“The attempt and not the deed confounds us.”
What a confusing game.
There are plenty of definite elements in this particular game on which to focus, but no sensible way to make sense of the entire affair from a holistic standpoint. Dirk is brilliant. Caron Butler is painful to watch most of the time, but occasionally looks like a real contributor. Dallas can execute well in the fourth quarter. The Mavs had trouble against a limited Pistons team. Dallas desperately needs more supplementary scoring. The defense is solid, but the offense has stalled.
So, what exactly is it that we’re supposed to take away from last night’s game? Maybe this is a bit of observation bias, but this game seemed to confirm plenty of what we already knew about the Mavs in still unconvincing fashion. It’s not like this was an overwhelming defensive exhibition, after all, nor was it Caron Butler’s worst effort of the season. It’s just another 48 minutes of data to add to the file, flavored with a Dirk Nowitzki shooting exhibition to taste.
There’s nothing remarkable to be found in these four quarters aside from Nowitzki (42 points, 13-23 FG, 12 rebounds, two blocks). Detroit is uniquely disadvantaged in defending Nowitzki due to their crew of regular bigs: Jason Maxiell is too short to contest Dirk’s face-up jumper, Charlie Villanueva is too easy Charlie Villanuevaed, and Ben Wallace is hardly comfortable guarding a player of Nowitzki’s skill set. I suppose the Pistons could have looked to Tayshaun Prince to defend Nowitzki (manning up Nowitzki with a long, pesky defender is a popular concept with most every other NBA team, but Prince didn’t really guard Dirk at all), but would that switch really have deterred Dirk on a night like this?
Nowitzki wasn’t unconscious, as they say. He was very aware. He was logical and calculating. He picked apart the Pistons’ defense with a deliberate plan of attack. Nowitzki didn’t bank on any miracles, only his usual brilliance in even higher volume. This 42-pointer is nothing for Dirk to write home about, even if he was almost two buckets shy of making half of his team’s field goals and two points short of scoring half of his team’s points.
This game is not to be taken too far beyond face value. Rick Carlisle dubbed the affair a “playoff-style game,” and I’m not inclined to agree. The pace was slow, but you don’t play playoff-style games against the Detroit Pistons. The Mavs’ ability to execute in the half-court against this collection of players doesn’t mean much of anything. They won the day, and every tick in the win column is ultimately important as far as seeding goes, but this win isn’t a feather for anyone’s hat.
- Had Caron Butler not had a terrific start to the fourth quarter, I’d be tempted to say that he had no redeeming value in this game whatsoever. That stretch aside, for every solid defensive play he overextended himself on offense, for every sound decision there were a few questionable ones.
- Something odd about Butler: give him the ball on the wing and nothing — not even light — can escape from his immediate vicinity, but give him the ball on the break, and he actually makes some pretty smart passes.
- Fouling is still Tyson Chandler’s religion.
- The Mavs’ turnover woes could be behind them. Over their last three games, Dallas has turned the ball over on just 9.1, 14.3, and 9.7 percent of their possessions.
- Brendan Haywood’s performance (two points, four rebounds, and two blocks) was far from exemplary, but he was the top Mavs center in this one. Haywood did a nice job of holding down the middle of the zone and contesting shots in the paint, and while he may not deserve praise for simply doing his job, it’s been that kind of season for Haywood.
- Dallas should probably focus on their transition defense. There were several cases in which the Mavs were in position to defend the break, but ceded lanes and open looks to the Pistons. It seems like the Mavs’ defenders are committing too late or not at all, and the zone defense could be to blame for some of that; rather than use the transition defensive front as an opportunity to let the defense set up after an initial denial, the Mavs may be trying to set up their zone too early.
- Ian Mahinmi got some second-quarter burn after Chandler and Haywood picked up two fouls apiece. Not much to tell. Mahinmi missed his one post-up attempt (a lefty hook from the middle of the paint), didn’t grab any boards, and played a few minutes of decent zone defense. There aren’t really any available minutes for Mahinmi behind Chandler and Haywood, but I still don’t think playing him alongside either big would be the worst thing in the world. Particularly on nights when Rick Carlisle’s rotation would otherwise turn to Brian Cardinal.
- It’s not possible to justify or defend J.J. Barea’s (0 points, 0-5 FG, one assist, one turnover) play in a game like this one. If he’s not careful, he could risk being completely squeezed out of the rotation altogether upon Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
- It’s not always called, but Brendan Haywood travels in the post a lot.
- Tayshaun Prince’s (19 points, 9-13 FG, five rebounds) offense really seemed to give Caron Butler trouble. Prince is just so crafty going toward the basket, and his length opened up a number of angles for both layup and pull-up attempts.
- Dirk Nowitzki had five offensive rebounds, including a game-clinching board with 18.1 seconds remaining. Is this real life?
- Jason Terry (16 points, 7-17 FG, four assists) was slow to start, but he eventually gave the Mavs — and by the Mavs, I mean Dirk — enough points to squeak out a win. JET had a rough first half (he made just one of his first seven field goal attempts), but his nine points in the game’s final 8:40 were a nice rebound.