What a game, what a game, what a game. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the ‘Race for 8′ transform into a ‘Race to Avoid 8′, and, by definition, a race to avoid the Lakers. The Utah Jazz, who sit just one full game behind the Mavs, were nursing a huge lead against the Clippers, and with two minutes and thirty seconds remaining, the Mavs were down five points to the Timberwolves. Heavy stuff.
But from that point on, the Mavs committed few mistakes. They got exactly the offensive looks they wanted, and capitalized on most of them. They locked down defensively, and ceded a single basket due to unfortunate circumstance alone. Two and a half minutes, a 9-2 run, and nearly flawless execution. In the biggest moments of this game and possibly of the season, the Mavs did not disappoint. Shot after shot, stop after stop, all culminating in a defensive stop by Dirk/Erick Dampier and a huge go-ahead bucket by Jason Terry with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Break it down, now:
Damp cuts down the lane, taking his defender with him and generally causing some confusion with a possible screen for Terry. Instead, Dirk sets a pick for Terry at the elbow, stalling Telfair enough for JET to catch the inbounds pass from Kidd. Terry takes the perfect bounce pass from Kidd on the wing, pump fakes to shed the flying Telfair, and fades slightly on the open 18-footer. I can’t tell you how important that inbounds pass was: if Kidd doesn’t throw the perfectly timed bounce pass, JET pulls up without space or doesn’t have the time to pump fake. You’re looking at a much more difficult shot than the shooting drill look Terry got on the baseline.
But how did things even get to that point? Simply looking at the finale and celebrating the victory is to ignore the misery that was the Mavs’ offense in the second and third quarters, and the defensive woes that stretched throughout. Dirk managed to salvage the third into a semi-productive quarter, but the Mavs missed fourteen straight field goals over nine and a half minutes spanning the second and third quarters. The execution was sloppy, and more than a few quality looks around the rim caught a bad bounce. For once, the Mavs weren’t just lackadaisically settling for jumpers on the perimeter; they were making concentrated efforts to get inside, but just couldn’t finish when they got there. Meanwhile, the Wolves milked mismatches for all they were worth, and took full advantage when they caught the Mavs with their pants down (which happened fairly regularly).
Dirk (34 points, 2-3 3FG, 9 rebounds) was sensational. For what it’s worth, Brian Cardinal was a more formidable opponent for Dirk than any other defender…but Dirk still used Brian like I’ve been using disgusting, snotty, flu-infected tissues, and got almost every look he wanted,. The Wolves eventually shifted to a more aggressive defensive strategy, but Dirk wisely picked his spots, passed out of double teams when needed, and shot over the top when he had the advantage. Dirk used the spin to get plenty of looks in the paint throughout the game, and pump faked his way to 17 free throw attempts. On top of everything, Dirk hit a spinning layup with 41 seconds left to tie the game and put everything in a position to get interesting.
Poor Sebastian Telfair. The game’s final plays were a microcosm of his career. He shot an ill-advised, premature three pointer, banker, hinging his team’s chances on his subpar jumper. He drove inside using his superior quickness, but turned the vall over when Dirk swatted the ball out of his hands. And then, despite having all the physical tools to stay with Jason Terry, he gave JET a quality look at a game-winner which found its way through the net.
It was nice to see Terry (22 points, 10-15 FG) bounce back after watching him struggle in the last two games against New Orleans. I think he hit a big shot somewhere in there.
J.J. Barea (13 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) got the start in place of Josh Howard, and he played beautifully. Nobody could stay in front of him, and Barea mixed in aggressive scoring drives with well-timed passes. Throw in his play on the defensive end, and you’ve got a solid night from a substitute starter.
Mike Miller (18 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) and Craig Smith (24 points, 8 rebounds) each exploited the Mavs’ defense in their own way, and it wasn’t pretty. Miller gave everyone who tried to defend him trouble, with Kidd’s steal on him in the clutch much more the exception than the rule. Antoine Wright had trouble stopping him, Jason Terry didn’t have the size to contest or the defensive skill to hang with him, and Kidd didn’t guard Miller enough to get a good read. Craig Smith continued the line of Minnesota pivots to terrorize the Mavs. Al Jefferson passed the torch to Kevin Love in the last contest, and Craig Smith took up the task this time around. I’m not sure I understand exactly why Craig Smith was able to take advantage of Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass, and I’m pessimistic that considering the possibilities would do anything other than make my head hurt. He’s undersized, a poor rebounder, and completely reliant on buckets around the basket, and yet the Mavs surrendered 24 points to him without much resistance. The defense wasn’t too bad otherwise, but this dull spot may be enough to put a significant damper on the evening.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Terry. Breaking out of a mini-slump always deserves some consideration, but the JET sealed the deal by keying the fourth quarter offense with 11 points on 5-7 shooting and hitting the big one.
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