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 closing moments of Monday night’s game offered a disturbing bit of possibility — Jason Terry may no longer be the player who simply does well in clutch situations, but one who demands that the ball go through him. Dallas’ final two offensive possessions were relatively basic high pick-and-roll sets involving Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, and on both occasions JET refused to hit an open Nowitzki on the three-point line (where Nowitzki had only made four of his six attempts on the night) in the name of calling his own number. If Terry were in a position where he had a lane or a step on his defender, that’s a perfectly acceptable decision. Yet in this particular game neither was the case; Terry didn’t necessarily break the play(s), but he sure as hell hijacked it.
- I will say this regarding the Mavs’ late-game performance before turning to more important matters regarding the greater bulk of the game’s body: Dallas manages late-game defensive situations exceptionally well. Rick Carlisle has developed an excellent change-up in his late-game defensive strategy, in which Dallas actually refuses to foul in what are often considered to be must-foul situations. When facing a two or three-point deficit and the game clock under 24 seconds, most teams would foul immediately as a means of extending the game. But Dallas has developed a tendency — in no small part thanks to their ball-hawking this season — to play for the turnover. In the case of this game, the Mavs allowed the Thunder to make an inbound pass to James Harden, who had retreated as far into the backcourt as he possibly could in anticipation of an intentional foul. Yet the foul never came; the Mavs instead sent Jason Terry to stall Harden, and then seconds later attempted to trap him with Jason Kidd. Oklahoma City was nearly forced into an eight-second violation, and when harden attempted to make an outlet pass to escape the turnover, the pass was nearly picked off. It didn’t quite play out to perfection, but I appreciate the thought process — and, honestly, the daring.
- Brendan Haywood was in the game for all of 31 seconds before hobbling off with a left ankle sprain. There reportedly isn’t much residual swelling, but on a night where Brandan Wright was already ruled out via concussion, I though Ian Mahinmi (13 points, 5-6 FG, five rebounds), Yi Jianlian, and Sean Williams did a serviceable job as on-the-spot replacements. Mahinmi was able to give the Mavs a presence of some kind inside through his slashing, and defensively he challenged shots and generally maintained effective positioning. He still has a tendency to get distracted by shiny objects and rotate incorrectly at times, but Mahinmi was able to bring far more than he took away from the Mavs in total. Defending the Thunder is tough without Haywood, but Mahinmi, Yi, and Williams altered a few shots and made a handful of big defensive plays. Not a bad outing for the emergency center rotation, evidenced by the fact that Dallas was consistently within striking distance throughout the game. (One big exception: rebounding. A pretty poor rebounding team rocked the Mavs on the glass.)
- Role players, virtually by definition, lack a certain dependability. Yet Monday night was a rough bottoming out for Vince Carter, who could only stay on the floor for a 10-minute stretch, went scoreless, and posted a single-game plus-minus of -15. That last measure seems a bit exaggerated, but there’s no question that Carter provided little of value. With Delonte West out of the lineup, Dallas needs either Carter or Rodrigue Beaubois to offer something as a guard counterpoint; Beaubois was able to do some of that in small doses, but Carter was wholly ineffective.