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 Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
“Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.” (Ed. note: But it’s nice to have a bit of both, isn’t it?) -Anonymous
The Mavericks are a good enough team that on most nights in the regular season, they can get away with only playing one half of good basketball. That said, it’s not a very good habit to get into. It’s one thing to drop a stinker of a first quarter (slow starts have become a bonafide trend) against Detroit, but the game in L.A. proved that good teams with capitalize on Dallas’ generosity. And considering it’s that caliber of team that the Mavs hope to be and to beat, their primary goal from now until April should be to play games with consistent effort and make starting strong a point of emphasis.
But hey, a win is a win is a win. The Mavs did rally back from a 14-point deficit. They did hold Ben Gordon to just nine points (4-11 FG, four turnovers). They did experience a complete revival from Jason Terry (26 points, 11-19 FG, five assists, zero turnovers), who looked like himself for the first time in a long while. And in the second half they turned up the offense, scoring 62 points (22 of 40 from the field) over the game’s final 24. All things considered, it was a sold win, even if the Mavs decided to handicap themselves with an awful first quarter performance.
Drew Gooden (10 points, 4-16 FG, 18 rebounds, two steals and a block) did a nice job filling in for Erick Dampier, even if his career-high nine offensive rebounds were only fueled by Gooden’s frequent misses at the rim. Drew simply couldn’t convert his tips in the first half, as each bat of the ball found just the wrong part of the rim to roll off of. His defense was well short of spectacular, but I still appreciate the overall effort.
Still, the Mavs have a serious problem defending the rim without Erick Dampier. There’s just no help coming from the weak side to prevent easy layups and dunks (or at the very least, to take a hard foul). Therein lies Damp’s real defensive value. His shot blocking numbers are impressive, but he alters shots and changes the decision-making of opponents’ offenses simply by being in the game. He’s much more of a defensive threat than Gooden, as evidenced by the parade to the rim in Los Angeles and Rodney Stuckey’s (15 points, 7-15 FG, six assists) frequent, uncontested trips deep into the paint. It’s a real detriment to the team defense to have Dampier on the bench, and though it wasn’t the difference between a win and a loss last night, it very well could be on others. Get well soon, Damp.
Overall, not the best win in the world, but another night where the Mavs were able to take advantage of the differential in talent. The Pistons roster is rather middling in that regard, and though Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, etc. are solid players, there just wasn’t enough to counter Terry’s explosions, ‘the usual’ from Dirk (22 points, 9-20 FG, 21 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers), and contributions from a talented group of veterans. Whereas Detroit has to lean heavily on Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko (who will have a long, successful career in this league), and Chris Wilcox, the Mavs have the benefit of looking down the rotation and seeing shiny, happy people like Shawn Marion (18 points, 5-7 FG, seven rebounds), Josh Howard (12 points, 5-10 FG, three rebounds, two assists), and Drew Gooden. So even if the bigger names on the Pistons can keep pace with the Mavs’ offensive stars, they’re still likely to face a deficit when it comes to the rest of the rotation. Even though Rick Carlisle isn’t playing a ten man rotation anymore, this Mavs team is deep.
Rodney Stuckey was absolutely, positively wide open on an attempt for a game-tying three with two seconds remaining…but missed long. It was hardly by design (Rick Carlisle cited probable miscommunication post-game), but Stuck is a 17% three-point shooter on the season, and hasn’t made one since November 25th. Obviously you’d prefer to avoid defensive breakdowns with the game on the line, but Dallas picked the right guy to leave open.
A pretty disappointing game for J.J. Barea (zero points, 0-4 FG, four assists). I know I was singing a different tune just a week ago, but it may be time for Barea to retire to the bench in favor of Howard.
The most impressive thing about JET’s performance was, to me, that he refused to dominate the ball. In the past, Terry has been as guilty of this as anyone with a hot hand; the natural reaction of players shooting and scoring well is to keep the ball, force shots, and make more mistakes. It’s just the flip side to having an aggressive scoring mentality.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night undoubtedly goes to Jason Terry. Welcome back JET. You can read my thoughts on Jason Terry’s game and his return to prominence in today’s Daily Dime.
About half an hour until the deadline, and not much out of Mavs-land. Considering the Mavs most expendable trade asset (Jerry Stackhouse’s contract) can actually be used over the summer (the Mavs have until August to turn down the non-guaranteed portion of his deal), I don’t think they’ll be panicking. Hell, the Blazers aren’t panicking, and that’s with Raef Lafrentz’s mammoth expiring contract. Here’s the latest chatter from around the interwebs:
Mark Cuban, via Eddie Sefko’s piece this morning: “‘I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more that’s going to be done,’ owner Mark Cuban said. ‘Everybody’s looking to do the same thing, save money and to save cap room [for the future]. It’s hard to do both.’”
Eddie Sefko, DMN Mavs Blog: “You never know when a rebound will fall in your lap. And the Mavericks are still working the trade grapevine to see if anything crazy happens in the last hour. Doesn’t seem likely, but you never know with this bunch.”
Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com: “‘How many trade offers have you had?’ Donnie [Nelson] was asked on Wednesday night. ‘Today? Seventy-five. Maybe 100. A lot,’ he responded. ‘I just got five in the 45 minutes I’ve been talking to you guys.’”
The Knicks trade Malik Rose and cash to the Thunder for Chris Wilcox. I don’t get this one at all. It’s a no-brainer from the Knicks perspective; both players have expiring deals, and their production levels aren’t even comparable. I doubt Wilcox will re-sign with NY, but they’ll get a free look at a much better player. If you can figure out what’s in it for OKC, please, by all means.
The Bulls trade Larry Hughes to the Knicks for Tim Thomas, Anthony Roberson, and Jerome James. Jerome James is likely to retire after this season, meaning most if not all of his 2009-2010 salary will be covered by insurance. This could be the Knicks trying to consolidate their deals into one neat little package, or maybe D’Antoni seems some real value in Hughes. Either way, if for whatever reason the Knicks do decide to play the trade market next year, Hughes’ expiring deal will be worth more to teams than Thomas’. The Bulls can plug Thomas into Nocioni’s role, and on top of that they should save some coin if Jerome James retires as planned. Anthony Roberson’s a freebie.