the shot clock, but bricked pretty much every “momentum-changing” shot they attempted. I guess they did speed things up in a sense, merely not in the direction that they intended.

  • Nikola Pekovic (13 points, 4-7 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) and Darko Milicic (eight points, 4-6 FG, seven rebounds, seven blocks) gave the Mavs an embarrassing amount of trouble. Pekovic is not a threat in the high pick-and-roll. Yet there he was, strolling down the lane, only to be deterred by a basket-saving foul. So it was for the Mavs’ all night; every deep catch that Pekovic and Milicic made seemed to end with either a basket, a shooting foul, or both, and the success of Minnesota’s typically ineffective bigs gave the Wolves an unexpected offensive boost.
  • In the second quarter, it looked certain that this would become known as “The Brandan Wright Game.” Wright (nine points, 4-6 FG, two rebounds, two blocks) finished an alley-oop from Terry on a transition possession that nearly imploded, made some huge plays to protect the rim as an off-ball defender, and completely changed the flow of the game with his energy. His presence was one reason — among several — why the Mavs were able to build a solid second-quarter lead, but Wright didn’t see much playing time apart from that early stint, and he failed to show the same burst when he finally got back into the game in the fourth quarter.
  • Shawn Marion (15 points, 6-11 FG, six rebounds, two steals, one block) got off to a decent start, but this is what happens to the Dirk-less Mavs when Marion fades to the background. They managed to build and keep a lead in the first half with defensive stops, transition pressure, and quality shot-making, but Marion either wasn’t in or wasn’t getting the ball when Dallas needed offense most. Marion isn’t even fully capable of functioning as a go-to scorer at this point in his career, but the Mavs needed to go to someone, and their most consistent scorer was a bit uninvolved. Blame Marion, blame Carlisle, or blame Kidd and Terry. Regardless of who’s at the other end of the pointing finger, Dallas needed to get Marion more looks and didn’t.
  • The Wolves were missing J.J. Barea, Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, and Brad Miller, and won in Dallas on ring night by 15. Minnesota isn’t anything more than a playoff contender just yet, but — as has been apparent from opening night — this team competes. They don’t always win, but they scrap back from deficits, and let few opponents take an easy W.
  • Jason Kidd (eight points, 2-5 3FG, eight rebounds, seven assists) didn’t have a great game by any means, but he connected on a few three-point attempts and had a bit of a defensive revival. Rick Carlisle elected not to mismatch in the backcourt for the most part, pitting Kidd on the much quicker Rubio. Although he couldn’t totally prevent Rubio from finding his teammates, Kidd smothered the rookie on shot attempt after shot attempt, turning potential layups into difficult runners and difficult runners into flailing misses. The Mavs didn’t do enough as a team to capitalize on Kidd’s strong individual defensive play, but it’s nice nonetheless to see him really working to be an effective defender again. That hasn’t always been the case this season, but Wednesday was a nice reminder of how stifling Kidd can be.
  • The referees definitely didn’t give the Mavs much help, but the free throw story was very typical: the Wolves made efforts to get to the rim and get up shot attempts inside, and the Mavs — though perhaps discouraged by the lack of early whistles — slowly drifted away from the aggressive driving that marked their first handful of possessions. I’m sure you could argue this call or that one, but the more assertive team being rewarded with calls isn’t new or frustrating in the slightest. It just is.
  • To complement the Wolves’ more aggressive offense and barrage of free throws, Minnesota seemed to catch some pretty fortunate breaks. The Mavs bobbled and deflected balls directly into eager Timberwolf mitts on many occasions, and while those possessions — dubbed “50-50 balls” by head coaches everywhere — didn’t lose this game for the Mavs, they certainly didn’t help.
  • Yi Jianlian (eight points, 4-11 FG, three rebounds) began his stint as an interesting pick-and-pop option, but the Mavs’ offensive stagnation became all too obvious when a high screen from Yi — and resulting perimeter jumper — became the play of choice. That long two is nice to have as an occasional option, but when Dallas ran that same basic action five times in a row, the Mavs slowly realized that there was a reason why the Wolves were playing the odds and allowing Yi to shoot. He can hit that shot, but if the product of consecutive plays is an open mid-range jumper for Yi while guys like Jason Terry and Shawn Marion are marginalized, I’d say the defense has done its job quite well.
  • Haywood has actually figured out how to help out in the Mavs’ transition game, as he continued his unprecedented streak of consecutive fast break dunks without traveling. He looks comfortable running the court and is actually timing his strides, but most importantly — as pointed out by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas — Dallas’ guards are getting him the ball at the right time, and setting him up within two steps of an easy dunk. We’ll call it a group effort.
  • Kevin Love torched the Mavs’ conventional centers (Haywood, Ian Mahinmi) from the outside, and exploited the rangier bigs (Odom, Wright, Yi) with mid-range looks jumpers and interior buckets. He finished with a brutally efficient 31 points on 16 shots, and added yet another piece of compelling evidence to his ever-improving case as one of the top bigs in the league — or the top power forward in the league, if you buy that designation. I know that’s a blasphemous concept with Dirk Nowitzki still breathing, but Love’s offensive production is too daunting to omit him from consideration.
  • Odom left the game for good with 7:25 left in the third quarter, but he had checked out far earlier. There will be times when he can’t get his offensive game going, as was the case in the first quarter, when Odom went 1-of-7 from the field. There will be times where he spaces out defensively, as he did on many a Kevin Love basket. But Odom was stiff and disgustingly complacent; he set screens without rolling or popping, and seemed to shoot every jumper as a deliberate shrug. He knew it wasn’t his night, and rather than attempt to make something happen by any means he could, he had already moved past this performance before it was even completed. Needless to say: that’s not a good sign, and if Carlisle is irritated with Odom’s effort level, he has every right to be.
  • For everyone still thinking that this Wolves team is a run-and-gun, defense-optional outfit, I hope the second half of Wednesday’s game was a sobering argument to the contrary. Minnesota is still learning its way around both sides of the ball, but this team has the capability to play some wonderfully pesky defense. Dallas is hardly their first victim; Minny’s third-quarter defensive surge tipped the balance of this game and later prevented the Mavs from recovering, and similar run-fueling defensive stands have been a key component in the Wolves’ comebacks this season.
  • Kirk Henderson

    I'm having a hard time getting over the fact that there was a 29 point swing in that game. Up by 14, lose by 15. Yeesh.

    Also, Roddy reverted back to that guy you play pick up ball with – amazingly instinctive, but when the game grinds, he has no clue.

  • Andrew

    I always love your blog, it is easily one of the best NBA blogs out there.  Especially this time Rob did a wonderful job of hitting on the important aspects of this game.  Once again, I'm dissapointed with Odom and Terry;  Odom because every offensive play he makes seems to be ill-advised and wacky in someway, and Terry because his defense infuriates me.  I noticed that several times last night, Terry would bite on pump fakes and not be able to recover in time, and his defender would drive right past him.

  • Mit Long

    “Minnesota obviously isn’t on the playoff cusp just yet.”

    Minnesota looks exactly like a team that's on the playoff cusp.

    • Rob Mahoney

      Connection between my brain and fingers short-circuited. You're right, and it's been fixed:

      “Minnesota isn’t anything more than a playoff contender just yet…”


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