“…All the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
It honestly does not get much worse than this.
Worst loss in nearly a decade? Check. Embarrassing effort level on both ends of the court? Double check. Truly horrid execution? You betcha. Completely whiffing in a ‘statement game?’ Probably an understatement, but yes. The Dallas Mavericks failed in just about every conceivable way on Tuesday night, giving the players, coaching staff, and front office personnel plenty to think about going into the All-Star break.
You’ll find no more cogent and persuasive argument for the Mavs to make a trade than last night’s misery. The Nuggets just seemed to be operating on a completely different plane of existence, one that was simply beyond that of the pitiful, mortal Mavs. All Dallas could do was stare wide-eyed as Denver’s shooters nailed shot after shot, and marvel at every backdoor cut and spot-on defensive rotation. Nothing the Mavs did on the court could really be classified as actively playing the game of basketball, so don’t misunderstand my rhetoric; the Mavericks were spectators on the floor, watching the true professionals do what they do. They simply couldn’t be bothered with offering the slightest resistance or competition.
Dismissing the Mavs didn’t even require a spectacular game from either of Denver’s biggest stars, Chauncey Billups (16 points, 6-8 FG, six assists, three steals) and Carmelo Anthony (19 points, six assists, four rebounds). Instead, the Nuggets simply cashed in on the ordinary performances of their top players, and supplemented with some ridiculous production off the bench. Four of Denver’s reserves finished in double-figures, and it was actually the ridiculous second quarter runs of the Nuggets’ bench players that put away the game early. The Mavs expect, scheme, and tech to stop the players that are difficult to stop otherwise; Billups is so crafty and Anthony so talented that if you’re not preparing for them, you’re doomed to allow a monster scoring night from one or both. But Ty Lawson? Arron Afflalo? Johan Petro? These aren’t supposed to be the guys that give a team like the Mavs trouble…and yet here we are, looking at a decisive 18-33 quarter that says otherwise.
Without a healthy, fully-functional Erick Dampier, the Mavs have no hope of stopping Nene (21 points, 8-9 FG, eight rebounds). Eddie Najera got the start at center in Dampier’s absence (you know the drill – left knee effusion), but both he and Drew Gooden looked absolutely clueless in “guarding” (I use this term loosely) a player with such size, speed, and finishing ability. Nene was one of the unheralded difference-makers of last year’s playoff series between the Mavs and Nuggets, and his most recent domination of the Mavs was only more of the same.
J.R. Smith (12 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Chris Andersen (14 points, ten rebounds) were predictably troublesome, if only because the Mavs didn’t match their energy and activity. Based on everything else you’ve read and seen regarding this game, that shouldn’t be at all surprising.
Look, the Mavs were awful. Terrible, really. They slowed to a crawl when the should have (and could have) been sprinting, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences. So the best thing I can tell you to do is just laugh this off. Chuckle a bit at the thought of Ty Lawson running circles around the Mavs’ defenders. Let out a laugh because you know that Malik Allen, MALIK ALLEN, scored six points against Dallas. Just giggle with delight because you know that Denver shot 16-18 at the rim, and that’s probably not even the Mavs’ most embarrassing defensive feat of the night. But most importantly, laugh this off because there’s really nothing else you can do. This loss was so bad that it’s probably beyond anger or frustration, and qualifies as pure comedy. I mean, this is all some sort of elaborate joke…right?
The Mavs were once destined to rely on Dirk to conquer their demons, and in doing so, doomed themselves against more talented foes. But Dirk shot 6 of 15 from the field against the Nuggets last night, and was anything but the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece. He was more a fancy napkin or a nice tablecloth, an appropriate setting and a suitable distraction from the true forces at work. His offensive efforts were largely complementary, and though Nowitzki managed to drop a dagger of a three-pointer with just 50 seconds remaining, he was ultimately but a part of the Maverick machine. Dallas has had its fair share of struggles in making their offense a team affair, but they’ve had seven double-digit scorers in each of the last two games. Nowitzki’s shot attempts have remained down, the rest of the offense has picked up, and for perhaps the first time all season we have reason to believe that the Maverick offense is ‘getting it.’
The Mavs were once fated to be a step slow on the perimeter, and the league’s elite wings licked their chops at the opportunity to tear up the Dallas D. But add Carmelo Anthony (16 points, 5-19 FG, 12 rebounds) as the latest to fall under the constant pressure of the Maverick defense, a mighty juggernaut that has bested the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. To call this defensive outfit “for real” is a tad understated and a few months too late, and all the credit in the world for that goes to Shawn Marion and Josh Howard. The two drew the primary defensive responsibilities of covering Anthony, and though the Maverick plan of attack featured frequent and early double teams, it was Marion and Howard’s execution on and individual level that kept Melo’s shooting percentage so dreadfully low. Anthony absolutely torched the Mavs (who at the time depended heavily on the defensive skills of Antoine Wright) in last year’s playoffs, but the addition of Shawn Marion and a healthy Josh Howard proved to be a world of difference. This is the defensive tandem that will largely determine the outcome of games against the Western elite, and they added another line to their already impressive resume with the way they shackled Carmelo Anthony.
The Mavs were slated to be soft inside, as perennial punchline Erick Dampier and non-center Drew Gooden formed the entirety of Dallas’ center rotation. But Dampier nearly notched a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) in just 21 minutes, and Gooden (19 points, 8-8 FG, 10 rebounds) was completely and utterly dominant against Nene, Chris Andersen, and the Denver bigs. The Nuggets seemed to only have a fleeting interest in playing solid defense, and Dampier and Gooden positioned themselves to best exploit Denver’s lackadaisical attitude. Damp was able to capitalize on the Nuggets’ D in a way he had failed to do in last year’s playoffs, and Gooden showed what is perhaps his most valuable skill as a Maverick: interior shot creation. Creating shots is a crucial part of any offense’s success, and part of the reason why the Mavs have struggled this season is the inability of players (outside of Dirk Nowitzki) to create good shot attempts for themselves. Gooden is certainly capable of that, as his array of hook shots and finishes around the basket demonstrated beautifully. And to drop a cherry on top, Gooden and Damp were instrumental in the Mavs’ shot-challenging and defensive rebounding (to the tune of a 22.6 and 33.2 defensive rebounding rate, respectively). Damp and Drew were nothing if not tough on the interior, and they moved earth, expectation, and Nuggets in search of rebounds and scoring opportunities.
Though supposedly aged and wise, the Mavs were foretold as a team that would inevitably falter in the face of adversity. Not only have the Mavericks completely flipped that theory on its head with their performance in clutch situations this season, but against the Nuggets they played with the poise of a contender while closing out yet another strong opponent. Denver was visibly distracted by the overly and overtly physical play, but Dallas simply executed their sets, got their stops, and scored just enough to keep the Nuggs at bay. It wasn’t the prettiest finale (late turnovers, blown free throws, and missed opportunities can put a blemish on even the most beautiful of wins), but the Mavs pulled together enough scoring and rebounding to secure a victory.
Everything has changed.
It simply has to be noted that Chauncey Billups missed the game due to injury. He changes the outlook and execution level of this Denver team, and though Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game over the last season or so, he operates much more comfortably with the safety net that Billups provides. When the Mavs really brought the heat against Melo, the rest of the Nuggets were left to sort out the mayhem. That’s the kind of situation in which Billups thrives, whereas his replacements, rookie Ty Lawson or the limited Anthony Carter, falter.
Arron Afflalo was a nice pick-up for the Nuggets, even if his jumpshot was absolutely erratic last night; he nailed a few of his early looks before throwing up some bricks in the fourth quarter. But as someone who has watched plenty of Nuggets this year, let me simply say that he makes sense as a defensive stopper/offensive contributor when Chauncey Billups is in the game and the Nuggets are on their game. He’s a contributor to the system, and that’s all you should expect from your role players.
It was a good night for the Shawn Marion hook shot, as the Mavs looked to engage Carmelo Anthony both offensively and defensively. The game plan was obvious: wear him out on both ends and frustrate him with constant pressure and movement. It worked beautifully, and Marion’s work in the low post against Anthony was a carefully executed part of that plan.
With Carmelo Anthony in and out of the game with foul trouble (he played just 31 minutes on the night), the Maverick defense turned its full attention to J.R. Smith. Rick Carlisle clearly had the utmost respect for Smith’s offensive game, and he wasn’t shy about throwing additional defensive pressure J.R.’s way. The results were often even better than they were against Anthony, as the flustered Smith committed offensive fouls (including one near-flagrant by introducing his elbow to Jason Terry’s head) and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. In Billups’ absence, Smith is supposed to fill in with ball-handling and scoring, and instead, he stalled the flow of the Denver offense when met with the Mavs’ defensive pressure.
Again, Shawn Marion was not on the floor to finish the game. That said, the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Gooden was entirely deserving and successful.
DNP-CDs for Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross. Defending Carmelo Anthony was one of the more obvious reasons for adding a player of Ross’ defensive caliber, and though I was thrilled with the Mavs’ coverage of Anthony last night, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see Q give it a try. Maybe next time.
J.J. Barea (13 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) continues to excel in his starting role. Say what you will about the aesthetic of the starting lineup (a 6’0” shooting guard? Wha-wha-what?), but he’s adding a ton offensively while he’s on the floor. The defense may be another story, but for the moment, his time on the floor is certainly a net positive (he was a +4 on the night).
Dirk Nowitzki really was a virtual non-factor on offense, but he continued to influence the game through his rebounding. As far as defensive efforts go, Dirk’s night was merely so-so, but Nowitzki pulled in tough, contested rebounds at crucial times to help put this thing away.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden, whose perfect night from the field and tough interior D were highlights of the Mavs’ win. Dallas simply doesn’t get the job done without Gooden’s tangible and intangible contributions. This was perhaps Drew’s finest game in a Maverick uniform (his effort against Tim Duncan and San Antonio stands out as a potential equal, in my mind), and as such he gets the gold sticker bling.
I completely missed the tail end of SLAM Online’s Top 50 player rankings, but SLAM’s commenters did a great job of pointing out a travesty: Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were ranked higher than Dirk Nowitzki. In most cases, I understand the tendency to put Dirk on the back end of the top ten. I do. And I have lots of love for both Durant and Anthony. But Durant is almost completely one-dimensional at this point, and Anthony only marginally more versatile. And when it comes to flat-out scoring, I’m not even sure that either is more skilled than Dirk. Nowitzki carries a 50-win team on his shoulders as the team’s best player, and Melo and Durant can at best only claim one of those qualifiers.
Kevin Pelton chimes in with a reminder on preseason statistics, in light of yesterday’s post: [Preseason statistics] mean more than you might think, but are limited by the small sample size, making shooting percentages potentially misleading.” You can read Pelton’s previous studies on preseason performance here.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
The Mavs’ season ended not with a bang nor a whimper, but with the sigh of a team that just didn’t have enough. The Nuggets were the better basketball team, and they played like it. That’s why, for the first time in a long while, I rested easy after the Mavs bowed out of the postseason. There was no implosion and there was no letdown. Although we Mavs fans were holding onto the hope of another Western Conference Finals, they should be able to find solace in the way these Mavs fought and the way that Dirk thrived.
All the credit in the world has to go to the Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were a good basketball team playing their best basketball at the right time, but the Nuggets are a superior basketball team playing even better basketball with more two-way consistency. Personally, I’m ecstatic every time I get to watch the player that Carmelo Anthony is morphing into. Something about his game was both equally troubling and appealing, and to see him do away with the silly turnovers and the forced shots is to see him morph into an incredible basketball player. He showed every bit of that transformation in this series, and put the cherry on top in Game 5 with 30 points on 13-22 shooting (he had to miss 6 straight attempts to fall to that mortal mark). Melo will never be the playmaker (read: LeBron) that some wished he would be, but I sincerely doubt that many will be disappointed with his finished product.
Chauncey Billups (28 points on 10-16 shooting, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) made the point guard match-up a bit of a joke. While the Mavs’ veteran floor general was ignoring easy layup opportunities, being caught in the air with nowhere to go, and getting completely abused by a fairly rudimentary two-man trap in the half-court, Chauncey was doing more than his fair share to push the Nuggets over the edge. His shots were timely and brutal, and the lack of mistakes in his decision making was a perfect way for Billups to put his stamp on this series.
But before I get too gushy about the Nuggets’ stars, let’s not forget our own. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the rest of the team simply could not carry the burden of doing the rest. Dirk was positively glorious. He was drawing fouls on any Nugget that dare try to defend him, and when Dirk wasn’t waltzing his way to the free throw line he was draining jumpers that barely touched net. Though his 5 turnovers are quite uncharacteristic, I think he’s done more than enough to absolve himself. After all Dirk has done to carry the Mavs this season and this postseason, he’s certainly earned that much.
The Mavericks’ defense was undoubtedly their downfall. Though it’s easy to point the finger to the careless turnovers or flubbed offensive possessions, you hardly even need to single out the atrocious transition defense and nearly as miserable half-court execution. The perimeter defense just isn’t good enough to stay with quality NBA players, and the Mavs lack the type of help side defenders that can compensate for that weakness. The result is layups, and dunks, and free throws, which are a bit easier than the Mavs’ jumpers. Dirk is a fantastic jumpshooter, but he can hardly keep pace with a Nugget layup drill.
Jason Kidd (19 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 threes) had a tough time running the offense, and couldn’t stay in front of Chauncey Billups to save his life. But to Kidd’s credit, he came out in the second half ready to make a difference. The Mavs trimmed their 10-point deficit in a jiffy, in large part to Kidd hitting open three after open three. It was a nice second half effort to step up as Dirk’s scoring bro, but needless to say I expected a more complete game (and series) from Kidd.
Brandon Bass (17 and 7) was great, and J.J. Barea (7 points on 3 of 5 shooting) played some good minutes to spell Kidd during his turnover phase. Unfortunately for both of them, J.R. Smith (18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) was better. How many momentum-killing long threes did Smith hit in this series? He can shoot from the damn parking lot.
The Mavs had chances to win this game, but here’s the important thing: they earned those chances. Dallas sprinted out of the gate to a quick lead, but eventually ceded it to the Nuggs. Then they fought back several times in the second half, only to be held at arm’s length by a Carmelo three or a J.R. heartbreaker. But this outcome is something the Mavs should have been expecting since Game 2, and rightfully so. Congrats to the Nuggets, but plenty of congratulations to the Mavs for putting up a helluva fight, staying within reach, and hoping for a miracle. The fact that it never came doesn’t make their effort any less impressive.
Dear Jason Kidd, You need to eliminate the jump pass from your brain. I don’t want you to be able to perform that action anymore. Know who you’re going to pass to, stay on your feet, and be a damn point guard. Love, Rob.
Chris Andersen was rendered a non-factor in the last two games he actually played, largely because Dirk was very aware of his presence. Andersen tried to swoop in on several occasions for a weak side block on Dirk, only to find Nowitzki waiting patiently to draw the foul. Great stuff as always from Dirk.
This was not a good series for Jason Terry. I might go as far as to say that this was the worst playoff run of his career. Rick threw him into the starting lineup, and it did a whole lot of nothing.
Can someone explain to me how Anthony Carter got three offensive rebounds, all of which were around the basket?
Great season, guys.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night is practically a formality. I’d feel dirty if I gave it to anyone else but Dirk. Well deserved, buddy.
Just a little reminder that despite the lack of a double-header, the Mavs-Nuggs will still tip off at 8:00 central time.
Check me out on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith talking Mavs — mostly Dirk straight beastin’ and the fan hijinx.
Rick Carlisle on technical fouls, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “I’m never an advocate of technicals, even though I’ve had more than my share this year, but when they sort of manifest with a pure heart, you feel a little differently about them, especially if they win. Now, if we’d have lost by a couple points and gave up five technical free throws, I’d be singing a different tune. But I just thought the way we fought was great.”
An extensive history of Dirk’s performances in elimination games tells many Mavs fans what they already know: when the pressure swells, so does Dirk’s play. With one notable exception (2007 was a doozy), Dirk has been exceptional with the series on the line.
Mike Moreau of Scouts, Inc./ESPN: “The Game 5 defensive plan must include better efforts by Howard and Antoine Wright to deny Anthony the ball. Once every three or four times isn’t enough. If Anthony gets it going in Game 5, it will be lights out for the Mavericks. Anthony’s defender must deny, front, fight and refuse to concede a single catch in the post, wing or top of the floor. Just preventing two catches per quarter takes 16 potential points away, and Anthony’s attempt to receive a pass in Game 5 should become a fight for position and for the ball…The Mavericks cannot take a single defensive possession off in Game 5. Any lapse in concentration will turn into the quick scoring runs that can turn this game into a blowout. This must be their best defensive effort of the year — every shot contested, everybody in the lane on drives, everybody on the glass.”
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Asked if he thought Cuban’s blog, where the owner apologized to Kenyon Martin’s mother and to other Nuggets fans, including Vazquez, whose experience at American Airlines Center was marred by confrontations with Mavericks fans, was the wrong forum for an olive branch, Anthony said: ‘No blog to blog. No twitter to twitter. Face to face.’ Martin also voiced his feeling that the online apology to his mother was not the most genuine way to go about it.” For what it’s worth, the TNT crew mentioned on Inside the NBA that Mark Cuban apparently tried to contact K-Mart’s agent, tried to contact his mother directly, and even waited for Martin at pre-game shootaround, where Kenyon refused to speak to him. Let’s all remind ourselves that all of this nonsense is the product of Cuban telling a player’s mother that her son was a ‘punk.’ This is the reason why the off-day hype machine is a bad thing.
Oh, but Kenyon did finally make some attempt to communicate with Cuban face to face…but this video isn’t for ye of virgin ears, those at work, or nuns.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Mano-a-Melo. It just doesn’t get much better…Down 3-1, the Mavericks still don’t have much chance to rally for a series win. But with Denver seemingly married to the idea of guarding Nowitzki one-on-one, you have to wonder if just about anything is possible for him. ‘I can’t say enough about what Dirk did out there,’ Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘Just a fantastic performance. There are very few guys I’ve been around in this league that are as strong-willed as he is. Dirk’s performance was amazing.’”
And wonderful, another incident with a Nugget familial cheerleader and the Mavs’ bleachers. Here’s the video of LaLa Vasquez, Carmelo Anthony’s girlfriend/fiancée, being escorted out of the arena. She’s playing the race card, which isn’t something to throw around. A Mavs fan claiming to be sitting in her immediate vicinity argues otherwise, but at best it’s he said-she said-she might have said.
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “Now, I’d like to discuss Dirk Nowitzki. Not unlike Carmelo, just about any shot he decides to toss up will have a solid chance of going in. And like a lot of players who can go over either shoulder, on either block, in either direction, in a number of ways, the sheer amount of possibilities and ways for Dirk to score sometimes boggles the mind. His mind, most importantly. It leads him thinking way too much, trying to set up the perfect shot, when sometimes a one-footed fadeaway off of no contact from 17-feet is a 70 percent proposition.”
Rick Carlisle on Dirk, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “The one fadeaway shot that he hit was a force of sheer will to get that ball in the basket, because it was an incredibly difficult shot…I’ve seen Bird make those shots many time during the prime of his career. The great ones, they somehow find the will to do it and they get it done. You know, he’s one of the great ones.”
There are some Nuggets who don’t have much to stand on when it comes to discussing “class,” but that doesn’t mean the crowd at the AAC needs to get into the act. There are some lines that fans aren’t meant to cross, and when family comes into the picture, any insult becomes intensely personal. For everybody’s sake, let’s stay away from that. I don’t care who said what or who did what at this point; cut it out.
Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “…the Nuggets have lost their physical edge.Along with the points in the paint Dallas crushed the Nuggets on the boards.I generally do not make a big deal about rebounds unless the Nuggets get or give up an avalanche of second chance points, but the Mavericks completely controlled their defensive glass giving up only six offensive rebounds to Denver while corralling 41 defensive boards.”
Yes, Erick Dampier suffered, but THIS IS A MYTH. I REPEAT, THIS IS A MYTH.
Woodie Paige, The Denver Post: “In a game of plots, conspiracies, subterfuges, gambits, feints and ploys, it came down to a one-on-one, face-to-face, mano-a-mano Star Wars lightsabers duel between Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki edged Anthony. The Mavericks edged the Nuggets. This was Frazier-Ali, Connors-McEnroe, Gibson-Drysdale, Ben-Hur-Messala, Skywalker-Vader, Russell-Chamberlain, Magic-Bird. Staring down, looking up. Point for point, rebound for rebound, big play for big play. Basketball is a team game, but there was an individual clash of the titans Monday night that was epic and classic, a pleasure to watch, an amusement park ride, a test of wills, drives and jumpers. If you don’t like that, collect butterflies.”
Even if the Mavs fall in Denver, there’s a pretty big difference between losing in four and losing in five.
Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “With Dirk playing in the post as a ’5′, then Bass can be a ’4′. It is not exactly Gasol and Odom, but it makes quite a bit of sense against many teams. If Dampier cannot provide any reason for the opposition to guard him, and if he also brings almost no energy plays, then allowing the offense to run through Dirk on the post against guys who cannot guard him make the Mavs impossible to deal with without a double team. And, then, your shooters make them pay. Dirk as a 5 might be the future of this team. So, maybe a true defensive Power Forward is what this team really needs to allow the Mavs to “play small” even though they would have a 7-foot center. It all starts with Dirk being interested in banging around, but he banged for 44 last night and Denver had no clue what to do.”
In the subplot that I currently could not care less about, Mark Cuban apologizes to Kenyon Martin, his mom, and his family. A kind gesture, but come on, do we still have to talk about this?
ESPN’s Marc Stein: “The historic part: Nowitzki and Anthony became just the third twosome ever in a playoff game to each total at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. Jerry West (41 and 10) and Elgin Baylor (45 and 17) did it as Los Angeles Lakers teammates against Detroit in 1962. Michael Jordan (42 and 12) and Charles Barkley (42 and 13) did so for Chicago and Phoenix, respectively, in the 1993 NBA Finals. Then the list ends with Dirk and Melo.”
“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.
In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos. He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force. The result? Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory. The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp. Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.
Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3. After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor. For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm. Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek. The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.
The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights. One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully. Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim. K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper. More coming on Dirk in a later post.
Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk. Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer. His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own. Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one. I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly. It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers. Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.
Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him. J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble. Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.
Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint. Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work. This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed. He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.
Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls. The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer. I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense. Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds. Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets. When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams. But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win. That’s no coincidence.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Seriously? Do you have to ask? Dirk Nowitzki. No-brainer.
Just one more note on the not-so-imaginary foul before we move on, and only because Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com makes a very sound point: “‘Hammering’ can get you a game-losing flagrant. Even ‘wrapping up’ can result in…a shooting foul…is Antoine Wright supposed to guess if the refs: Are in the Kobe Mood – where he can throw a chin-high elbow and have the foul be called on the other guy’s chin? Are in the Dwight Howard Mood – where an elbow earns a one-game suspension? Are in the Ron Artest Mood – where he gets an ejection for going too aggressively for the ball? Are in the Kenyon Martin Mood – where he gets a slap on the wrist for a goal-line tackle? Are in the Derek Fisher Mood – where he gets in immediate ejection for a thrown shoulder? Are in the Rajon Rondo Mood — where he must have to draw blood twice to get truly penalized? Are in the Zaza Pachulia Mood – where he gets an ejection for … talking? That’s too subjective. That’s too arbitrary. Wright cannot be expected to guess at whether Messrs. Wunderlich, Salvatore and Mauer had a bad night’s sleep, are feeling grumpy or…whatever.”
Okay, okay, one LAST LAST thing, from Woodie Paige of The Denver Post: “The referees, the source said, were ‘not upset by the league’s announcement, but (they) believe it was the correct noncall in that situation.’ According to the source, one of the referees said: ‘If they think we missed the call, that’s their decision.’”
Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News: “All that remains for the Mavs is to show us the depth of their personal pride, because Game 4 is merely a formality. This series is over. No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit. The Mavs won’t be the first. Don’t forget, Denver has beaten Dallas seven straight times. No, this series wouldn’t have a different feel if the Mavs had won Game 3. Yes, there would’ve been a sliver of hope for the Mavs, but Dallas has never had control of a single game. The Mavs played as hard as they could in Game 3. They attacked the basket, resulting in 49 free throws. They committed just 10 turnovers. They limited Denver to 42 percent shooting. They even dominated the battle of the benches for the first time. Still, the Mavs never led by more than six points. And they made just enough errors to find a creative way to lose.”
Rick Carlisle, via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “You’ve got to be honest and study the things you could have done better over the course of the entire game…The two areas we’re going to have to improve on are dribble penetration and second shots. We do better in those areas, then it doesn’t come down to an official’s call or the lack of a call…We talked about the position we’re in and why tomorrow is important. It’s pretty simple at this point. There are some adjustments you can make, but the whole adjustment thing diminishes as you get three or four games into a series. We need to get on the board and go from there.”
Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “During the postgame chaos after Saturday’s Nuggets-Mavericks game, Dallas owner Mark Cuban had a brief but heated confrontation with Lydia Moore, the mother of Denver’s Kenyon Martin, who was seated near the tunnel that leads to the Mavs’ locker room. Cuban said Sunday by e-mail that when he walked off the court, a fan was screaming about the Nuggets being ‘thugs,’ so Cuban said to Martin’s mother: ‘That includes your son.’…Cuban said by e-mail he knew Martin’s mother, because after a previous game that Denver won, she had approached him and made trash-talk-type comments.”
I’m sure that at this point another viewing of Carmelo’s three isn’t necessary, but in case you’re in the mood for some parody (hat tip to reader Andrew B.):
Also, a little note that you may or may not find interesting. Last night the betting line on combined points was 209.5…which you’ll notice is just a basket below the final outcome of 211. With the score sitting at 105-103 advantage Mavs, those betting on the under win the day. But one no-call and a Carmelo three later (although any basket would have done the trick), ‘over’ bettors are suddenly in the money. It’s not a scandal, and certainly no conspiracy, but it certainly does put an interesting spin on last night’s events.
Art Garcia of NBA.com: “Wright said he didn’t want to make any extra contact in case Anthony was about to shoot, which would have led to three foul shots. ‘What do you want me to do? Do you want me to Derek Fisher him, just take him out and then I get a flagrant foul late in the game,’ Wright fumed. ‘I can’t blatantly run through the guy. I have to try to make a play on the ball and that’s what I felt like I did. I didn’t want to jeopardize my team in any way by making a foolish foul.’” In the grand scheme of things, Wright is but a peon. Carmelo is an elite offensive player that tends to do amazing things in the final moments of games. Call me crazy, but I err on the Wright side of this debate. If AW is waiting for a whistle and one never comes, he has fractions of a second to react and scramble to contest the shot. In that scramble, the odds that he gets called for a foul are probably 50-50, despite what actually does or doesn’t happen. In a perfect world, should Wright have played out the sequence regardless of a whistle? Sure. Does that mean we should blame him for it? Hardly.
Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Despite a controversial ending, let there be no Mavs crying, not after missing two free throws (one by Jason Terry, one by Josh Howard) in the final 2:12, among four clanged in the fourth quarter. Or when Dirk Nowitzki, who otherwise was very game, threw up a lame shot with 7.9 seconds left, which was a failure in three areas: No. 1, he missed. No. 2, Dirk didn’t milk the shot clock enough, leaving three critical seconds and 6.5 overall. No. 3, while guarded man-to-man by Kenyon Martin, he didn’t do what he had been doing much of the afternoon. Driving the rim hard, getting to the line.” There are millions of reasons why the Mavs ended up at 105 points, and plenty of those reasons are failures to complete certain tasks. Yes, Dirk should have milked the clock. Yes, he should’ve tried to get to the basket. And yes, the Mavs should’ve made their free throws. But essentially, the Mavs were penalized for regressing toward the mean. On the season, the Mavs as a team shot 81.6% on their free throws. They shot exactly that same percentage in Game 3. On the season, the Mavs as a team had 49 free throw attempts, which is almost double their regular season average. Dirk far exceeded his average attempts of 6.7 by shooting 15 free throws. It’s a pity that those already excellent marks were brought back down to earth by a failure to score in the final minutes, but the numbers would tell you that such a fall was inevitable. The Mavs had played well enough to endure that slip, but they were hardly afforded the chance to.
Via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “If I was the league, I wouldn’t say that,” Dirk said Sunday. “I don’t think it makes anybody feel better. We don’t get the last seven seconds back, to kind of play it over again. So more than anything, I think it made it worse.” Sigh.