The Difference: Los Angeles Clippers 94, Dallas Mavericks 75

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 3, 2012 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

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

  • Jason Kidd missed Monday’s game — and is sidelined for the next three, as I understand it — with a groin strain. That’s a bummer, but it’s a valuable opportunity for Delonte West to quickly work himself back into game shape. It’s a trial by fire (or by burn?), sure, but getting a fully effective West back into the regular rotation is a top priority at this point. Dallas needs his shot creation, shooting, and defense badly, and although West was brilliant on Friday against Orlando, Monday was perhaps a more accurate reflection of his game.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois struggled even more mightily. Rick Carlisle seems fully prepared to take the bad with the good when it comes to Beaubois, but it’s these kinds of performances that will likely change his mind. Beaubois’ overdribbling was a big problem, and on a night when Dallas was already struggling to establish consistent ball movement, having the ball lodged on one side of the floor as Beaubois looked to break his man down was pretty painful. Also: in the first quarter, Beaubois threw one of the worst swing passes I’ve ever seen, missing a wide open Jason Terry by a good five feet.
  • At no point did this particular game look good for the Mavs. Even their more adequate runs were laced with turnovers and defensive lapses, and their very occasional buckets weren’t really created as a result of any kind of offensive process. It’s good to know that Dallas can still put up 75 points with every bit of beneficial offensive structure burned to the ground, but I don’t suspect they’ll win many games with offensive execution so lackluster and defensive effort so wanting.

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The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 109, Dallas Mavericks 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 22, 2012 under Recaps | 12 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.092.645.121.08.711.7
San Antonio110.654.012.528.613.8

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 basketball gods had seemingly arranged a game for Andrew Bynum to dominate, and yet just about every Laker but Bynum (nine points, 4-5 FG, seven rebounds) dominated. Some credit goes to the Mavs for throwing an extra defender Bynum’s way quickly, but this was no defensive victory; as much as I would love to shower praise on Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright (who, to be clear, did play effective defense), Bynum’s lack of shot attempts was purely a product of the Lakers’ otherwise dominant offense. It certainly didn’t seem as if L.A. was too focused on establishing Bynum on the block via re-post — and it didn’t matter a bit, as the Lakers’ off-ball movement ended up deciding the game.
  • In Shawn Marion and Delonte West’s absence, Jason Kidd was forced to take primary on-ball responsibility against Kobe Bryant (30 points, 11-18 FG, five rebounds, four assists, four turnovers). He honestly did what he could; there have been games this season where Kidd’s defensive effort is fleeting, but this was not one of them. He bodied Bryant when he could, tried to deny him the ball as much as possible, and yet few of his efforts produced favorable defensive outcomes. There were many instances in which Kidd played textbook defense only to be bested by Kobe being Kobe — a demonstration of dominance that at once must be both maddening and shrug worthy. Bryant worked hard to free himself up for quality shot attempts, and though not all of his shots were carefully chosen, it was hard to fault this particular process (particularly when juxtaposed with Bryant’s occasional ball-dominating ways).
  • Both teams started this game with a ridiculous, extended rally of mid-range jumpers. The Mavericks merely failed to adapt once those shots stopped falling, and as for the Lakers — well, I’m not sure those shots ever did. It was just jumper after jumper after jumper, largely produced through quality play action.
  • Jason Terry (23 points, 8-14 FG, 3-6 3FG, zero turnovers) is a masterful practitioner of the pick and roll, and though his ball-handling judgment has been questionable in recent weeks, his approach was perfectly on-point on Wednesday. Los Angeles trapped Terry fairly hard in pick-and-roll situations, but he managed to play his way out of and around them. JET walked the line of aggressive scoring and steady playmaking with perfect balance, a fact betrayed by Terry’s misleading goose egg in the assist column. Don’t be fooled; Terry did an excellent job of messing up his teammates, even if some unfortunate misses robbed him of any box score glory.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 106, San Antonio Spurs 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 18, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0115.253.631.623.112.0
San Antonio107.656.322.811.412.0

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

  • What began as a great offensive performance by Dirk Nowitzki (who finished the first half with 19 points) turned into a wonderful overall performance by the Mavs’ offense. Nowitzki (27 points, 9-19 FG, six rebounds, four assists, four turnovers) was absolutely brilliant in both a one-on-one capacity and as a spot-up shooter, but when San Antonio began to throw hard doubles at Dirk on the catch, he wasted no time in finding open shooters on the weak side. Throwing a pass to a shooter in the opposite corner off of a double team is a bit of a risk, but Nowitzki’s height and experience with this kind of swarming coverage make him uniquely suited for that kind of play. Nowitzki was only able to notch three points in the fourth quarter (when the Spurs made their defensive shift), but Dallas shot 5-of-9 from three-point range to the frame, with many of those makes coming off of double-team exploitation.
  • Another thing that’s abundantly clear: Nowitzki takes his matchup with Stephen Jackson — he of that infamous 2007 playoff letdown — incredibly seriously. Gregg Popovich wasted no time in getting Jackson acclimated, and pitted him against Nowitzki almost immediately, despite the fact that more conventional Nowitzki foes (Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter) were also on the floor. From that moment, Nowitzki’s entire approach shifted; he sought to back down Jackson relentlessly, and noticeably increased the physicality of his pre-shot maneuverings. Jackson did what he could to deny Nowitzki early position and fight him for every inch, but, well, it’s not 2007 anymore.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 8-16 FG, eight rebounds, three turnovers) will naturally receive praise for the quality of his performance, but in truth this was a nice outing for the entirety of the Mavs’ guard core. Jason Kidd lived up to everything that could possibly be expected of him and more, as he connected on four threes out of five attempts, racked up double-digit assists, and played great help defense to indirectly force a few turnovers. Jason Terry put up 17 points on just 10 shot as a continuation of one of his strongest stretches of the season. Vince Carter, too, put up 10 points on 50 percent shooting, just to complete the picture. The fact that all four of these players were able to positively influence the game is a wonderful sign for the resurrection of the Mavs’ depth, particularly considering how heavily the Mavs were leaning on this group in the absence of both Delonte West and Shawn Marion.

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The Difference: Sacramento Kings 110, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Holly MacKenzie on March 10, 2012 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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Box score Play-by-Play Shot Chart Game Flow

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

  • It figures that the game I pick to recap is a blowout. Disclaimer before we go any further: I am a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. I will try to temper this as we talk about what went wrong with the Mavericks in Sacramento. It wasn’t pretty, people. Not even a little bit.
  • A rough start really doomed Dallas. The team had five of their 17 turnovers in the first quarter, including four of them in the first four minutes of the game. Sacramento took advantage, scoring nine points off of those turnovers in the opening session. The Kings jumped out to a lead quickly, leaving the Mavs to play catch up all night.
  • After finding himself on the bench at the end of the Suns game on Thursday night, Jason Terry (game-high 23 points, 10-for-18 fgs) was looking to get himself going early against the Kings, and was one of the bright spots for the Mavs offensively in the first half. He kept the Mavs in it by coming up with a bucket to temper the crowd every time the Kings seemed to be on the verge of really blowing things open.
  • While Dirk Nowitzki started off 2-for-2 from the floor, the team didn’t make it a point to get the ball to him in the first quarter and things went downhill from there as Dirk wasn’t ever able to get going. He shot 1-for-5 in the second quarter, 2-for-4 in the third and then 0-2 in the fourth. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting in 29 minutes of action.
  • The Mavericks just looked sluggish tonight. Perhaps they were tired from last night’s loss to the Suns, but their defense wasn’t doing them any favours against the Kings. A five-point swing for the Kings: Jason Thompson gets his own offensive rebound, finds Chuck Hayes open under the hoop for an easy two. Next possession:Francisco Garcia steals the ball from Nowitzki (Mavs turnover #6) and finds John Salmons for a three.

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The Difference: Los Angeles Lakers 96, Dallas Mavericks 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 23, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas88.0103.444.417.839.611.0
Los Angeles109.151.340.837.015.9

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 Mavs are undoubtedly disappointed in their collective inability to capitalize on the opportunities presented them, but ultimately, this was a pretty commendable effort. Lamar Odom, Delonte West, and Rodrigue Beaubois were out of the lineup, leaving Brian Cardinal (three points, 1-4 FG) and Yi Jianlian (four points, 2-3 FG) to play significant minutes. Pau Gasol played solid defense on Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-22 FG, 12 rebounds), and prevented him from dominating offensively. Dallas shot .250 from beyond the arc, and .400 from the field overall. Yet both teams were deadlocked virtually every step of the way in the second half, a literalization of the seeding battle between Western Conference teams. The Mavs and Lakers are both talented teams capable of making the Western Conference Finals, and the same could be said of about half a dozen other clubs. It’s all going to come down to minor differences in record and the random resulting matchups, much like this particular game was ultimately determined by a thin margin and specific matchup advantages.
  • Even in a season of spectacular defensive performances, this may be Shawn Marion’s showpiece. Kobe Bryant (15 points, 4-15 FG, four assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) is among the toughest covers in the league, but Marion blanketed him step for step, forced him into tough, contested shots, and goaded Bryant into taking long three-pointers born of frustration. You can’t ask for better primary defense on an opponent’s top offensive player, and though Gasol (24 points, 11-18 FG, nine rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) and Andrew Bynum (19 points, 6-10 FG, 14 rebounds, three assists) were able to make up for Kobe’s shackles with highly efficient interior play, Marion’s defense alone gave the Mavs a legitimate chance to win this game. (On a related note: No Maverick needs the All-Star break more than Shawn Marion. I wish him a long weekend of nonexistent mornings, catnaps, and time away from the court.)

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Royalactin

Posted by Ian Levy on January 12, 2012 under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, HoopSpeakU, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

If you’re not an apiarist or natural health fanatic, chances are you haven’t crossed paths with royal jelly, a truly incredible substance. Wikipedia explains:

The honey bee queens and workers represent one of the most striking examples of environmentally controlled phenotypic polymorphism. In spite of their identical clonal nature at the DNA level, they are strongly differentiated across a wide range of characteristics including anatomical and physiological differences, longevity of the queen, and reproductive capacity.[6]Queens constitute the sexual caste and have large active ovaries, whereas workers have only rudimental inactive ovaries and are functionally sterile. The queen/worker developmental divide is controlled epigenetically by differential feeding with royal jelly; this appears to be due specifically to the protein royalactin.

The middle school biology explanation is that bees are identical at the DNA level. The differences between the worker bee and the queen, including the enormous size differential and the ability to lay hundreds of eggs, come entirely from eating the substance known as royal jelly. Player development expert and ESPN analyst, David Thorpe, uses this as a metaphor for the his system of positive reinforcment.

“Playing time is the first part,” says Thorpe. “A coach’s support is another thing — it helps you grow as a player if you know you’re not going to get yanked the first time you miss a shot. That gives you the confidence to be creative and expand your game. And then the final aspect of the ideal set-up is coaching you up on the new things you’re adding to your game. A great recent example of this was Trevor Ariza with the Lakers last season. In the spring, everyone was wondering why they’d let him shoot all those 3s. It wasn’t productive. But they needed him to be able to do that, they let him do that, they didn’t yank him for doing that, and they coached him how to do that better. And in the playoffs he was amazing at that and helped them win a championship.” – Courtesy of Henry Abbot and TrueHoop

Usually this term comes into play when we are talking about a young player who is still developing an identity and carving out their niche in professional basketball. The royal jelly is minutes, opportunities and teachable moments, all of which are lavished on said player. But this idea of positive scaffolding doesn’t have to be reserved for fresh-faced youngsters. The journeymen, those who’ve moved from team to team never quite finding the right sequence of steps with which to unlock their full potential — can they not benefit from repeated doses of the same treatment?

The addition of Delonte West was among last and least heralded of the Mavericks’ off-season acquisitions. His second tour in Boston did not go the way he, or the Celtics, hoped it would. Since his first season in Cleveland, basketball success has seemed to be creeping inexorably away from him. At one point, his issues off the court made his grip on an NBA career seem tenuous at best.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 105, Miami Heat 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 15, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas91.0115.456.714.625.015.4
Miami104.452.127.823.117.6

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

  • In professional sports, panic is easy. Identifying worries and overreacting to them quickly is the path of least resistance, false adjustments that feign activity. Throughout their entire playoff run, the Mavericks never were tempted into that panic; they took their path every time, even when the win-loss binary told them that path was faulty. Rick Carlisle never pushed a button for pushing’s sake, nor did any of the Mavs attempt to drastically alter their approaches in an effort to counter some real or perceived problem. They just ran their stuff. They ran their stuff in the house and with a mouse, they ran their stuff here, and there, and anywhere. They ran it in a box and with a fox, and then they skipped the green eggs and just went ham. True commitment to a system or strategy often seems a lot easier than it is (case in point: Miami’s willingness to abandon their pick-and-roll game with a single kick-ball in the fourth quarter of Game 5), and I’m convinced that perseverance within their system is among the most crucial reasons for Dallas’ first ever NBA title. Carlisle could have easily rewritten the book after Game 1 of the Finals, or drastically changed his team’s defensive strategy once Dwyane Wade began to really go nuts. He didn’t and the Mavericks thrived from the strength of their minor, precise adjustments.
  • Strictly as an observer, I haven’t decided whether there was more narrative power in the actual outcome of Game 6 or in an alternate reality where Dirk Nowitzki finished the series as dominant as ever. Both are suitable finales, but there would have been a clearly established satisfaction in seeing Nowitzki grab the Larry O’Brien trophy by its personified throat. That wasn’t quite the way it turned out, but is that a fair conclusion to the tale of Nowitzki’s historically incapable supporting cast, or an anticlimactic finish for the man who always did it all?
  • Tyson Chandler scored five points and grabbed eight rebounds in Game 6, and I still wouldn’t have been opposed to him being named the Finals MVP. Nowitzki was an offensive juggernaut in the Finals, but Chandler was the primary deterrent against a formidable Heat offense. He wasn’t an anchor, but a pillar; Dallas unveiled a beautifully crafted defensive structure in the Finals, and though Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion really brought it together, Chandler was the critical support that allowed the entire thing to exist in the first place. (Plus, offensive rebounding was pegged as a definitive Heat strength going into the Finals, and yet the Mavs won the offensive rebounding rate battle in three of the six games. That’s essentially all Chandler.)
  • For the record, my mom, soothsayer that she is, predicted that the Mavs would win the title this season. Then again, she’s said the same thing every season since 2000, so I guess hat makes her 100% right this year, and about 9% right overall. Still, even grasping at straws deserves a tip of the hat, so long as she gets the straw.
  • J.J. Barea (15 points, 7-12 FG, five assists) was unbelievable. It seems like it’s been ages since I was forced to defend Barea’s presence by outlining his unique strengths within the context of this team, but in reality, Barea was painted as a scapegoat as recently as a few months ago. He’s come a long way in terms of focus and efficiency, mind you, but the strength of his game is the same: Barea’s handle, speed, and creativity give him an inlet to the basket that few players are able to access. Barea has made clear his intent to stay with the team that unearthed him, but strange things can happen in free agency. If Barea ends up on another team’s roster, Dallas will be the worse for it.
  • There’s always room for more in Maverick Nation, and in principle, I’m not opposed to accepting refugee fans from other teams that have been bounced in the playoffs. Still, I won’t miss the bile. I won’t miss the abject hatred. I won’t miss the inescapable stink clouding what was a brilliant series with a fantastic ending. Fans are free to love or hate whoever they’d like, but the way they conduct themselves can always disgust me, even if their agency doesn’t.
  • DeShawn Stevenson dropped nine points, as did Eddie House. Brian Cardinal had three, and Ian Mahinmi four. In the closing game of the NBA Finals. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
  • Oh, there’s this cat named Jason Terry — he’s turned the pull-up jumper in transition into an art form, and was the dynamic offensive star Dallas badly needed to finish out the series. Terry (27 points, 11-16 FG, 3-7 3FG) has been maligned as any Maverick over the years, and to an extent he’s deserved the criticism. His defense used to be quite poor. In the past, Terry’s offensive contributions could be teched against too easily, leaving Nowitzki to carry the entirety of the scoring burden on his own. But this year’s offense wasn’t Nowitzki-and-JET-dependent so much as it utilized both as investments in the system. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and previously, Caron Butler, rounded out the offense and balanced the floor. No player benefited more from Dallas’ offensive flow than Terry, who was able to finally benefit from the creation of others. Just having Kidd set up Terry was never enough; the entire offense had an oddly stable codependency, in which Kidd needed Nowitzki, Terry, a more involved Marion, and Chandler to really do what he does best, and each of those players needed one another in order to create the perfect swing to their offense.
  • LeBron James didn’t perform as he could have or should have, and yet somehow, I don’t think anyone in Dallas really minds all that much. James has been story 1A in the postseason’s aftermath, but frankly, I was more taken by how Dallas held Dwyane Wade to 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting (with five turnovers) in Game 6. Wade’s injury likely played a part in his underwhelming line, but the Mavs used some quick doubles to chase him out of his comfort zones. Wade in the post had been the most consistently effective weapon for either team all series long, and yet the Mavs were able to completely neutralize it in Game 6 while keeping the rest of Wade’s game in check and keeping LeBron James producing on a reasonable level.
  • Do you believe it yet?

A Beautiful Construction

Posted by Ian Levy on under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Even with two days to process the end of the NBA Finals, I’m still in amazement. I’m amazed at what happened and how it happened. Most of all, I’m amazed at the composure displayed by the Mavericks’ throughout the series. At no point did they allow the circumstances to change what they intended to do or how they intended to do it. Inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup was not a rash decision or a frantic pushing of buttons. It was a calculated move that changed nothing except when certain player combinations were utilized. In a moment of weakness, I told my wife before Game 6 that I thought Dirk Nowitzki would need to score 40 for the Mavericks to win. Even after all I had watched the Mavericks accomplish this season, by constantly moving the ball until an open shot materialized, I still felt that at some point said formula would fizzle out, that it wouldn’t be enough to push them to their ultimate goal. The Mavericks were able to win, because for several stretches, Dirk Nowitzki was clearly the best player on the floor, and accomplished it without dominating the ball. I kept waiting for the “Dirk needs to touch the ball on every possession” offense, but it never happened. The Mavericks’ attack never wavered from their template, and they consistently got the job done.

Equal to my amazement at what the Mavericks were able to accomplish, has been my frustration at how the series is being described by many in the media. I was particularly infuriated by a post-game discussion between Magic Johnson and Mike Wilbon; both described the Mavericks’ victory as 10 players beating 3. Even as a Mavericks’ fan, I find that characterization incredibly offensive. In the most literal sense, this was a case of 11 beating 10, the actual number of players used by each team. To describe the Heat as a three-man team is unbelievably demeaning to the efforts of their entire roster. It’s true that their team is constructed so that the majority of their offensive production will come from LeBron, Wade and Bosh. It’s true that the Mavericks received greater contributions from a larger variety of players. But there is more — much more — to the Miami Heat than just those three players. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem both had strong performances across the Finals. The Mavericks victory was an example of one team beating another. Every player, on both teams, had a hand in pushing their team to the NBA Finals.

The thing I think is most important to understand, is that this is true, independent of the outcome. Even if Miami had won the series, it still would have been a case of one team beating another, not a case of three star players overwhelming a patchwork arrangement of very good players. The Heat and the Mavericks were each built in different ways, but they are both teams, with five players on the floor at a time and seven reserves on the bench. The Mavericks’ victory is a victory for their players, organization and fans, not a victory for a template of roster assembly. They won because, for six games, they were the better team; not that their methods or motivations were more pure or virtuous.

Before the Finals started I wrote that this series represented a chance at redemption for several Mavericks players, ones who had no personal involvement with the letdown in 2006. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic each achieved a goal they’ve been chasing for years. I hope that this championship was made sweeter for each by the way the playoffs unfolded and the title was earned. A championship on a player’s resume is often viewed as tainted if it was won in mercenary style by an aging veteran. Kidd, Marion and Stojakovic each earned their jewelry; they didn’t sign with a team only to provide vocal support from the end of the bench. They may have had to change teams (in some cases several times) to win their first championship, but they didn’t tag along or catch a ride on anyone’s coattails. The Mavericks simply aren’t in the Finals, let along raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, without the contributions of those three.

Most of my contributions to The Two Man Game this seen have been statistical in focus and flavor. I’ll leave you with a few statistical nuggets to chew on over the summer.

  • DeShawn Stevenson was absolutely lights out in the Finals, making 13 of 23, or 56.6% of his three-pointers. Who could have possible seen that coming? Oh, that’s right. I did.
  • Brendan Haywood’s injury opened up a hole in the Mavericks’ frontcourt rotation — a hole that was filled admirably by Brian Cardinal. He gave Dallas 30.3 minutes in the series, over which they outscored the Heat 71-68.
  • Tyson Chandler has received plenty of well-deserved praise for his efforts in the Finals. His performance, particularly on the offensive glass, was remarkable. When he was out of the game Dallas rebounded just 18.6% of their own misses. When Chandler was on the floor that number jumped to 27.0%.
  • One of John Hollinger’s Finals recaps mentioned that one of the reasons the Mavericks pursued Rick Carlisle was that statistical studies showed he had a tendency to give the most minutes to the most effective lineups. Seems like an obvious idea, perhaps one someone should have shared with Jim O’Brien. I wanted to see if that held true for the Finals. The easiest way to do this was to a run a correlation between the Net Rating for each unit and the number of minutes they played together. However, this creates some sample size problems for units that only played together briefly. To weight the totals I just multiplied the Net Rating for each unit by the minutes played, then ran a correlation between that total and the minutes played. The Mavericks had a 0.692 correlation between the effectiveness of the unit and their minutes played. For the Heat it was a -0.177. Saying Carlisle managed his rotations well is a huge understatement.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to write about the Dallas Mavericks this season at The Two Man Game. I’m a Pacers’ fan at heart, and adopting the Mavericks with Rob’s invitation to start contributing here, felt strangely unnatural. However, watching a team on a nightly basis gives you an appreciation and attachment that can be gained no other way. I’m thrilled for the Mavericks organization. They earned everything they’ve accomplished this season, and it was a joy to watch. I’m also thrilled for Mavericks’ fans, a group of which I am proud to be a part of.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 112, Miami Heat 103

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 10, 2011 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas86.0130.265.930.412.912.8
Miami119.858.630.029.018.6

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

  • One more. That’s all that stands between Dallas and the prize the Dallas Mavericks were never supposed to win, between Dirk Nowitzki and the validation that players like him supposedly didn’t have in them to secure. The Mavs’ insane shooting performance was an outlier, but one that has changed the series and can never be reversed. One could yap all day about sustainability, but nothing in that chatter can reverse what has been stone, or push Dallas from the brink of the title. There’s still so much left to be accomplished — stealing another game in Miami will be no easy feat — but Dallas’ versatility should give them reason for optimism. This was the first game in the Finals when the Mavericks actually shot well, and though plenty of that shooting was against good defensive coverage, there is value in the fact that two wins were earned without consistently competent offense. The Mavs can’t again afford the defensive breakdowns they suffered in Game 5, but they likely won’t have to. Dallas will tweak and adjust. Rick Carlisle will have them ready to roll, and iron out the wrinkles. They haven’t won their championship yet, but they’ll be ready to close in Miami, and the defense will undoubtedly execute at the level we’ve come to expect.
  • The Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense will have to improve. Miami finally started hitting the roll man in the fourth quarter — either directly or through a preliminary pass to the other big — and Dallas really struggled to contest that action with such heavy pressure being committed to Miami’s ball-handlers. The Mavs have the right idea in walling off Dwyane Wade and LeBron James as they come around screens, but that kind of coverage naturally leaves the roll man open as a release. Dallas has been great about covering that roll man and the other big simultaneously, but that pick-and-roll action broke through for Miami in a big way down the stretch. Dirk Nowitzki, who has quietly had a tremendous defensive series, really struggled in that regard. Tyson Chandler does a fantastic job of hedging Wade and James away from drives, but Nowitzki has to be able to cover the back line when he does so.
  • J.J. Barea continued the playoff run of his life, albeit after a few hiccups. Say what you will about his height, but when Barea is able to tuck behind screens and connect on his threes, he’s an insanely tough cover. Once that shot starts to go, the middle of the floor tends to open up even more for Barea, and in Game 5 he was able to penetrate and create great looks time and time again. Barea very nearly usurped Jason Terry’s sacred role as a closer, but was pulled, and Terry went on to hit several big shots down the stretch. I guess J.J. will have to settle for merely being the unstoppable force that pushed the Mavs to the brink of the NBA title with his ability to create off the dribble, his fantastic shooting, and his smart decision making.
  • Dwyane Wade is injured, but on that matter I share an opinion with Jason Terry; when Wade is on the floor, he’s a threat. Period. He may be ailing, but he’s still plenty capable of torching the Mavs, and he scored 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter to prove it. I’m sure that whatever Wade is experiencing with his hip isn’t pleasant, but basketball fans should know the terrors that Wade can bring for opposing teams. The Heat have their backs against the wall, Wade will have time for treatment and recovery, and Dwyane Wade is still Dwyane Wade. His offensive performance in this game was nothing to scoff at, and Game 6 will only bring more drives, more shots, and more defense to contend with.
  • Brendan Haywood was again inactive, and Tyson Chandler again managed to stay on the floor and function as one of the Mavs’ best players. Chandler only scored two points in the second half, but he finished with 11 overall, a product of his aggressive rolls to the rim and ability to make himself into a big, accessible target. Chandler’s teammates fully understand just how much of an offensive weapon he can be, and though Miami attacked Dallas’ pick-and-roll action effectively in the second half, I shouldn’t need to preach the value of that forced adjustment. Chandler’s success opened up more room for Nowitzki, Barea, and Terry, and conveniently exemplified Chandler’s underrated offensive impact. The fact that Dallas consistently performs better offensively with Chandler on the floor is no coincidence; he may not be a threat to go to work from the low block, but Chandler creates legitimate opportunities just by setting hard screens and rolling to the rim.
  • Much has been (and will forever be) made of LeBron James’ alleged disappearance in this series, but I thought he had a rather decent performance in Game 5. The Finals just aren’t a stage conducive to decent performances, and with a player of James’ standout caliber, we expect better. It’s not absurd to expect James to be the best player on the floor, and from that perspective — the one he’s created by being the best in most every other setting but this one — James has surely disappointed. Still, let’s not lump James’ Game 5 performance with Game 4; he was hardly transcendent on Thursday night, but he was much more focused offensively than in his infamous Game 4 letdown.
  • On a related note: James was right in his post-game assessment of the Heat’s performance. Miami played well enough to win this game, they just didn’t have a means to counter Dallas’ incredible shooting. The Heat’s defense was unquestionably their weaker link; though LeBron’s numbers may not be as gaudy as we like, it was the defensive breakdowns that led to Chandler dunks, wide open three-pointers, Barea drives, and some oddly open opportunities for Nowitzki. The Mavs’ accuracy — even in the face of good defensive pressure — may have put them over the top, but it was those breakdowns in coverage that led to shots around the rim that really doomed the Heat.
  • Almost 18 combined minutes for Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal, but Dallas survived. Neither of those players is a preferred member of the regular rotation, but the circumstances of the series have dictated that they play. So they play. Mahinmi does his best to function as a substitute Haywood, and Cardinal takes his open shots and tries to get in a position to draw charges. Neither was tremendously successful in Game 5, but they also didn’t kill the Mavs — an underrated value for any situational player. Mahinmi and Cardinal can’t be expected to produce like regulars because they flat-out aren’t regulars; they don’t have the skill nor the experience at this stage to produce as Haywood or Stojakovic potentially could, but they’re the most sensible options with Haywood ruled out and Peja burned out.
  • By the way, Dirk Nowitzki had 29 points on 18 shots. Just thought I’d sneak that in there.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 86, Miami Heat 83

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 8, 2011 under Recaps | 10 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-08 at 11.20.15 AM

Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0104.942.532.929.313.4
Miami101.244.022.734.115.9

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

  • Rick Carlisle tweaked his rotation, and the three Mavs involved — J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-9 FG, four assists), DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-7 3FG), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-12 FG, four rebounds) — each had their best games of the series as a result. Not only has Carlisle done a great job of balancing a micro-managing style with the release of control (when he lets the Mavs “just play basketball,” or execute their “flow game,”), but he’s pressed the right buttons in every damn series thus far. Starting Barea as a means to eliminate Peja Stojakovic from the rotation while still keeping Brian Cardinal’s minutes down was actually rather inspired, and though Barea hadn’t really played well in the first three games of the Finals, he was able to accomplish some good things in Game 4 — even as he shot just 3-of-9 from the field. If Carlisle was given the option for Barea to get the same looks and same penetration again in Game 5, I think he’d take it in a heartbeat; Barea worked to create quality shots, but makes just weren’t in the cards this time. Stevenson played an effective game, too, so long as we forget about his horrible, bone-headed foul on Chris Bosh. His 11 points and ability to space the floor were invaluable considering Dirk Nowitzki’s limitations, and Stevenson was an active participant in the zone defense that shut Miami down in the fourth quarter. And then we come to Marion, who had his third game in the series with 16 or more points, and accomplished that much in just 26 minutes — by far his lowest minute total for the Finals. Dallas had leaned too heavily on Marion in the first three games of the series, and while 26 minutes will hardly be the norm from here on out, we should expect more reasonable levels of playing time than the 41+ minutes Marion played in Games 2 and 3.
  • Dallas continued in their remarkable defense against LeBron James (eight points, 3-11 FG, nine rebounds, seven assists, four turnovers), but what of Dwyane Wade ()? There’s only so much one can do to curtail scorers in isolation, especially those with the handle, speed, and vision that Wade almost unfairly possesses. He can get himself out of trouble so quickly that overt doubling presents serious problems, and yet the Mavs’ man defense can only do so much to contain him. I don’t feel like Marion, Stevenson, and Kidd did a poor job against Wade in Game 4; in many cases they played him well, and Tyson Chandler was there with the help. Wade is just too damn good at what he does, and he torched the Mavs to the tune of 32 points on 20 shots. Wade very nearly deflected some of the ill will aimed at LeBron for his horribly underwhelming performance, but a loss is a loss, and when the Heat are downed it’s often James that’s left to answer for it. I’d be very interested to see how the shift in the narrative had Wade made a single free throw or made a few more buckets, but Dallas winning with clutch execution while Wade shorts a freebie comes with its own narrative power.
  • Tyson Chandler (13 points, 16 rebounds, nine offensive boards) was a monster, and while plenty will praise him for his relentlessness, I’ve come to praise him for his restraint. Dallas has only remained competitive in this series because of Chandler, and more specifically, because Chandler has avoided foul trouble. The offensive rebounds and put-backs are fantastic, but they’re products of Chandler being on the floor in the first place, something which should in no way be assumed. Carlisle will play Chandler if he can, but foul trouble placed an artificial limit on Chandler’s minutes all season long, and was expected to play a role in one playoff series or another. It hasn’t. Whether defending LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum, or Pau Gasol — or somehow protecting the rim from the likes of Wade and James while guarding Bosh — Chandler has kept his fouls down and stayed in the game. Chandler played 43 minutes of fully charged basketball on Tuesday night, and though his motor deserves unending praise, I’m more impressed than ever with Chandler’s ability to cut down on those tempting cheap fouls that got him in trouble so often.