The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 73

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 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.

  • The Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
  • Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
  • Dominique Jones, making dreams come true:

  • The Mavs were prepared to trap every Celtic pick and roll, and generally did a wonderful job of pushing Paul Pierce out of his comfort zones on his first attempts off the dribble. That said, Pierce is among the more patient wing creators the league has to offer, and he managed to counter the Mavs’ pressure by waiting out the inevitable recovery from the double team and attacking while the defense was in a state of flux. Dallas still got precisely the level of pressure it wanted out of that sequence, but such a defensive effort can only go so far against a player as dynamic as Pierce.
  • Dallas was able to create separation in each of the first three quarters, but the opening frame was actually plagued by some universally sloppy basketball. It takes a special prescription to get otherwise successful NBA players to airball shots within five feet of the rim, but this game managed to find whatever perfectly miserable concoction was necessary to bring about that result. Luckily things cleared up a bit for both sides as the game went on; even the Celtics’ later struggles came in a less embarrassing variety.
  • I know that Boston’s overall strategy was impacted by the limitations in the lineup, but in what universe does it make sense to employ a matchup zone against the team that damn near popularized it last season? Dallas has the playmakers, the shooters, the high post players, the offensive rebounders, the specific anti-zone sets…I know the Celtics were swimming in desperation, but there had to be another way.
  • Ian Mahinmi got the first call to sub in for Brendan Haywood, but Brandan Wright ended up playing more minutes than Mahinmi overall. For all Rick Carlisle’s talk about the fluid non-rotation that governs the minutes of Dallas’ bigs, Wright seems like a fairly consistent choice for regular minutes with Mahinmi providing spot work. It may not always be that way, but the majority of the Mavs’ games seem to feature a relatively ordinary rotation pattern in that regard.
  • Even taking Mahinmi’s strong start into consideration, this seems to be the right call. Both reserve options bring energy and athleticism, but both attributes are presented in entirely different ways. With Mahinmi, Dallas gets a reasonably effective pick-and-roll option who brings a certain nimbleness to his position; he bounces from spot to spot, floating purposefully through his cuts and perpetually toward the rim. Wright’s movement around the court is very different; he slinks behind defenses and into rebounding position before launching into a complete vertical extension. Both are certainly useful within the context of the Mavs’ offense, but on stylistic basis alone they bring different looks with different benefits.
  • There’s no player whom I’d rather see develop a useful offensive game than Avery Bradley. If you’re at all a believer in the power of hard work, consistent effort, or defensive emphasis, then I’m sure you feel the same way. As it stands, Bradley manages to get some floor time through defense (and his team’s positional weakness) alone, but if he could manufacture some degree of offensive utility (serviceable playmaking, better finishing, dependable shooting, etc.), he’d be awfully hard to take off the floor.
  • Related: On this rarest of occasions, Shawn Marion didn’t have to defend an opposing point guard. On his “night off,” so to speak, he had the pleasure of checking Pierce instead.
  • Jones has had troubles finishing consistently against NBA competition, despite the fact that finishing after contact was one of his greatest strengths at South Florida. That was hardly the case on Monday night, which served as a callback of sorts to the Jones of old:

  • The Mavs’ ability and willingness to switch their perimeter defenders is part of what makes their half-court defense so resilient; Kidd may be slowing down, but he’s the best traditional point guard in the league when it comes to managing the 1-3 switch on the defensive end. That’s an area where I see Dominique Jones — who brings size, speed, and strength to the table — acting as a nice heir apparent to Kidd. Jones may not have Kidd’s defensive savvy, but he’s an aggressive, physical defender with solid instincts.
  • Requisite credit to the Mavs for putting this game away in a timely manner, and to Rick Carlisle for pulling his big-minute players as soon as possible. Fortunate timing made this into an easy matchup for Dallas, but even an expected result deserves acknowledgment when it comes to fruition.
  • The Celtics bench is this strange entity that at once seems both safe and concerning, but that determination could be much more clear — and much more dismal — if not for the late addition of Mickael Pietrus. Boston has had a hell of a time finding decent wing help since James Posey left town, but Pietrus is a nice two-way player, a solid perimeter shooter, and on this night in particular, a dominant compensatory rebounder.
  • In light of the random three-point attempt that Yi Jianlian put up in garbage time, I wonder if Channing Frye might be the most reasonable offensive model for Yi in his development. Frye, too, was once a mid-range shooter reliant on other shot creators, but the expansion of his range transformed him into a far more efficient player. Yi is a bit more athletic than Frye, but if he’s likely to remain a jump-shooting big, he may as well embrace the far more efficient looks from beyond the arc.
  • Jason Terry has had some pretty crummy games of late, but this one was damn near spotless: 16 points on 11 shots, six assists without a single turnover, five rebounds, and a solid — if unremarkable — job on defense. Terry will have to do more on some nights than others, but with Nowitzki rolling and the Celtics unable to counter, this kind of performance was exactly what the Mavs needed from their secondary shot creator.
  • Nowitzki rotated really well defensively, grabbed 14 defensive rebounds, and even threw in the rare, legitimate swat for good measure:

  • Jacob

    I like the way the Mavs look in these easy wins over undermanned teams (Celtics and Nuiggets). Yeah, they're games you're supposed to win, but it's good to see the Mavs put them away handily.
    Win or lose Wednesday I'm happy with the Mavs going into the break. Dirk breaking out of his funk is enough for me. Only good things can happen once Dirk gets going and the offense becomes the well-oiled machine we know and love with him as the engine.

  • Sigmund Freud

    Was it just me or did Barkley make other people jump off sides when he said the Celtics would end up winning the game at half time? I know he just says things as a bit a lot of the times, but I think it's something about legends on the game saying something that really gets me.  Maybe Barkley doesn't have as big balls as Dirk after he got his ring.

    • Jacob

      He likes to make bold predictions and keep it interesting. I have no problem with him. Last season he did pick the Mavs as the best team in Texas as well as picking the Mavs over the Lakers in the playoffs.

      It's kind of funny that I found both quotes on Spurs boards. Seems like they care the most about what Barkley says regarding the Mavs.…

      • Shmichael

        I can't stand some of the things he says.  I feel like he just says an outrageous statement.  That way, if he is correct he looks like a genius, but if he is wrong it's all good because it was a bold statement.  That's just plain stupid.

        • Jacob

          I think of it like a sports better that likes taking undervalued long shots, like underdogs at +500 or something. They'll still lose more often than not, but if they win like 20%, he's a pretty good better.