The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 2, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-02-02 at 9.58.03 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-Play – Shot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas100.086.038.129.820.013.6
Oklahoma City95.043.840.730.614.3

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

  • Not many teams on this side of the Orlando Magic have managed to put together the kind of inescapably horrendous shooting performance that sank Dallas on Thursday. The Mavs shot just 8-for-38 in the second half, with the occasional trip to the free throw line providing the only non-JET source of reliable scoring. It would be incredibly convenient if there just one element to blame for Dallas’ offensive implosion — disrupted ball movement, a lack of effort, a mere bad shooting night, or the tilt of a team missing its star. Unfortunately, the best explanation is “all of the above.” This was a true team effort, with every possible variable ganging up on the Mavs for a perfect storm of offensive impotency. (To put things in perspective: Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Rodrigue Beaubois combined to shoot 28 percent from the field. Ouch.)
  • A testament to how bad things have become for Nowitzki (eight points, 2-15 FG, eight rebounds): The Thunder aggressively trapped the ball handler on pick-and-rolls involving Dirk. Nowitzki is certainly trying his best to revert back to the player we all know he can be, but the impossible fadeaway jumpers are finally starting to live up to their billing. That bouncing ball has no mercy for Dirk whatsoever, and it simply refuses to cooperate with Nowitzki’s efforts to provide his scoring talents to the Mavs’ championship defense. He’s still making some smart passes, working hard on defense, and clawing for rebounds, but Nowitzki isn’t suited to be a glorified hustle player. This is one of the greatest offensive players the NBA has ever seen, and if anyone out there has any idea how to help him find his way home, I’m sure Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle would be all ears.

  • The officiating in this game was certainly notable — so much so that Mark Cuban just couldn’t help himself from speaking up. There were definitely a few calls that didn’t go the Mavs’ way that easily could have, but there were also a few “crowd reaction” non-calls on plays with no actual foul (vertical extension at the rim by a Thunder defender, etc.). This game was physical at times, but the overall sloppiness of Dallas’ offense likely compounded the frustration felt by both the fans and the players themselves.
  • Serge Ibaka (four points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks) often plays the part of an impact defender, but on this particular night he was completely dominant. Ibaka shaded slashers and drivers all night long, and his frequent, demonstrative rejections may have also played a part in Dallas’ second-half hesitancy. Every player in the Thunder’s rotation contests shots effectively, but having Ibaka in the paint to clean up mistakes and handle switches with ease makes scoring on OKC an incredibly difficult proposition. The Mavs may not have helped matters with their woeful — and I do mean woeful; it’s rare to see Dallas miss so many shots so badly — offense, but Ibaka and the Thunder D deserve plenty of credit.
  • Shawn Marion (12 points, 6-15 FG, 10 rebounds, four turnovers) hyperextended his — err, Kendrick Perkins hyperextended Shawn Marion’s right knee in the second quarter, a potentially tough break for a Mavs team that has already been on the wrong side of a few. Marion has been one of just three players — along with Jason Terry and Vince Carter — that has been able to provide Dallas with consistent offense, and though his knee injury didn’t keep him out of the game on Wednesday, a perpetually hobbled Marion could spell trouble down the line. This season almost demands an in-or-out verdict in regard to injury; there just isn’t much time for rest and training on this season’s compressed schedule, meaning that if Marion’s hyperextension really is a problem, it could very well become a lingering one. Luckily, the Mavs seem to be taking an incredibly conservative approach when it comes to the health of their players (as we saw with the decision to nix Brendan Haywood for this game with some tightness in his lower back), and that precedent would likely continue through Marion if need be — even if the offense completely falls apart in the short term. No Maverick is more crucial than Marion is right now, but his offensive and defensive import will only be magnified in the postseason.
  • The matchup zone was a big part of the Mavs’ fourth-quarter rally (How insane is it that the Mavs were able to stage a rally while in the middle of a 5-of-19 shooting quarter?), and it’s very clear that the Thunder have no structured response to that kind of defensive coverage. Oklahoma City was eventually able to create some mismatches on the wings after taking their sweet time settling in against the zone, but Dallas can certainly be pleased with the trouble that alignment caused Kevin Durant. Marion had done a really terrific job of running through screens to keep up with Durant for a majority of the game, but the late switch to zone both threw the Thunder offense for a loop and relieved Marion of his unenviable defensive duties. If the Mavs had been able to get a few buckets to capitalize on their effective defense and — later — the Thunder’s fortunate misses, this would be a much shorter recap with a decidedly different tone.
  • Terry (25 points, 7-10 FG, 2-4 3FG, two assists) was brilliant. The box score will tell you that no Mav was more productive, but the tape speaks to JET’s resourcefulness above all else. He drove into the lane and created open shots under pressure. He baited Russell Westbrook into fouling him on a three-point attempt. He turned a sure pull-up jumper into a nifty, high-percentage lay-in. He converted a contested baseline J from behind the backboard. He handled the ball a ton, and though he had a few turnovers and few more near-turnovers, JET did far more right than wrong, far more good than bad.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (nine points, 3-13 FG, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) and the Maverick guards weren’t getting killed by Russell Westbrook (33 points, 11-24 FG, four assists, six rebounds, two steals, six turnovers) per se, but it’s hard to argue with the 33 points that Westbrook was able to put up on just 24 shots. The defense on him wasn’t great, but it was present; the Mavs’ guards fought to recover on Westbrook after being picked off on the perimeter and the bigs stepped up to contest his shots, but it was often too late or not enough, if only by the slightest margins. Westbrook converted some pretty tricky finishes from all kinds of angles, and capped it all off with a dagger three-pointer with Shawn Marion in his face. He couldn’t help but stray into the wild with some of his shot attempts and turnovers, but in total Westbrook put together a very productive, efficient performance.
  • Ian Mahinmi (six points, nine rebounds, four offensive rebounds) was naturally inserted into the starting lineup in Brendan Haywood’s absence, but it was Brandan Wright (12 points, 4-5 FG, three blocks) who ended up being the man in the middle — or really, the man streaking all over the court — for Dallas by game’s end. Mahinmi had a solid game (and was particularly effective on the offensive glass), but Wright found his sweet spot on both ends: He cut hard to the basket and came up with some truly impressive finishes (a feat made even more impressive by Ibaka’s dominance and OKC’s length in general), and did a spectacular job of defending the rim in both man-to-man and zone coverages. Wright’s athleticism wasn’t showcased very well in Golden State and New Jersey, but his time in Dallas has been a legitimate revival for his career. This is the prospect that warranted the No. 8 pick in the 2007 draft, and he’s already proven to be more useful in limited minutes than a lion’s share of reserve big men are in far more generous amounts of playing time. It’s now time to not only applaud Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, and Rick Carlisle for nabbing Wright for the league’s minimum salary, but for signing him to a two-year deal for the league’s minimum salary. Well played, gents.