The NBA Finals are here. Let’s roll.
Beckley Mason, whose prolific writing can be matched only by his equally prolific hoops game, was kind enough to have me drop by HoopSpeak for a “gentleman’s debate on these impending NBA Finals:
Rob: Well, the only forecasters who are hideously wrong are those who expect a lopsided series in either direction. Something has to give when elite offense and elite defense collide, but the matchup dynamics of this series speak to a hard-fought six-or-seven-gamer. I’m waffling in my prediction of the verdict at the moment — the only outcome that seems as likely as the Heat winning in seven is the Mavs winning seven, or six, or losing in six, or what have you — which is really only indicative of the slightest of margins that separates the performance of these two fantastic teams.
Dallas will have a lot to contend with; their problems go beyond LeBron and Wade diving into the paint, as the offensive complications Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller provide could end up deciding the series. Miami has a lot of focused firepower in their best five-man lineup, and the aforementioned defensive prowess to boot.
But the Mavs didn’t come this far by way of luck or some trickery. Dirk Nowitzki is, as you may have heard, that good. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd provide the framework for an incredibly versatile and prolific offense. I’m still not convinced that the Mavs will win the series, but I fail to see why they can’t. Dirk is as unguardable as any player in the Finals, and provided that Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood can manage some way to negotiate their responsibilities as both on-ball defenders against stretch bigs like Bosh and Haslem and as perfectly vertical monoliths protecting the rim from the James/Wade barrage, I’m not seeing what makes the Heat anything resembling an overwhelming favorite.
Be sure to check out the full dialogue over at HoopSpeak, and look for the OFFICIAL Two Man Game Finals preview tomorrow.
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 Mavericks’ offense was magnificent in the first half. Every movement was crisp and precise, whichmade the Thunder’s stagnation even more apparent. By my count the Thunder attempted just five shots at the rim in the 1st Quarter, with two coming on offensive rebounds. Everything else was on the perimeter. Both sides had plenty of movement, but the Mavericksdisplayed a prescient awareness of where space would be, moving there as it opened up. The Thunder seemed to be seeking open space, and in most cases it eluded their desperate chase. On offense, the Thunder players were looking for opportunities to score; the Mavericks were waiting for opportunities to score. One Dallas offensive possession, in particular, stood out to me. Their second possession of the 2nd Quarter started with a Jason Terry steal. Within 12 seconds, the ball had crossed half-court, at least four passes had been made, three different Mavericks had touched the ball, nearly every Thunder defender had been forced to make a rotation, and Dirk Nowtizki had knocked down an open 16 footer.
In the 4th Quarter the Mavericks’ offense came off the rails. They scored enough to hold on and win, but gave up quite a bit of ground. Instead of the movement and passing that helped them build their lead, which had gone as high as 23 points, there seemed to be a concerted effort to “Get the ball to Dirk.” This resulted in isolation after isolation. A few tough defensive possessions from Nick Collison and the Thunder were back within striking distance.
Kevin Durant had a tough night, as Stevenson and Marion hounded him into a 7 of 22 performance. Durant certainly helped them out by staying on the perimeter. Just 4 of his 22 shot attempts came at the rim, and just one of those 4 was taken before the 4th Quarter. Some may point to his 0 of 8 shooting on three-pointers as a fluke. However, most of those long jumpers were contested and he struggled all game long to find enough space to operate comfortably.
Tyson Chandler completely out-Perkinsed Kendrick Perkins. Chandler finished with a game high 15 rebounds, and stated clearly that the paint belonged to him from the game’s outset. The physicality and nastiness that Chandler has brought to the Dallas back line is what Perkins was supposed to give Oklahoma City. Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if the Chandler to Oklahoma City trade, of two years ago, hadn’t been voided because of his toe injury.
I’m a basketball nerd so I see references and connections everywhere. ESPN’s time out feature during the 1st Quarter, on notable playoff beards was clearly paying homage, intentionally or incidentally, to the now-defunct FreeDarko and the “Hair up There” section in their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. Well done, nameless ESPN segment producer.
The biggest storyline going into this game was Thunder coach, Scott Brooks, holding Russell Westbrook out for the entire 4th quarter of Game 2. The narrative coming out of Game 3 will likely continue to focus on Westbrook; but I’m curious to see what shape it will take. Westbrook was 8 of 20 from the field, and scored 30 points, thanks to 14 free throw attempts. His critics will likely focus on his 7 turnovers and 4 assists. I would be happy to offer criticism of Russell Westbrook for his play tonight, but none of it would focus on the ratio between his shot attempts and Durant’s. A comparison of their shot attempts as an evaluation of his effectiveness misses the point completely. Despite how it’s been framed this week, the problem is not a trade-off between Westbrook forcing the action or Durant getting open looks. It’s a trade-off between Westbrook forcing the action or Durant forcing the action. The Thunder offense created next to nothing in terms of open looks for Durant tonight. That’s an indictment of the entire team and everything leading up to the culmination of each possession, not just Westbrook’s ability and willingness to deliver the ball.
Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FT/FG ORB% TOR
Dallas 85.0 117.6 49.4 26.3 32.6 14.1
Oklahoma City 124.7 60.7 30.0 28.1 16.5
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 most glaring problems in this game for Dallas weren’t that Jason Terry finished with just eight points, that Shawn Marion shot 4-of-13 from the field, or even that the Mavs had trouble at times getting the ball to Dirk Nowitzki in his most comfortable spots on the floor. This one’s on the defense. Terry and J.J. Barea had particular trouble containing the dribble penetration of Eric Maynor and James Harden, but Dallas’ trouble containing aggressive drives goes well beyond those players. When the Mavs defend, they’re the superior team in this series. If Dallas plays defense like they have in the first two games of this series, then every contest in these Western Conference Finals will be a shootout — or worse. Dallas can still win under those circumstances, but why lean so heavily on the offense when given the choice to diversify? Why allow Oklahoma City to post an effective field goal percentage of 60.7 when this defense is clearly capable of being much more limiting?
- Nick Collison and Eric Maynor did a much, much better job of containing the Barea-Nowitzki high pick-and-roll, effectively neutralizing that sequence in Game 2. Nowitzki and Barea obviously found other ways to generate buckets, but Collison and Maynor did a great job of denying Barea those free drives to the rim while still deterring a pass to an open Nowitzki. Defending these two at the top of the floor can be pretty brutal for opposing defenses, but the Thunder adjusted well to take away this particularly effective aspect of the Mavs’ Game 1 offense. This is a bit more in line with what we should expect from Barea for the remainder of the series; he’s capable of contributing double-digit scoring, but the Thunder’s pick-and-roll D is much better than they let on in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals.
- How Kendrick Perkins was able to play even 24 minutes is legitimately curious to me. The notion that trading for Kendrick Perkins would make the Thunder into contenders was understandable, but in this series he has no practical role whatsoever. Perkins can’t effectively defend Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ only interior scoring threat. He can’t stick with Tyson Chandler, as evidenced by TC’s frequent alley oops in transition, semi-transition, and even in a half-court setting in Game 2. Perkins doesn’t rebound particularly well, isn’t defending an Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol type, and is legitimate dead weight on offense, despite what his bizarre make on a contested mid-range J in Game 2 would have you believe. He’ll likely maintain his starting role, but as this series trudges on, I’d expect Perkins’ minutes to diminish even further in favor of Collison, Serge Ibaka, and the small lineup OKC ran for stretches in Game 2.
- DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd have done the best work defending Kevin Durant in the first two games of this series, but I’m sure we’ll continue to see plenty of Marion matched up against KD, if only because the other options are so horrible.
- James Harden is doing an incredible job of exploiting whichever defender is put in front of him, and making me eat my words in the process. He’s been significantly better off the dribble than I thought he’d be (or really, Terry has been significantly worse in defending him off the dribble than I thought he’d be), but it’s the pick-and-roll play and flat-out shot making ability that have elevated Harden’s production. He’s been completely fantastic, and I’ve been completely wrong about his potential to make an impact in this series.
- Appreciate your patience — been a weird past few days. Ian will be taking care of recapping duties for Game 4, and I’ll be back to regular posting after the weekend.
It didn’t take much of a discerning eye to pick out the one name conspicuously absent from the full Mavs-Thunder series preview. James Harden is a legitimate NBA difference-maker, and yet he was swept under the rug in the preview treatment, set aside as a virtual non-factor in a battle of supporting casts that I believe Dallas is set to win. On the surface level, that’s a pretty clear disservice to Harden’s skill and production; he’s not a player that should be discounted without reason, and he’s been instrumental to the post-Jeff Green Thunder’s success.
Yet in this series, I just don’t see where Harden moves the needle.
Potentially, Harden has the capacity to act as something of a mediator for OKC — a Manu Ginobili to the occasionally disrupted balance of the offense created by the Durant-Westbrook dynamic. He doesn’t need to ever reach Ginobili’s level of production or efficiency in order to function effectively in this role, but merely provide the skill set in order to bring everything to a stylistic middle; he can spot up to space the floor, initiate the offense and find the open man, and slash down the lane for easy scoring opportunities. Creating an offensive flow centered around the perimeter positions may not be ideal to most coaches, but it can — and has — worked for the Thunder, and has the potential for further growth as Harden, Durant, and Westbrook mature as players. Essentially, Harden can actually be the player that Sam Presti had hoped Jeff Green would turn into, only with greater individual skills and a better fitting game.
He’s just not quite there yet. The Thunder offense is potent, but the equilibrium between OKC’s top perimeter players isn’t perfect. When Harden handles the ball, Westbrook is often reduced to a non-factor, stuck in the no man’s land of exiled point guards who can’t shoot but lack control of the possession. When Westbrook handles the ball, Harden is strictly a cutter and a shooter, an effective role but one that doesn’t encompass the entirety of his abilities. The balance can work for stretches, and sometimes the two-man approach of Westbrook-Durant or Harden-Durant is so effective that the third wheel hardly matters, but the lack of a fully actualized attack makes the Thunder very beatable. There are elements that need to be considered and countered, but a score doesn’t seem imminent on every possession.
The Mavericks defenders need to be aware of Harden’s presence, but the lack of overwhelming synergy between Durant, Westbrook, and Harden opens a window for him to be addressed directly. When Harden controls the ball, Dallas can treat him as they do Westbrook, albeit with more respect for his jumper. He doesn’t have Westbrook’s explosiveness, which allows the Mavs to play him closer on the bounce while still having Tyson Chandler as a safety net at the rim. When he’s playing off the ball, he’ll have to contend with Dallas’ strong close-outs. The Mavs are among the best in the NBA at getting a hand in the face of spot-up shooters (they ranked sixth in that regard during the regular season, and currently boast the second best points per possession allowed on such attempts in the postseason, per Synergy Sports Technology), and they’ll run at Harden (and Durant, for that matter) in particular to contest his three-point opportunities. Harden still has the capacity to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket or make a play in those instances, but Dallas holds the capability to take away Harden’s spot-up opportunities and much of what he accomplishes off the dribble. There’s no certainty that Harden will be kept under wraps for the entirety of the series, but his influence will likely be limited.
Harden is a fantastic player, but he won’t see the same opportunities in this series that he did against the Grizzlies. Dallas is a far more conservative defensive team, and while that results in less direct pressure on ball handlers and the like, it also keeps those playing off the ball in check, forcing them to convert a difficult shot from a neutral position rather than constructing every possession as a distinct scenario of advantage vs. disadvantage. Memphis is fantastic at jumping passing lanes and attacking the dribble, but the result is either a forced turnover or an open man on the weak side. Dallas grabs steals from time to time, but their system puts emphasis on denying the paint and contesting already difficult shots rather than forcing turnovers with aggressive ball pressure. The style of the Mavs’ defense just isn’t as accommodating to players like Harden, and while he still demands attention in the scouting report, the preventative means are in place to contain him.
The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Oklahoma City Thunder Official Western Conference Finals Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season
I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.
Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.
*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.
The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.
As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.
Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.
Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.
Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.
**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.
In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.
If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.
That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.
Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FT/FG ORB% TOR
Dallas 92.0 132.6 74.0 19.2 20.0 20.7
Los Angeles 93.5 40.9 23.2 30.6 17.4
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- That, ladies and gents, was one of the most dominant performances in NBA playoff history. Dallas posted an effective field goal percentage of 74.0% — seventy-four percent! — which, according to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, was the highest mark in the playoffs by any team of the past two decades. The Mavs won by 36 points, but the actual margin was even larger; if we adjust the final totals of both teams to the 100-possession standard, Dallas was actually 39.1 points superior on a pace-neutral scale. That’s an absurd, gaudy dominance that nears Bambi vs. Godzilla territory.
- It was all possible because of the ball movement. Dallas did such an incredible job of finding open space and making the right passes in this series, and as I’ve noted on several occasions, it was that continued work toward the extra pass and the better shot that destroyed any hope L.A. had of mounting an effective defense. The Lakers embarrassed themselves with their inability to stick with the Mavs’ shooters, but they were only put in a position to fail because the passing was so crisp and the cuts were so perfect. Dallas — though they look absolutely brilliant at present — had fallen victim to their own stagnant offensive execution at various times during the regular season, but that’s not even a conceivable outcome with this team right now. Execution is playoff currency, and the way the Mavs created shots on offense was borderline magical. The Lakers were flummoxed by the sight of a moving ball, and incapable of defending pick-and-rolls, flare cuts, or really anyone at all.
- Not that Dallas’ defense was anything to scoff at, either. Some of the same lethargy that haunted L.A.’s defense crept into their offensive game, but it’s not as if shots went up unchallenged or passes deflected themselves. The Mavs were true defensive aggressors, and forced the Lakers into a 17.4 turnover rate while holding them to a 40.9% effective field goal percentage. Kobe Bryant had a successful first quarter run, but that short burst aside, the Lakers had absolutely no continuity. They scored a bucket here and a bucket there, but the Mavs were scrambling so incredibly well in their half-court defense and demolishing one of the league’s most impressive offensive outfits in the process.
- There should be no question that the better team won this series because frankly, when the Mavs play like this, they’re better than almost any team in the league. Dallas essentially played a perfect game to cap off an incredible four straight victories, and while there should be understandable doubt regarding the Mavs’ ability to sustain their current roll, the Dallas team of this series was a championship contender and then some.
- Jason Terry (32 points, 11-14 FG, 9-10 3FG, four assists) was positively stupendous. This wasn’t “one of those nights” or the “hot hand”; on May 8th, 2011, Jason Eugene Terry activated his final Chakra. He reached out and touched the divine. He shifted into another state of consciousness, or was possibly existing simultaneously in two realms, his body a conduit for some greater power. This shooting display was a spiritual experience, the likes of which can change lives and convert men in their heart of hearts. The Lakers didn’t exactly put up much resistance, but the confidence and the consistency in JET’s jumper was otherworldly, or self-actualizing, or centering, or dimension-shifting. I’m not exactly sure which, but one simply knows when they’ve witnessed something miraculous.
- Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 7-7 FG, 6-6 3FG, three steals) wasn’t too bad, either, and continued in his efforts to make me look like an absolute fool for wondering if he would bear fruit for the Mavs. Stojakovic was perfect from three-point range in six attempts, and like JET, his composure is admirable. He can fire off a corner three even against a hard close-out, and in those situations when he thinks the defense might get the better of him, he doesn’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor or swing it back to the top of the key. Stojakovic is a shooter, but he isn’t exactly consistent with the typical limitations spot-up shooter archetype.
- The Maverick reserves scored 86 points, matching the Lakers’ collective total. Unreal.
- Blowout losses do crazy things to people. Like Lamar Odom:
- And Andrew Bynum:
- I can understand the argument that Odom’s foul wasn’t quite deserving of the flagrant 2/auto-ejection, but Bynum’s is completely classless, uncalled for, and unacceptable. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t receive a multi-game suspension to kick off the 2011-2012 season for his momentary lapse into insanity. Bynum is typically a pretty reasonable, aware guy, but the sight of J.J. Barea getting yet another uncontested drive to the rim drove him into some kind of madness. Then again, he had mostly himself to blame for Barea’s previous effortless drives, so maybe he was just taking out his frustrations on a mini, Barea-sized avatar of himself. Or, y’know, he just lost his mind.
- Bynum’s flip-out wasn’t wholly negative though, because it did help Barea (22 points, 9-14 FG, eight assists) — who shared the game’s tri-MVP honors with JET and Peja — score an elusive made bucket on a flagrant foul. Even after taking a huge forearm hit from Bynum, Barea’s floater went up and in, resulting in two points for Dallas, two subsequent free throws, and possession of the ball. Not exactly an everyday occurrence.
- On a related note, it’s still baffling to me that the Lakers would commit so much pressure at the three-point line to the task of defending Barea with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood setting a screen. Is it so hard to roll under screens to encourage Barea to shoot jumpers while letting the big man sag in the paint? Chandler and Haywood aren’t going to catch at the free throw line and pop a jumper, and if J.J. concedes in order to take a three, that’s ultimately a good thing for the Laker defense considering the circumstances. Yet L.A.’s defenders got hung up on screens time and time again with Bynum hedging 20 feet from the rim and Pau Gasol unable to leave Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure who was responsible for the pick-and-roll blunders for the Lakers, but they empowered Barea as a creator and made him into a significant problem in this series.
- But let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Barea was in this game and this series. The pick-and-roll opened the door, but it was still up to Barea — who has often functioned as the Mavs’ built-in scapegoat, but has set that honorary title ablaze — to finish his looks and find his teammates. He scored over and around Bynum, he worked for creative passing and scoring angles, and had Terry not connected with an unseen power, he would have been the best guard for either team in Game 4, despite taking the court alongside two surefire Hall-of-Famers.
- Also: attempting to defend Barea with Ron Artest was hilarious.
- As were Artest’s offensive pursuits:
- Gasol vs. Nowitzki used to seem like an actual argument, but that debate segued into Bryant vs. Nowitzki, and now Nowitzki vs. pretty much anyone. To the victor go the spoils of public opinion, and after championing the Mavs through their improbable sweep, Dirk is walking on sunshine.
- I doubted the ability of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to defend against LaMarcus Aldridge’s versatility, and then doubted their ability to defend against Bynum’s sheer size. I was horribly wrong, and both players have been defensive rock stars. Bynum scored six points and grabbed just six boards in Game 4, his second game in this series where he had both under 10 points and 10 rebounds. Bynum still had a pair of successful performances, but that’s the expectation. He played up to par in two games, and was held far below his expected performance in two others, including the final outing of the Lakers’ season.
- Oh, by the way: the Mavs happened to make 20 three-pointers (in just 32 attempts), setting a new playoff record. No big deal, just making history over here.
- Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook found one constant in the Mavs’ three-point shooting aside from the hard work of Terry and Stojakovic: the influence of Dirk Nowitzki. Yet another example of how the man makes things happen, even on a day where his statistical output isn’t quite what you’d expect.
- Brendan Haywood made two consecutive free throws. That’s an omen of the apocalypse, right?
- I’m still in disbelief over Gasol’s regression. Nowitzki did a fantastic job of defending him both on the perimeter and in the post, but even with that in mind, the degree to which Gasol was neutralized is startling. He’s been the most important Laker all season long, but throughout both of L.A.’s postseason series he’s failed to be aggressive, failed to execute, failed to make an imprint on the game in almost any regard. Basketball fans will again call him soft, but really, Gasol was just bad; it has nothing to do with his masculinity or his ability to grind in the post or something equally ridiculous, but simply an odd reluctance to assert himself. He was certainly too passive, but also underwhelming even when he did get touches down low or in the high post. I don’t mean to make the man a scapegoat — what ailed the Lakers went far deeper than Pau Gasol — but he was so unbelievably absent from this series.
- 32 assists on 44 made field goals is pretty insane, as was the fact that the Mavs had assisted on 10 of their first 11 buckets, and had notched 20 dimes by halftime. This is truly unparalleled ball movement.
- Dallas’ worst quarter in Game 4: a 9-of-17 third frame in which they played L.A. to a draw at 23-all. The Lakers started out the second half with some defensive stops, and for a matter of moments, looked like they actually belonged on the court on Sunday.
- Jason Kidd deserves a round of applause for 1) his well-publicized ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, and 2) his tremendous defense against Kobe Bryant in this series. Kidd didn’t even rack up all that many assists in Game 4, but he was a contributor during some big Maverick runs (the 10-0 sprint to close the first half, for example) and did those mythical little things.
- However, it was the Mavs’ additional defensive pressure that really threw Kobe off of his game. Dallas was somehow able to pull off the feat of committing an extra defender against Bryant overtly at times (direct double team) or more subtly at others (a floating defender, waiting to help), and yet still scamper back to cover the open man. Kidd, Stevenson, Stojakovic, Terry, and Barea deserve a ton of credit — they managed to hound Bryant a bit and recover nicely to avoid weak side exploitation.
- For the sake of finding a silver lining, L.A. did do one thing relatively well: rebound. The Mavs should have dominated the raw rebounding totals given the incredible number of Laker misses. Instead, they took just a 40-39 advantage, thanks largely to L.A.’s 30.6 offensive rebounding rate. I don’t want to glorify a series of missed put-backs in a game that the Lakers essentially forfeited, but at least there was a slight display of effort in creating extra possessions off the glass.
- Stojakovic was an oddly effective defender in this series. He faced a series of tough assignments created by weird matchups or on switches, but held his own against Bryant, Odom, Artest, and even Bynum and Gasol (via denying entry passes) on occasion. I’d settle for Stojakovic not providing opponents with a clear point of attack, but at various times in this serious he made legitimately beneficial defensive plays.
- The same is true of Marion, but due to his superior defensive ability, I don’t look at his performance in this series in such rosy terms. Dallas clearly didn’t need huge performances from Marion due to their hot shooting, but he ultimately took the back seat in defending Kobe Bryant to Kidd. Marion still had effective stretches, but just wasn’t quite as good as one may have expected given Marion’s track record in defending elite wing players. Even at this age, he can do better, and if the Mavs play the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll have to.
- The Lakers made five three-pointers in the entire game. The Mavericks made at least four pointers in each quarter, including seven in the second and five in the fourth.
- I still don’t have the foggiest idea why we didn’t see more of Corey Brewer in this series. DeShawn Stevenson didn’t play all that well on either end of the court, and Brewer is definitely capable of shooting 1-of-5 from three but while providing better slashing, more energy, and better defense. Plus, when opponents are leaving Stevenson to double elsewhere, isn’t that enacting the fear of the offensive burden that Brewer might bring?
- Haywood grabbed more rebounds in 17 minutes of action (eight) than every Laker except for Gasol (who also had eight).
- Kudos to the folks running the entertainment at the American Airlines Center. During several rounds of the “BEAT L.A” chants that broke out in Game 4, the folks running the soundboard killed everything. They cut the music, the sound effects, the video clips — they let the fans unleash in support of their team with only silence as the backdrop. The AAC can be characterized by its non-stop audio-visual stimulation (sometimes to the detriment of the basketball experience), but these moments of unadulterated fan fervor were pretty awesome. I know it’s easy for fans to get psyched when their team is on the verge of sweeping the defending champs, but the MFFLs showed up on Sunday and the AAC entertainment staff let them scream to the rafters.
- Terry’s rapport with the fans is tremendous. You know JET eats up the response to his antics, but the man makes a conscious, ongoing effort to keep the fans involved and energized, even when things like long TV timeouts take away some of the game’s natural momentum. Rather than loiter around the scorer’s table to wipe off his shoes an extra time or do a quick stretch, JET took the court solo to energize the fans. He stalked the sidelines and called to the Maverick faithful. Opposing teams, coaches, and fans may find him irritating, and I can understand their frustration with JET’s posturing. Yet there’s a reason he holds such a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans, and it goes beyond the timely shots and the fourth quarter performance.
- More record fun: Terry’s nine three-point makes tied an NBA playoff record, but the lopsided nature of the game prevented him from securing that record-breaking three. Drat.
- This was likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach, and it’s a damn shame that his players couldn’t have taken that into consideration when they were spacing on pick-and-roll coverage and practically rotating away from open shooters. Jackson’s the best there ever was, and though this loss likely won’t be even a footnote of a footnote of a footnote on his coaching career, it would have been nice to see his team go out with a bit more fight. For the record, I don’t think Jackson was a victim in this loss or this win-less series; there are a number of technical problems that held L.A. back, and that responsibility falls on the coaching staff. Still, Phil wasn’t supposed to go out like this, and even if the Lakers committed some strategic blunders, the biggest problem in Game 4 was the embarrassing lack of effort.
- Predictable dynamic of the post-game press conferences: though plenty of questions were lobbed up for both Dirk and JET to answer (they took the podium together), Dirk remained silent while Terry offered his analysis and reflection. In several cases, Nowitzki didn’t even look up; he merely stared straight through the table in front of him during the question and the response both, allowing Terry — ever the talker — to handle every single question purposed for both of them to answer.
2MG reader Tyler Copple dropped me an email with an interesting not on Pau Gasol’s performance in this series that is certainly worth passing along:
I recognize this is the layman “box score” which doesn’t show everything available, but even the advanced box score metrics are generally just aggregates of the basic stats. [Gasol's] TS% is down ~7% because he’s taking three fewer shots, of which he generally makes 2. That explains the dip in his points contributed number and his dip in PC/PU (points contributed/possessions used).
His rebounds are up marginally and his TRB% is up 2%, he’s getting to the line more, and he has more assists.
The only divergence in his shot chart is:
3-9 ft (reg): 1.7 FGM – 4 FGA
3-9 ft (semis): 1 FGM – 1.5 FGA
So the three fewer shots per game are being sacrificed in the 3-9 foot range.
If Pau was scoring 4 more points per game would he still be receiving as much blame as he is? His numbers would be near identical to his season averages if he was.