The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 79

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 4, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 9.45.34 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Oklahoma City103.349.420.017.48.7

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

  • With the Mavericks splattered on the Thunder’s windshield, it seems a more appropriate time than ever to reinforce just how limited Dallas’ half-court offense has been this season. This crew has managed to salvage just enough possessions for us to wonder if they’re still capable of more, and yet time and time again these Mavs trip into performances like this one: outings filled with bouts of lame, stagnant offense, designed to flow but caught in the mire. Dirk Nowitzki is a miraculous player, but the team so carefully propelled by its balance last season has very clearly caved in, leaving Nowitzki as the one self-standing tentpole to bear the weight of a drooping roster.
    It’s all fun and games when the play action comes easy, but the virtues of extra passes and open shots don’t mean all that much when a team lacks the capability to consistently create such opportunities. Rick Carlisle has tried to find substitutes for the likes of J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler, but ultimately failed to recreate the same perfect mix of ingredients that brought this same core their own slice of basketball immortality last June. Things could never be the same — not after all of the pieces Dallas lost, and after each of the team’s many additions subtly pushed the Mavs in a different direction. It’s no fault of the newcomers specifically, at least any more than it’s a fault of every Maverick; this was an experiment gone wrong, and though by nature of the process most eyes will turn to the experimenter himself in blame, every beaker and burner and unproductive big man played a part in not playing their part.
  • I’ve been among Brendan Haywood’s more generous supporters, and even I’ve completely run out of excuses and justifications for his poor performance. Perhaps Haywood still holds value in the right context, but at the moment that context seems far too limited to justify his standing or his salary. He actively holds the team back in the vein of an end-of-the-road Erick Dampier, and though he’s only 32 years old, Haywood seems to have sufficiently worn through much of his NBA utility. Haywood has seen Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright — two very imperfect players — take their turn in the spotlight during the regular season, all while he settled in with unimpressive rebounding, far too unreliable defense, and slim offensive relevance. Now he seems to have fully completed his downswing; his play leaves more to be desired than I would have possibly imagined, and he shrivels not in the shadow of Mahinmi, Wright, or even Chandler, but in the context of useful basketball players in the most general sense.

  • One particularly brutal wrinkle of Game 3: Even the Dirk-centric offense too was inefficient and ineffective. The Mavericks have a hard enough time winning games against quality teams when Nowitzki is playing great basketball, but on a night where he shot just 6-for-15 from the field, they didn’t really stand much of a chance. Much credit goes to Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka for their fine defensive work, but regardless of precise cause, Dallas’ offense essentially forfeited.
  • With 10:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, Derek Fisher pump faked a spot-up three-pointer, drove right past Vince Carter, and completed an uncontested layup. I wouldn’t say that possession was totally emblematic of the Mavs’ defensive performance, but it seemed par for the second-half misery form a Dallas perspective.
  • I’ll also say this: While much of the half-court struggle on the offensive end was completely characteristic of this team, the Mavs did have uncharacteristically bad hands. Haywood, Mahinmi, Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion seemed particularly off their game in terms of catching passes in rhythm, a development that all but killed any semblance of ball movement that Dallas was able to muster. Good passes are highly dependent on timing, and although the Mavs had some opportunities to theoretically get looks at three-pointers or in the paint, they saw them swallowed by a Thunder defense that was quick to rotate upon first bobble.
  • Shifting Marion over to defend Russell Westbrook at times proved to be a pretty fruitless endeavor; Westbrook “only” finished with 20 points on 19 shots, but he was still able to get the looks he wanted. That pull-up jumper has been such a consistent weapon for Westbrook, and honestly, when he’s hitting that shot reliably and still getting to the rim with any consistency, he’s a pretty impossible cover — even or a defender of Marion’s talents. For what it’s worth, I thought West has actually done a pretty decent defensive job on Westbrook in this series in general, but with players this talented and productive, sometimes that kind of defense just doesn’t mean a damn thing.
  • It needs to be said again, and many times over: Oklahoma City’s defense was superb, largely because Ibaka, Perkins, and the team at large did such a splendid job of defending the rim. You may not know it from the final tally (Dallas officially shot 61.2 percent at the rim in this particular game, per Hoopdata), but Ibaka shaded most every foray into the paint when he was completely obliterating shot attempts. OKC leads the league in blocks for a reason, and if their defense is as consistent and exhausting as we saw in Game 3, the Thunder are going to have an exceptionally hard time losing a playoff series.
  • I know there were such hopes for Brandan Wright’s role in this series, but even when he’s taken the floor, he’s failed to offer the Mavericks any kind of spark. Maybe Wright was daunted by the stage or the physicality, or maybe the Mavericks’ offense is simply in too much disarray to make use of his talents at the moment. But the lanes to the rim Wright is typically able to find were clogged up by OKC’s bigs, the rebounds went elsewhere, and the entire realm of defense seemed to pass him by. It’s fantastic that Dallas will be able to keep Wright for next season on an amazingly affordable salary, but he clearly wasn’t the x-factor-to-be many thought he might become under the playoff lights. Wright still has oodles of athletic potential, but the understanding of how to operate in tight space and manufacture opportunities just isn’t yet there.
  • James Harden, even on a night where he converts just three of his 10 shots, makes basketball look so easy.
  • Your lone Dallas highlight of the night. I’m sure it completely balances out a lopsided loss in what was hoped to be a series-turning win:

  • The Thunder are so tremendously good at utilizing the secondary break — a stage of semi-transition that has long been good to the Mavericks as well. The only difference: Westbrook, Durant, and Harden all put so much pressure on opposing defenses in the initial transition stage that shooters are subsequently open almost as a default. OKC’s collective speed and finishing strength make defending the Thunder in transition a task requiring as many defenders — and as much immediate focus — as possible, and yet in those few occasions in which the initial break doesn’t end with a powerful dunk or a trip to the free throw line, we see the likes of Harden or Westbrook reverse the ball out to the perimeter for an open three or another cutter. It’s good basketball, and yet another reason that it behooves the Thunder to push the ball whenever possible.
  • One more time: I have no idea why the West-Haywood pick and roll is or ever was a component of Dallas’ offense. What a mess.
  • Much of this season has been about trying to fit Dallas’ new acquisitions into roles vacated by members of last year’s team. Vince Carter looked to be a nice, economical substitute for Caron Butler, while also serving as a double for a spot-up shooter like Peja Stojakovic. Haywood was to be the new Chandler, or maybe that was some combination of Wright and Mahinmi — more athletic finishers who could theoretically stretch the vertical plane in a similar way. And similarly, West was trumpeted as some amalgam of J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, which isn’t at all inaccurate given his skill set.
    But here’s one of the problems with those dual comparisons: West may be as good of a defender as Stevenson and a capable penetrator in his own right, but standing in somewhat of a middle ground between those two players doesn’t necessarily make equipped to replace both. That ultimately proved costly to Dallas’ offense; West was simply never as obsessively focused with getting to the basket as Barea was, shifting the flow of the Maverick offense squarely to the perimeter. The problem isn’t that Dallas is a jump-shooting team, but that because of the lack of penetration partially attributable to Barea’s absence, the Mavs were never able to get the kinds of jump shots they wanted. Dallas needs more effective ball-handlers and better non-Nowitzki pick-and-roll threats going forward, and without those two things, well, Carlisle and his staff may need to restructure their entire offense.
  • Before Jason Terry had officially logged even a second of game action, he had postured for the home crowd and drawn an offensive foul on Russell Westbrook during an inbound pass. That grand entrance boded well for JET’s energy, and upon his entry to the game, he really did make a difference in the flow and functioning of the Mavericks’ offense. Unfortunately, the impact of that energy soon waned, off-set by JET’s curious passing and noncommittal defense. There were to be no heroes in blue on this night, even the people’s champion.
  • Durant finally finding some room to breathe in this series was inevitable, as even the most committed defenders slip from time to time. That certainly happened early in Game 3, not that Marion can entirely be blamed; Durant made some really slick off-ball cuts and curls to find open shots, and though Marion did his best to stay with him, there’s ultimately only so much that can be done to contest a good look from a player that tall, that long, and with a release that quick. From there, it was just Durant being Durant, and though the nature of Marion’s defense didn’t fundamentally change, the results were far more in line with what we normally expect from one of the most gifted scorers on the planet.
  • Where on earth did Marion’s offense go? Whatever happened to Kidd or Carter operating from the post? Or the Terry-Mahinmi pick-and-roll? There were so many small elements of Dallas’ offense that disappeared entirely over the course of this series, to the point where the Mavericks seemed to be completely freewheeling at the time of their implosion. I highly doubt that those little bits of offense would have turned around a game like this one, but a little variety — even en route to demise — would have been nice, no?
  • Kirk Henderson

    Your last point really hits home. Sigh.

  • Pingback: The Daily Peep, May 4 «

  • Jensen

    This game was painful.  And not because they lost or lost big, it just looked like the Mavs were tired (after 2 days home rest) and didn't have the passion to match OKC (with the series on the line).  Way too many bad passes and dropped balls, no hustle on defense, broken or non-existent offensive sets, really early in the shot clock heaves, and a general lack of heart.  This was supposed to be the game where Dallas came out and popped OKC in the mouth early to let them know that we're still here, we're a prideful team that will not go quietly, that until the last Finals game horn sounds we are still the champions.  But last night was much more an ineffectual whimper than a roar.

  • Andrew

    How to get rid of Carter and Haywood while still being nice?

    • Jensen

      If Carter is waived before next season, the Mavs owe him next to nothing and any guaranteed money can be spread over five seasons which equates to next to nothing in terms on the cap.

      Wood is still an amnesty candidate but we'd need a true starting center to replace him.  As hit or miss as Wood has been, I wouldn't love the idea of bringing back Ian to start and Wright backing him up because our rebounding would be terrible.  If the Mavs can make a run at a Roy Hibbert (restricted) or maybe Spencer Hawes or they miraculously put together something worth while for Howard, then we could use the amnesty on Wood.  Otherwise, I think we need to keep him.  Here is the list of unrestricted FA C's this summer and Wood is unfortunately a better option than the vast majority: