“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is good work today.“
In theory, it’s less important for the Mavs to win this game than it was for them not to lose it; wins over lottery-bound teams late in the season don’t count for much aside from an uptick in standings, meaning no one is going to give the Mavs a pat on the back for taking care of business against the Kings. That makes it all the more impressive that they not only didn’t lose, but they won in decisive fashion. One of the Mavs’ weaknesses all season has been their inability to put away weaker opponents, often turning what should be walk-away wins into drag-out affairs. Not so last night, as the Mavs seized a double-digit lead quickly, gradually built it up to around 20, and held on despite some mini-runs by Sacramento.
Dirk Nowitzki had a special offensive night. His previous game against the Blazers was impressive in its own right, but he was just on another level in this one. Only two turnovers? Expected. 60% shooting from the field? Nice. 13-of-13 free throw attempts (which allowed Dirk to break his own franchise record for consecutive free throws made, previously 60, by making 68 in a row)? Terrific. 39 points on just 20 shots? Unreal. The Kings threw several different looks at Nowitzki but it didn’t make a bit of difference. Dirk just did what he usually does only even more impressively, and his Dirk’s 39 is but a footnote on the day’s NBA slate because excellence is what we expect from Nowitzki. Cherish it, folks.
If anyone out there is worried about the Mavs’ ability to beat the zone, check out their execution in the first quarter. Dallas started the game on an absolute tear, mostly due to their ability to pick apart Sacramento’s zone and bury it from mid-range. Dirk’s ability to operate from the high post is a big part of that, but just as important were smart passes that exploited the Kings’ over-rotations. The Mavs have the shooters, the playmaker, the high post threat, and the offensive rebounders (Haywood, Dampier, Marion, Butler) to absolutely kill the zone, and that’s exactly what they did in their match-up with Sacramento.
That and, well, they’re the Kings. Their defense is better than it was at some of their darker moments this season, but it’s still nowhere near playoff-caliber. So everything I just said? Only true, not necessarily tried.
DeShawn Stevenson was pretty decent defensively. He may actually be a quicker perimeter defender than Jason Kidd, though I wouldn’t advise putting DeShawn on a lightning-quick point guard (Aaron Brooks et al) for any considerable length of time. Against Tyreke Evans though, Stevenson at least managed to use his size and strength to make Tyreke’s 27 points…difficult…what was I talking about again? No one’s stopping Tyreke Evans. Descriptions of him as the point guard LeBron aren’t exaggerations, but accurate descriptions of his athletic talents relative to his competition. Honestly, if ‘Reke isn’t your pick for Rookie of the Year, you’re not doing it right.
I’m not sure there’s a more likable power forward rotation in the NBA than the Kings’. You can’t help but cheer for Jason Thompson (12 points, seven rebounds, five turnovers), who’s far more than the energy player and rebounder he was expected to be coming out of college. Carl Landry’s (30 points, 10-16 FG, six rebounds) scoring efficiency, toughness, and professionalism make him one of the most interesting and endearing cats around. Then there’s Jon Brockman (two points, two rebounds), A.K.A. the Brochness Monster, a dude who literally just does one thing well (rebounding), but does it really, really damn well. No superstars in the mix there, but three talented guys that are just really fun to watch.
Jason Kidd (11 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, three turnovers, two steals) had a complete turnaround from his struggles against the Blazers. Plus, he kicked a ball into the stands for pretty much no reason, which counts for something in my book. This performance was definitely impressive, and had Dirk not gone absolutely nuts in the 3rd quarter (Nowitzki scored 22 in that frame alone), Kidd would likely be taking home player of the game honors.
Dallas finished shooting 13-of-21 from long range. Hot, hot, hot.
Slight trouble as Brendan Haywood tweaked his right ankle after landing on Francisco Garcia’s foot. It doesn’t appear to be serious (Haywood went to the locker room, but returned to the bench), but Haywood played just eight minutes. On the plus side, Erick Dampier (seven points, six rebounds, three blocks) played 28 minutes, his highest total since February 16th.
Shawn Marion sat out another game with his strained oblique, and remains day-to-day.
Jason Terry finished with 25 points (8-14 FG) with six assists and two steals, and Caron Butler chipped in 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. That’ll do, gents.
If you’re combing this win for negatives, I’d point you towards the Kings’ offensive rebounding (14 to the Mavs’ 7, good for a .326 ORR). It wasn’t enough to really give the Mavs’ trouble, but had the conditions of this game been different, it could have been a noticeable problem. Haywood’s absence didn’t really help, either.
While the destruction of the class system in the Western Conference has created a particularly intriguing playoff scene, it doesn’t exactly bode well for the Mavs’ chance for postseason glory. I wish it were simple enough to say that the reasons for the Mavericks’ turmoil were all internal, but just as worrisome has been the meteoric rise of the West’s lower-seeded teams. Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City are all playing tremendous basketball at the moment, and the while the volatility in the West hinges greatly on the struggles of teams like L.A., Denver, and Dallas, the non-traditional contenders in the conference introduce a rather unique competitive element.
As a result, Dallas should be wary of an early playoff exit. Not necessarily because they’re not playing well enough (though they’re not), but because their opponent may be; the power to decide the first round series won’t rest solely in the hands of higher seeded teams, even though the talent level of squads like the Lakers will give them some inherent advantages. Basically, the Mavs need to play well not only because they’re capable of doing so, but because their first round opponent in the playoffs surely will be.
That’s why it’s particularly painful to admit the truth that as of right now, Dallas is rather mediocre. Any magic the Mavs captured during their 13-game winning streak is now gone, and a review of the relevant statistics makes two things very apparent:
The Dallas Mavericks are absolutely, positively worthy of being in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Dallas Mavericks are, in many regards, quite average.
Let’s break this down in greater detail, using the four factors. All of the the Mavs’ stats are based on post-All-Star production only, while the rankings and league averages are based on the entire season thus far (or rather, the rankings represent how the post-trade Mavs stack up with the other teams’ full season numbers).
Shooting (eFG%, or effective field goal percentage):
.508 eFG% (10th, .499 league average)
.499 eFG% allowed (17th, .499 league average)
The Mavs’ tendency to follow their most torrid offensive performances with rather mundane ones has done a splendid job of making their effective field goal percentage a solid, but middling .508. This would never be an area in which I’d expect Dallas to excel; an offense predicated on shooting a ton of mid-range jumpers is never going to rank very well in terms of eFG%. When a team relies so heavily on the least efficient shot in basketball (even if they employ some of the best in the game at that particular shot), posting an elite effective field goal percentage will always be an uphill battle.
The defensive shooting numbers are a bit more troubling to me, if only because it means that the Mavs’ defensive success from early in the season has essentially evaporated. Bringing in Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler was supposed to drastically improve the defense, but the Mavs’ eFG% allowed has actually been worse since the trade by the tiniest of margins. The problem isn’t that the defense has gotten worse, it’s that it hasn’t gotten better.
Turnovers (TOr, or turnover rate):
.131 TOr (T-11th, .134 league average)
.146 opponent TOr (5th, .134 league average)
Ball protection has long been a staple of the Dallas Mavericks, and it’s even what allowed a 2006 team with historically low assist totals to make it all the way to the NBA Finals. Dallas may not shoot as many corner threes or shots in the paint as other teams, but they usually take care of the ball so well that they’re able to split the difference in efficiency.
That hasn’t been the case of late, and the Mavs have slipped from being an elite team when it comes to turnovers to a rather disappointing 12th. It’s not a case where you can point to one player as the cause. Instead, a number of players (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, J.J. Barea) have each contributed a few extra turnovers to damage the Mavs’ previously impressive turnover rate. The slightest uptick on a team-wide scale is enough to make a team strength fall back into the pack.
Oddly enough, the Mavs have managed to hedge the drop-off in their own turnover struggles by forcing more turnovers on the defensive end. It’s a bit surprising given that this facet of defense has always seemed elude the Mavs prior to this season. Not since the All-Star break, and seeing improvement in this area of the Mavs’ D does give some reason for optimism…if only because it’s one of the few defensive bright spots.
Rebounding (ORR, or offensive rebounding rate)
.239 ORR (26th, .263 league average)
.266 opponent ORR/Mavs’ DRR) (12th, .263 league average)
Dallas has never been a good offensive rebounding team, though this number is admittedly weakened due to games missed by Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood. The sample size for this data is so small since we’re only looking at post-All-Star values, making the combined 15 games that Damp and Haywood have missed since the break even more influential.
Still, look at both of those ranks. In terms of defensive rebounding — which you would think would be a strength on a team with Haywood, Dampier, Nowitzki, Marion, and Kidd — the Mavs are somehow a middle of the pack outfit. They’re a much better defensive rebounding team than they are an offensive rebounding one, but can a squad really survive a long playoff run with such poor rebounding numbers? I wouldn’t say that elite rebounding is absolutely essential (though it’s rather important that overall the Mavs are not a poor rebounding team), but given how Dallas stacks up in the other factors, this hurts.
Free Throws (FTA/FGA)
.255 FTA/FGA (27th, league average .301)
.277 opponents’ FTA/FGA (6th, league average .301)
Some things never change. Even with the additions of Butler, Haywood, and Beaubois to the rotation, the Mavs are as free throw-deprived as ever. Dirk Nowitzki’s ability to get to the line is still somewhat unheralded relative to his contemporaries. The bigger issue is that Jason Terry and Caron Butler, the next two Mavs in line to take a large amount of shots, both put up a ton of two-point jumpers and don’t shoot many free throws. Dirk can create contact and get himself to the line, but the rest of the Mavs aren’t really following suit.
Luckily Dallas doesn’t send their opponents to the line all that often, which helps to even things out. The FTR differential still goes to the opponents, which means that even though the rankings show this as a potential strength for the Mavs, any advantage is negated by how poorly Dallas measures up on the companion stat.
To review, the Mavs offensive ranks: 10th, 11th, 26th, and 27th.
And their defensive ranks: 17th, 5th, 12th, and 6th.
When analysts and writers note the Mavs’ lack of identity, this is what they mean. What is it, aside from being pretty damn good at shooting two-point jumpers, that Dallas does well? They’re not a great defensive team, not a great rebounding team, don’t excel at getting to the line, and don’t boast impressive efficiency on either end of the court. They’re quite good at not turning the ball over, but even that strength seems oddly supplemental.
They rank 9th in offensive efficiency (107.1, league average 104.5) and 15th in defensive efficiency (105.0, league average 104.5) since the break. These are not ratings that should inspire confidence, and they’re reason enough to deny the Mavs contender status. This point is perhaps best articulated through efficiency differential (which is exactly what it sounds like: offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency).
In running down the leaders in efficiency differential, you run into the usual suspects: Orlando (+8.8), Cleveland (+8.3), and Los Angeles (+6.0). Those are to be expected, as each of those teams is considered a strong candidate for a spot in the NBA Finals. Continue down the list and you’ll find Utah (+5.3), Phoenix (+5.1), San Antonio (+4.9), and Boston (+4.9). The Jazz and Celtics’ ratings are a bit intuitive, but the Suns and Spurs, which may seem to be ranked surprisingly high at 5th and 6th respectively, have been on monstrous tears despite some struggles earlier in the season. Then comes Atlanta (+4.6), Denver (+4.4), Oklahoma City (+4.3), Portland (+4.1), Miami (+3.2), and finally, Dallas (+2.1). Ouch.
This differential is as literal as statistics come, and it directly represents the separation between the Mavs and their opponents. These measures remove pace as a factor and focus solely on two things: how efficiently Dallas is able to produce on a per-possession basis and how efficiently their opponents are able to produce on a per-possession basis. To see the Mavs fare so poorly is incredibly disconcerting, and the fact that they rank dead last among the Western Conference playoff teams especially so.
I don’t think that the Mavs are the worst team in the West playoff picture, nor do I think that their first round series will be decided by who has the higher efficiency differential. Every playoff series will be determined by specific match-ups, and as the Mavs found out in 2007, a remarkably high differential means little when the match-up isn’t in a team’s favor. These numbers do, however, speak volumes about how badly the Mavs have played at times since the All-Star break, a fact which was obscured by 13 straight wins, most of which came against significantly weaker opponents.
The second season is about to begin, and the climate of the playoffs is significantly different than that of the regular season. In fact, many of the intangibles that end up playing a role in the postseason (coaching, leadership, experience, clutch play, etc.) would seem to give Dallas some unquantifiable advantage. It would be utterly foolish to write the Mavericks’ eulogy now, because the fortunes of a team can literally change overnight (see Bogut, Andrew), and every prediction made now would likely be obsolete by the time the first round actually begins. But should the Mavs meet their unlikely demise against a first round foe, don’t pretend that the warning signs weren’t there. This team has struggled in a lot of ways over the past few months, and though the win streak and the 50-win mark are each worthy of celebration, they don’t signal any kind of grand redemption for a team plagued by its mediocrity.
“More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.”
As much as I’d like to congratulate the Mavs for mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this is not a win that deserves celebration. The Thunder were a team with something to play for, and play they did. Dallas had a real chance to spoil (or at least delay) Oklahoma City’s playoff celebrations, but to call what they did defensively “execution” wouldn’t exactly be accurate. It shouldn’t take an 18-point deficit and 41 minutes to suddenly instill a playoff team with a sense of urgency, yet that really seems to be a reality with these Mavs. It’s been the story throughout most of the season, regardless of who it was hitting the floor in a Maverick uniform.
Jason Kidd chimed in with a harsh reality for a wannabe contender: “It’s not that we don’t have talent. We’re one of the deepest teams in this league. I think we all need to take this nice little break we have and figure out who we want to be, and that’s sad to say with only five games left.”
The most effective center for the Mavs was Eddie Najera (11 points), and that’s a problem. Erick Dampier (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) was fairly meh, but Brendan Haywood (nine points, three rebounds) was the big disappointment as he struggled defensively and managed to fumble the ball away three times despite limited touches. When the Mavs traded for Najera, they were expecting a veteran, an end-of-the-rotation guy, and a solid energy player. When the Mavs traded for Haywood, they were expecting a “franchise center,” sayeth Mark Cuban. It’s not good when the former outperforms the latter, especially when the former manages to play 13 and a half minutes without grabbing a single rebound.
Seeing Dallas play well only during crunch time is something of a cruel tease. In many cases, they manage to pull out a win after only really playing a quarter or half a quarter of good basketball. That’s impressive, sure, but it only serves as a constant reminder of how good this team could be if they executed more consistently, and makes one wonder how many of these close games would be walk-off wins. This team has had time to gel, and now it’s time to perform.
Jason Terry, undoubtedly frustrated, making sure that the guys at the head of the Maverick bench get their due: “Our play is sporadic. Sometimes we play good D, sometimes we don’t. It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable.”
Caron Butler and Jason Terry combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Beautiful.
On the frustrating side of things, the Mavs actually played pretty good defense on Kevin Durant. If they did one thing well defensively tonight, it was that; the Durantula scored 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, though he also had five assists, five steals, and five rebounds. And the Thunder win by five. It was fated to be. Shawn Marion was matched up with KD early, and that responsibility shifted to Caron Butler after Marion left the game with a strained left oblique. Butler did a decent enough job and his teammates were able to pressure Durant well when he had the ball in his hands. The only problem is that the Mavs didn’t rotate well to compensate.
That left guys like Nick Collison (17 points), Eric Maynor (14 points, four assists), and James Harden (11 points, three assists, three turnovers) wide open. The problem wasn’t Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green, even though they combined for 62 points; the real trouble was that Dallas gave uncontested threes and open layups to the Thunder’s role players. There’s typically going to be some price to pay when traps and double-teams figure prominently into a team’s defensive strategy, but giving up 17 to Nick Collison? Letting OKC, a team 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, go completely hog-wild and drop 121 points? That stench isn’t trouble a-brewin’, but trouble fully and thoroughly brewed and only now starting to really stink.
Then again, plenty of it wasn’t overaggressive defense, just bad defense. With 7:26 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs down by 16, Collison drove right down the center for an easy layup…against a zone defense. Not good, guys.
Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10-19 FG, 13 rebounds, five turnovers) actually had a pretty terrific scoring night, and it’s a shame that it will be completely obscured by the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. Despite OKC having two good defensive options for Dirk in Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green, he performs well against them for some reason (excluding tonight’s game, Nowitzki has averaged 30.3 points per game on 53.5 % shooting against the Thunder). Dirk was a huge reason why the fourth quarter comeback was so successful, and he hit some huge shots. Or really, what would have been huge shots had Dallas’ late-game efforts not been all for naught.
Dallas also wasted a great scoring night from Jason Kidd (24 points, 10-15 FG, six assists), who was the sole reason the game wasn’t completely unwinnable by the end of the third quarter. Kidd had 13 points in the third, half of the Mavs’ total for the frame.
The Mavs actually out-shot the Thunder, both in terms of effective field goal percentage (56.2% to 54.9%) and raw field goal percentage (53.1% to 51.9%), and outrebounded them (39-34), yet still lost. I’m not positive that this is the case, but it could have something to do with forgetting to play defense in the first half and surrendering 67 points over the first 24 minutes.
Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, two turnovers) got the first minutes as the back-up point, but J.J. Barea (10 points) ultimately outperformed him when he provided a spark for Dallas in the fourth.
Nick Collison, via Twitter (@nickcollison4), regarding Oklahoma City’s playoff-clinching win: “Got 1 “congrats” text from my wife and one from her dad. Just realized I accidentally replied “thank you baby, love u” to her dad. Awkward”
As much as we’d like for the Mavs to down the Magic on a night like this, it’s not reasonable to expect it. For one, the Magic are far and away the superior team. Plus, it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Mavs, and they’re coming off an overtime finish and a plane ride home, no less. I know the Mavs don’t need any excuses at this point, but the realities of the NBA regular season do influence performance from time to time, and this one was off those times.
It’s no surprise that the Mavs stuck with the Magic before slipping in the second half. I didn’t quite expect them to post an effective field goal percentage as low as 40.7%, but that’s what happens when everyone’s shooting turns a bit wild. The only Mavericks who could score were Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 24 but took 22 shots to do so, and Jason Terry, who finished with similar efficiency in scoring 16 points on 16 shots. They “carried” the offense, but only because the first half was so low-scoring that even an inefficient night from the Mavs’ two primary scorers kept them close. Decent defense from both sides DOMINATED the first 24 minutes, provided your understanding of defensive domination includes both teams missing open jumpers, committing unforced turnovers, and lacking any kind of offensive cohesion.
In the second half, members of the Magic just took turns exposing various aspects of the Mavs’ defense. Orlando utilized its numerous perimeter alternatives on the pick-and-roll, exploiting the Mavs’ tendency to double down on Howard following his strong start to hit three after three. Mickael Pietrus (24 points, 7-8 FG, 6-6 3FG) was especially dangerous in that regard, and he was absurdly effective from the corners. Jameer Nelson (14 points, seven assists, six turnovers) joined in on the fun to hedge the damage of his dismal first half, and his ability to hit from mid-range and his patience in the pick-and-roll was a big reason why the Magic’s third quarter offense was so effective. Then, Vince Carter (19 points, 8-17 FG, seven rebounds) beefed up his production in time to cushion Orlando’s lead, and Pietrus finished with nine of the Magic’s final 10 points to protect it from a late Maverick rally.
It was just a matter of time before Orlando’s defense came around. Dwight Howard (18 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks) is one of the league’s most influential defensive forces, and every block (and even goaltend) made the Mavs more and more nervous around the basket. Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood passed up looks at the rim due to Howard’s very presence, and many more Mavs faked themselves out of a rhythm as they approached the basket. There are certain award races this season that have discussions or arguments involved. Defensive Player of the Year is not one of them. No player in the league has a more profound impact on the defensive end, and that’s just as obvious in what he does do (block shots, get mad rebounds, show aggressively on screens) as what he doesn’t (deter opponents from coming in the lane, alter shot selection).
Otherwise, there’s not much to say. The half-court offense was stymied by an elite defense, the Mavs blew plenty of their opportunities in transition, and the better team won. Dallas looked off, was forced into too many tough shots, and couldn’t convert their easy ones. That’s not exactly a winning formula on any night, much less one where the opponent is a true contender and one of the hottest teams in the league.
The closest thing Dallas had to a hero was J.J. Barea (16 points, 7-9 FG, two steals), who put on something of a one-man comeback in the fourth quarter. Barea, the very man so many Mavs fans are desperately trying to bury as an offering to Rodrigue Beaubois, scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone, including Dallas’ last seven. As much as we’d all like to carve out minutes for Beaubois, Barea still deserves to play. He’ll have nights where he’ll struggle to keep the offense in control or where his shot is a bit errant. That’s why he’s a reserve and not a starting-caliber guard. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve to play or even rightfully deserve the back-up point guard job. It’s crucial that Rick Carlisle keeps his options open, and more important than cementing the back-up PG role is doling out minutes based on the merits of each players’ recent performance. On this night, for example, Rodrigue finished with just two points on 0-of-3 shooting and two turnovers. He may have the potential to produce in greater volume than J.J. (hello, 40-point night), but Barea was by far the more productive player against the Magic. The debate should never have been about getting more minutes for Beaubois, but rather for getting more minutes for the players that deserve them.
Brandon Bass (eight points, two rebounds) doesn’t always crack the rotation for the Magic, but he played well in 12 minutes. His defense was a mixed bag (some things never change, right?), but offensively he was a nice boost.
Caron Butler (three points, 0-4 FG, three rebounds, three turnovers) is really struggling right now. On the bright side, his poor shooting isn’t shifting him into chucking mode, but he really needs to establish his value on the offensive end. Otherwise, he’s probably not worth the minutes. I’m not saying Butler should frequently try to take his man one-on-one, but what is Caron providing on the floor during these stretches where only Dirk or JET is clicking on offense? Part of that is the tendency to milk the hot hand, which is fine. It’s after the hot hand cools off that the problems begin to surface, and ideally that’s where you’d like to see Caron chip in.
Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood combined for 10 points and 18 rebounds, which is alright, I suppose. Both were clearly upstaged by Dwight (as is to be expected), but the defensive effort was there even if neither could properly hold Howard down. The Mavs began their coverage of Howard with a variety of double-teams coming from different angles at different times, but to no avail; Dwight showed off a variety of post moves (including a beauty of a lefty running hook) and found his open teammates on the perimeter. He’s such a tough cover in this system, and that was before the Magic’s outside shooting really started clicking.
Though the Mavs often looked a step slow, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Dallas really competed in this one, and kept fighting to trim the lead even when a comeback seemed impossible. The loss still hurts (especially in the standings), but the fight is important.
Orlando finished 14-of-24 from beyond the arc. Ouch.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
I don’t need to tell you what this win means in terms of playoff seeding, or how good Denver is, or how close the playoffs are. These are things that we all know and we can all appreciate the gravity of. But I will say this: if you roll together timing, magnitude, tangible implications, and pertinence for the future, this is the most important Maverick win of the season. Bigger than the wins over the Lakers, any inspiring comeback, any gutsy, last-second win, or drawn-out defensive battle. We’ve seen Dallas struggle in recent weeks with all kinds of opponents, but last night they were highly-motivated, well-prepared, and ready to rock Denver’s world.
And that they did. That. They. Did.
From the opening tip, the Mavs were just operating at a different level than the Nuggets. The ball movement for Dallas was pristine, while for Denver it was a tad sloppy and just a second off. The Mavs (and Shawn Marion, in particular) were clearly ready for Carmelo Anthony (10 points, 3-16 FG, nine rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (11 points, 3-14 FG, six assists) going in, and they executed their defensive game plan to perfection. This isn’t to say that the Nuggets’ performance, in spite of limited production from their two best players, wouldn’t be enough for a win on some nights. Against some teams in the league, the Nuggets’ 93, with 30 free throw attempts and 12 offensive rebounds, would be enough for a victory. But for the first time in weeks, the Mavs presented a challenge of a different kind for an elite opponent, even if they are a struggling one. The Mavs finally look like a team that’s ready to play playoff basketball, ready to embrace and exploit the physicality and strategy that go with it.
This is the product that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson envisioned when piecing together this roster. Shawn Marion (21 points two steals) was brought in specifically to handle threats like Anthony, and his defense was absolutely superb. Brendan Haywood (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) defended the rim and helped to negate Nene’s impact. Caron Butler (10 points, seven rebounds) and Jason Terry (15 points, 3-5 3FG) provided supplemental scoring, Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) did the heavy lifting, and Jason Kidd (eight points, 10 assists, six rebounds, three steals) ran the show like few point guards in the league can. This is what the finished product looks like, and we can only hope that what we saw last night was an unveiling rather than a sneak preview. If so, we’re entering “best basketball at the right time” territory, which is a pretty special place to be.
Nowitzki and Marion were particularly impressive. Dirk notched just the second triple-double of his career, and his 34 points came in a different fashion than we’re accustomed. Nowitzki usually makes his money from mid-range, but he put together a 4-of-5 showing from beyond the arc in a bit of a throwback performance. Despite his reputation as a sweet-shooting big man (which he is, don’t get me wrong), Dirk has phased the three out of his nightly arsenal over the last few seasons. It’s not that he can’t shoot them, but in an effort to help the Mavs engineer a more deliberate offense, he’s move his game inward. He sets up in the low post to draw fouls, attract double-teams (a tactic which Denver was happy to utilize, and Dirk capitalized with 10 assists), and get easy buckets, and operates from the high post near the top of the key or the free throw line extended. This is contemporary Nowitzki’s game as we know it, but we saw a Dirk of a different breed against the Nuggets. Dirk had just three two-point field goals, and 28 of his 34 points came off of free throws and three-pointers, the most efficient shots possible.
Marion wasn’t quite as impressive in terms of his all-around game, but the combination of his lock-down defense on Anthony (though to be fair, he obviously had help) and his scoring punch is well-deserving of second billing. Marion scored on an array of runners and layups, as per usual, but it was his ability to post up the Denver guards that was especially helpful. Plus, his own scoring success didn’t outfit him with blinders, and he was willing to find open teammates with passes even from deep in the post. I’m not sure if the Nuggets will still be switching so much on screens if they were to match up with the Mavs into the playoffs, but Marion’s versatility is an obvious way for Dallas to exploit mismatches. He took Chris Andersen off the dribble, he posted up Billups, and he was everything the Mavs wanted him to be.
Even if these last two games are a daydream, they’ve been a pleasant one.
J.R. Smith (27 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, five turnovers) was both a blessing and a curse, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I don’t have any problem with a player like Smith focusing solely on his scoring on a night like this, even if he could be using that prowess to create looks for his teammates as well. His efficient shooting and high scoring volume exempt him from that in my book, though, on the grounds that J.R. putting up that kind of production should be good enough. The five turnovers, though, hurt big time. Dallas only had seven turnovers as a team, and for Smith to sniff that total on his own is a bit troublesome. That said, I’m still awed by his scoring ability on nights like these, and if I had to bet my life on one guy in the NBA to take a bad shot at the end of the shot clock, I’d probably pick Smith.
The Mavs started quarters with authority. The first quarter began with a 17-4 Dallas run, the third with a 7-0 run, and the fourth — after a Smith three-pointer had brought Denver within 10 — was marked by a 15-4 run in the opening minutes.
Dirk grabbed three offensive rebounds, which is enough to tie his season-high.
27 assists on 38 field goals. Tremendous. Dirk and Kidd each had 10 assists, but I’m not sure that number properly encapsulates Kidd’s value. This was one of his better nights running the offense, and the Mavs looked like an elite offensive team. 123.9 points per 100 possessions is awfully impressive, and while that’s representative of team-wide success, the responsibility for the team’s offensive production weighs heavily on the point guard’s shoulders. Kudos, Kidd.
Mavericks fans live to see Rodrigue Beaubois succeed, and he actually played reasonably well in spite of a 2-of-7 shooting performance. Unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his minutes in this contest came at point guard, as J.J. Barea missed the game with a sore left ankle. And unlike most of Beaubois’ games this season, most of his production came at the defensive end, where he was excellent against Chauncey Billups and grabbed three steals.
Erick Dampier (four points, five rebounds) looked much more mobile and energetic in nine minutes, and assertive to boot. Since returning from injury on March 10th, Damp has looked a bit rusty in limited minutes. He’s not the quickest big on the court even when healthy, but last night’s game should inspire optimism for many reasons, including the possibility of having a healthy and engaged Erick Dampier.
This is the fifth game in seven nights for the Nuggets, and while I don’t really believe in scheduling as an excuse, it deserves a footnote.
Solid minutes for Eddie Najera, some coming at the 4 and some at the 5, but even solid…er minutes for Joey Graham (10 points, 4-5 FG, four rebounds). Not what you’d expect from Graham in a game like this, but surprisingly effective role players can make a huge difference in match-ups like these, especially in the playoffs. Chris Andersen, on the other hand, failed to get a single bucket in almost 18 minutes.
An even more impressive note on Dirk and Marion’s performances: they played just 37 and 29 minutes, respectively.
“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Unreal. Did this possibility even cross your mind last June, when the Mavs drafted a semi-unknown French point guard? Roddy has come such a long way since draft night, and he still has miles to go before he sleeps. Rodrigue Beaubois is going to be a star in this league for a very long time, and this was a giant hop toward that stardom. It’s going to hinge on a ton of factors that are too tough to gauge right now, but his climb seems inevitable at this point. Rookie seasons can yield many mirages, but I don’t think you can explain away Beaubois’ talent, physical tools, and natural instincts. Roddy just looks at home with a basketball in his hands, and with his willingness to learn, talent, and physical tools, he seems like a can’t-miss prospect at this point. I know that’s easy to say after an incredible outburst against one of the worst defenses in the league, but it’s an observation that’s been nearly a season in the making.
The already one-sided debate that’s been raging on over Rodrigue Beaubois’ playing time? It should be nonexistent after tonight. Beaubois went off for 40 points in an absolutely surreal display of shooting prowess, in which he shot 9-of-11 from three and scored just one of his 40 at the line. But here’s the thing: the debate won’t disappear. The fact that Beaubois’ big night came against the Warriors will mark it with an asterisk, and the idea that this is exactly the type of game Beaubois should excel in will somehow demean just how impressive of a game this was for Roddy. It’s not fair, honestly, but I have a bad feeling that the perceptive powers that be will try to negate what we saw on March 27th, 2010. Don’t let them. It was a hot night against a bad defensive team, but this was a thoroughly dominating performance.
That said, the beauty that was this 40-pointer came with Beaubois at the two. This may be some incredible evidence for Roddy’s value as a player, but not really as a point guard. Or basically, we could be right back where we started, simply with confirmation of Beaubois’ value as a scorer.
Other than that, what is there to say? It’s a bit refreshing to have the most dynamic, high-scoring guard on the Mavs’ side of the Dallas-Golden State match-up for once; Monta Ellis (14 points, four assists) and Steph Curry (17 points, seven rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers) each shot 6-for-16 from the field, and neither could stabilize the sloppy Warrior offense. The Mavs’ defense wasn’t all that impressive, though I do appreciate Rick Carlisle’s decision to cover Ellis with Shawn Marion to start the game.
The Warriors just couldn’t shoot. Credit to the Mavs for forcing the Dubs into plenty of long two-pointers, but Golden State missed a ton of open looks from three and completely shut down offensively in the second quarter. The same second quarter that was home to 36 Maverick points, 21 of which were Rodrigue Beaubois’. A 20-2 run and a separate 10-0 run (all Beaubois) in the second pretty much sealed the game. If not for an uncharacteristically high turnover rate for those twelve minutes, it could very well have been the Mavs’ best offensive quarter of the season. I’m pretty sure it was Roddy’s best offensive quarter, regardless.
The Mavs on the other hand, could. Dallas shot 48.4% from the field, and an incredibly impressive 53.3% from three (on 30 attempts!) thanks to Beaubois’ handiwork. Eddie Najera (nine points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block) was an unexpected contributor from the perimeter, where he hit three of his six three-point attempts. Najera saw plenty of court time due to a minor injury (middle finger jam) to Brendan Haywood and the Warriors’ unique style of play, and he played rather well.
Shawn Marion (18 points, 9-12 FG, four rebounds, five steals) had another strong night, and even if the Mavs on the whole aren’t rounding into playoff shape, he certainly has been. He’s been so much more effective with his runners and mid-range game over the last few weeks, and that makes him a pretty effective half-court weapon. He still misses some of his looks at the rim and isn’t a huge threat off the dribble, but Shawn’s value in the offense has improved significantly in about a month’s time. Defensively, Marion was incredibly active in the passing lanes, and if the NBA tracked deflections his stat line would be that much more impressive. Shawn was everywhere, and he was a big reason why one of the more confident offenses in the league looked a bit tentative on Saturday.
Dallas shot just ten free throws and collected just four offensive rebounds. It didn’t make a bit of difference. The Warriors’ shooting was so awful and the Mavs’ shooting so effective that half of the Four Factors were deemed irrelevant. The bottom line, and proof that there’s truth in simplicity: the team that shoots better wins almost every game. Dallas had nearly a 20-point edge in effective field goal percentage, which was more than enough to trump the Mavs’ weaknesses in other areas.
Caron Butler finished with 15 and four, Dirk Nowitzki dropped a 13-10 double-double, and Jason Kidd tallied 11 assists, but this was Rodrigue’s show. The game was never in doubt after the Roddy Show in the second quarter, which mean plenty of rest for the Mavs’ big guns (only Marion played more than 30 minutes).
Brendan Haywood played almost nine minutes, but Erick Dampier did not play at all. Most of the minutes at center went to Najera, with Nowitzki playing back-up.
The Mavs had some serious problems finishing at the rim, despite of the number of uncontested run-outs the Warriors’ defense gifted them. Scoff and shake your head at the Mavs who blew layups (Dirk blew an easy one, Marion airballed a finger roll, and even Roddy couldn’t convert on a fairly rudimentary look), but don’t forget to credit Ronny Turiaf, who only finished with two blocks but was one of the few Warriors interested in playing some real defense.
A mixed bag for J.J. Barea, who finished with five points and five assists in 20 minutes, but also turned the ball over four times. Point guards should be allowed to make mistakes, but high-turnover games like this one don’t really indicate high value as a PG. We know J.J. is better than this, even if our love affair with Roddy makes it tough to admit. Barea is a pretty decent point guard, and for some reason his hands were a bit slippery against Golden State.
Anthony Tolliver had 21 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. Shame on every GM who thought this guy couldn’t be an NBA player, or who looked to use a roster spot on a name rather than a player. His fellow former D-Leaguers, Reggie Williams and Chris Hunter, weren’t as impressive. But those guys are NBA players, and for everything that has gone wrong with the Warriors this year, their ability to scout D-League and their willingness to sign that talent is pretty much unparalleled.
Two points for Matt Carroll! He had 20% of the Mavs’ free throw attempts, and boy can that guy make his free throws.
A point that came up in the comments yesterday and in Eddie Sefko’s mailbag: if back-up point guard is a problem for the Mavs with Barea and assuming Beaubois isn’t the answer, why not go to Jason Terry? If we’re moving around pieces on paper, it makes sense. I thought Terry did a nice job as the Mavs’ full-time point guard, and this would be a similar role but scaled back in minutes. It also opens up more minutes at the 2 for Roddy Beaubois, with the cost being the complete marginalization of J.J. Barea. I’m sure plenty of Mavs fans would not be opposed to that. Some concerns though: Terry hasn’t been a real point guard for years, and even though he can and will distribute on occasion, it hasn’t been his in-game mindset for quite some time now. Plus, in terms of his familiarity with the playbook, Terry knows the Mavs’ sets as the 2. He’d have to go back to basics if he were to take over as a point.
Positions that worry the Mavs defensively: PG, SG, PF. No problem with SF and C, though, which has been the story all season with Shawn Marion, Erick Dampier, and Brendan Haywood putting forth some solid defensive performances. Extra credit – notice anything about the Mavs’ problem areas and the Blazers’ top performers last night?
Dave of Blazers Edge: “Portland didn’t let the Dallas runs throw them. They didn’t settle for a ton of bad shots. They never lost their poise. They took advantage of their advantages, which sounds circular but as year-long viewers will know it’s something the Blazers have struggled to do this season. They rolled the dice with the No-No Nowitzki strategy, stuck to it, and it worked. It was just a nice game. Finally.”
You can see Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd’s locker room availability here, as well as Q&A with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nate McMillan.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
-George Bernard Shaw
It’s the Clippers, but it’s something. After playing three quarters of embarrassing basketball just a night prior against the Hornets, the Mavs turned things around 360 degrees. Dallas started strong, built a double-digit lead and groomed it in the second quarter, and experienced an incredible drop-off in the third before rallying to an utterly dominant finish.
What caused the Mavs’ unexpected let-down to start the second half? Well, Dallas shot 6-for-23 in the quarter, which was the only one in which they didn’t top 50% shooting. Meanwhile, the Clippers seemed to be in a constant state of free throw shooting: LA attempted 16 free throws in the third alone, which is just four short of the number that Dallas attempted in the entire game. The Clips won the turnover margin and the offensive rebounding margin for the quarter, and even though their shooting from the field wasn’t dreadfully effective either, the freebies were enough to erase the Mavs’ fourteen-point lead coming out of halftime. Oh, and who has two German thumbs and was thrown out for mumbling under his breath? This guy:
Maybe the ejection was warranted, or maybe it wasn’t. Who knows? What we do know is that for a ten-minute stretch in the third quarter, the Clippers were incredibly aggressive and the Mavs looked lost. We’ve seen this before, when Dirk’s elbow became better acquainted with Carl Landry’s mouth: when Dirk leaves the game due to abnormal circumstances, the Mavs fall apart. In that contest they pulled it together enough to rally back and force overtime, and in this one they regrouped in between the third and the fourth.
Part of that was because whoever called the initial play of the fourth for the Mavs, either Rick Carlisle or Jason Kidd, set everything ablaze with an old favorite:
It was only the beginning for Rodrigue Beaubois, who finished his 15 minutes of playing time with 10 points and three rebounds. The Mavs don’t have any better options off the bench as a situational scorer, and Beaubois continues to deliver time and time again. Does that me he can take over the back-up point responsibilities and run the team efficiently? Undecided. Most of his time in this game (and this season) has him working off the ball. Nights like these are a clear reminder that Roddy deserves playing time, but with his ability to play the point still in question, something has to give. the minutes have to come from somewhere, and what point do you sacrifice the minutes of the Mavs’ wings in favor of Beaubois?
It wasn’t an issue last night, because Dirk’s ejection gave the Mavs a prime opportunity to go small. Very, very small. When Dallas vaulted into the fourth on the strength of a 22-3 run, they were fielding a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Beaubois-Butler-Haywood. We’ve seen them run the three-guard lineup in the past with Dirk and Dampier, but shifting Butler to the four opened up a unique opportunity for minutes and, apparently, a unique opportunity to blow the top off of the building by pushing the pace.
Beaubois stole the show a bit, but it was Jason Kidd (26 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) that transformed a shaken team into a juggernaut in a matter of minutes. He had 13 points and four assists during tide-receding fourth, triggering the Mavs’ transition attack with his quick outlet passes and defensive rebounding. It was his 37th birthday, and he was a monster.
Unknowingly, the Mavs utilized a three act structure in taking down a most unspectacular foe, making what could have been a cruise control win into a carefully structured dramatic masterpiece. Overdramatic? You betcha. It’s against the Clippers, for blog’s sake. But it’s something.
Drew Gooden (26 points, 20 rebounds) came to play. He would have had a double-double with points and offensive rebounds alone, and while he doesn’t harbor ill will towards the team for his current circumstances, don’t think for a second that he didn’t want to turn a few heads during his grand return. Gooden went 8-for-21 from the field, but made up for his poor shooting by grabbing his own offensive boards and leading the Clips’ free throw assault (10-of-10 from the line).
Erick Dampier started in place of Brendan Haywood, though it’s still unclear whether it was to jump-start Damp or as a message to Haywood. Either way, Haywood was not only more effective, but more engaged. He finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Caron Butler is struggling. Really struggling. Four points and six rebounds on 2-of-9 shooting for him last night, which is the kind of stat line that had Josh Howard scapegoated all over the internet. I’m glad he had the sense to halt his attempts at single digits, but the Mavs are going to need more from Butler on offense, especially if Dirk is unexpectedly out of the lineup.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the Mavs’ first half. Good execution and energy, which is important regardless of opponent. We’ve seen this team sleepwalk through first quarters before, and it’s a good thing to see them ready to perform from opening tip.
Another culprit of the Mavs’ third quarter struggles: transition defense. Jump shots led to transition opportunities, which is what you get with this team. But the same transition D problem that plagued them against New Orleans reared its ugly head in the third. When the Mavs started getting back on defense and set up in the zone, the Clippers’ pace and production slowed down considerably.
The Mavs’ third quarter implosion and fourth quarter explosion were almost instantaneous. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Dallas’ 14-point civilization was constructed, burned, and pillaged by nightfall, reimagined, and built anew by morning light.
Dirk only played 19 minutes before his ejection, but he neared point-per-minute status with his 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He did a great job of creating and making his usually “difficult” shots, but Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood also did a tremendous job of freeing up Nowitzki with screens.
Travis Outlaw still likes to take Travis Outlaw shots.
“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
There are some things in this world that we take for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. Our technology, that helps us, guides us, conveniences us, and protects us, will not fail. That the institutions with a huge influence on our lives — governmental bodies, banks, etc. — will work with the best interest of the population at large in mind. These are things that we likely only give thought to in the event that they fail, which doesn’t give the proper due to the steady but impactful forces in our lives.
The Dallas Mavericks are apparently resolved to never fall into that category.
If you even begin to take this team for granted — even their leadership, their execution — they’ll make you a fool. They’ll cough up 14 turnovers over the span of two quarters. They’ll go six minutes without scoring a single point and surrender a 23-0 run to a Hornets team that really isn’t that good. They’ll give up 20+ points to not only David West (25 points, 10-17 FG, six rebounds, 10 assists) and Marcus Thornton (28 points, 12-22 FG, 4-9 3FG), who are very talented scorers, but also to Morris Peterson (20 points, 8-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds). It was a 36-minute defensive disaster, and though the Mavs once held a 16-point lead in the opening frame, it wasn’t enough to save them from the clinic the Hornets ran over the final three quarters.
That’s an important distinction. The Hornets won this game. They didn’t stumble into success; they earned it with their defense and their effectiveness in transition and from the perimeter. I’m not in any way saying the Mavs aren’t culpable for the way they played, because Rick Carlisle should demand accountability from this team. They’re too good and too experienced for anything less. But New Orleans still played some incredibly impressive basketball from the first quarter on.
They were white-hot from beyond the arc, as good ball movement (33 assists on 45 field goals) and strong cuts opened up shooters from all over. The Hornets are in the top third of the league in three-point shooting percentage, but they looked nothing short of elite last night. Peterson and Thornton combined for eight makes alone from the beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 50% on 24 attempts. That shooting combined with David West’s interior scoring was more than enough to anchor New Orleans’ half-court offense.
But all of that is manageable. The Mavs have dealt with teams that are skilled operating on the perimeter before (Phoenix, Orlando, etc.), and they’re certainly capable of doing it again. But a team shooting so well from just about everywhere on the court doesn’t need to be handed points, and that’s exactly what the Mavs did with their 18 turnovers, a vast majority of which came over the game’s horrific middle quarters. That gave the Hornets entirely too many opportunities for transition buckets, which made what could have been a perfectly winnable game (even given the six-minute scoreless stretch the Mavs had spanning the second and third quarters) into a bit of a laugher. That’s usually what happens when one team allows the other three 30+ point quarters in a row.
99 points is enough, and that’s with Dirk resting over the final eight minutes. Making 52% of your shots is enough, and that’s with Jason Kidd (six points, six assists, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (12 points, six rebounds) combining to go 7-for-21. The Mavs were scoring at a rate of 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would register as a top five offense. But when you allow your opponent to 126.4 points per 100 possessions, you’re going to face some problems. I’m not sure where the defense went or why it decided to take a sudden vacation, but the Mavs would be wise to track it down. The search starts on the perimeter and goes inward.
Jason Terry ditched his protective face mask, apparently because he has regained some of the feeling in his face. Doctors have advised him to wear it for the rest of the season, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Especially not after dropping 24 points on 16 shots without it.
Chris Paul (11 points, three assists) returned to the starting lineup, but he actually didn’t have all that much to do with this win. That’s a bit scary. This game was kind of reminiscent of the Mavs January loss to the Lakers in that way: a limited superstar was technically on the floor, but wasn’t necessarily a reason why Dallas lost at all. The Mavs were taken down by Paul’s supporting cast, and that’s no bueno. As a follower of the Mavs, I’m obviously not thrilled to see Chris Paul back in uniform. But at the same time, as an NBA fan, how could you not be excited? Even if there’s some bitterness over when Paul downed the Mavs in the playoffs in 2008, Chris is such a special player. I’m convinced of Paul’s greatness, as in eventual historical greatness, and you’re honestly missing out if you don’t take every opportunity to appreciate his game now.
Caron Butler’s vice: the jab-step, jab-step, jab-step long two-point jumper with his heels on the three-point line. It’s almost always contest, but sometimes goes in. The sometimes is not a positive, as the makes only encourage him to do it again and again.
Wow, Marcus Thornton. I don’t get a chance to talk about him much around here, but how could you not like his game? His double-clutch reverse layup around Erick Dampier was just plain beautiful. I was pretty high on Thornton around the draft, but I didn’t expect this. Not for him to be this good this fast.
Slightly alarming offensive note: Dirk Nowitzki shot 67% from the field, but only put up 12 field goal attempts. That’s as many as Shawn Marion. The Mavs were getting Nowitzki plenty of good looks when they settled into their sets, but the Dallas turnover splurge hurt Dirk’s attempts more than anyone else. Dirk was responsible for five of them himself, which is more than a tad uncharacteristic.
Signs of life from Brendan Haywood (10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks), who had played poorly in his last three. Only ten minutes of action for Erick Dampier, though, all of which came in the first half. Something happening there.
The Hornets broke a three-game losing streak, and the Mavs have now lost three of their last four.
Darren Collison deserves mention for his excellent play off the bench. He finished with 16 points and eight assists in 35 minutes, though he only shot 6-of-15 from the field. Impressive nonetheless. And who says Collison and Paul can’t play together?
An odd sequence to end the game, as James Posey was called for a flagrant foul on Rodrigue Beaubois with 0.4 seconds remaining. The play wasn’t malicious, but Posey did make contact with Beaubois’ head.
“Continual improvement is an unending journey.”
The fact that this game shows up as an L in a sea of W’s doesn’t change much; the team that lost to the Celtics last night is very much the same team that rattled off 13 straight wins. This one result was obviously quite different, but this performance was just as imperfect as any during the streak, and just as promising. Dallas couldn’t close against a pretty determined Boston team, but the defense was still impressive and the half-court offense made a nice second half rally. The only trouble in paradise is that it was never really paradise to begin with.
This was a terrific game. Competitive throughout, no team registering any kind of insurmountable lead, and the stars on each side coming out to play. There were stretches where both teams were in a funk: the turnovers, missed shots, and lazy fouls added up like you would never expect from two contending teams. But the Mavs and Celtics were evenly matched even in their futility. That doesn’t translate to 48 minutes of beautiful basketball, but it did translate to 48 minutes of hotly-contested basketball, which may be the next best thing. Or the best thing if you’re a March Madness zealot.
The rumors of the Celtics’ demise were not greatly exaggerated. This Boston squad was dead, pronounced, autopsied, and buried months ago. What we have here is a team of undead soldiers. Kevin Garnett walks again in the Romero mold, lacking the quickness, explosiveness, and general transcendence of his previously human self. But he’s as belligerent a defender as ever, and he hounded Dirk into plenty of tough shots. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are perhaps a bit more self-aware in their second chance at life. Both are pained by the limits of being the walking dead, but they tirelessly carry out the goals of their mortal lives. Rajon Rondo follows the contemporary Danny Boyle model: a relentless, physically intimidating, quick, reactive, and utterly more frightening force. These guys have unearthed themselves and they’re hungry for brains.
On paper, the Mavs match up pretty well with the Celtics. Shawn Marion is a terrific counter for Pierce, Caron Butler and Jason Terry may not be able to stop Allen but they can certainly match him and then some, Dirk and KG are excellent foils, and the combination of Haywood and Dampier can hopefully negate any impact that Kendrick Perkins would have. Not all of that came to fruition last night, but the lineups present some incredible possibilities.
Rasheed Wallace’s “retribution?” Are we seriously talking about this? Come on.
Garnett played Dirk about as well as any defender has all season…and Nowitzki still finished with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. I don’t want to show my hand too much, because I plan to drop a video on this sometime in the next day or so, but the key to jump-starting Nowitzki’s production after a slow start was to take him out of the Mavs’ traditional sets. Rick Carlisle showed some real creativity in finding Dirk scoring opportunities against some elite defense, and that’s huge.
That said, KG (eight points, 3-9 FG, nine rebounds, five steals) was essentially a defensive specialist against the Mavs. Dirk defended him well, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The phase of Garnett’s career where he was a dominant scorer has come to a close, and while that puts quite a cap on his league-wide hegemony, it doesn’t entirely negate his influence. He can impact a game as a key defender and a spot scorer, and his work on Dirk could have been what put Boston over the top.
The Mavs centers combined for five points, 10 rebounds, and five turnovers. They were completely invisible aside from a pair of Haywood blocks, most notably a obliteration of a third-quarter Rajon Rondo layup attempt. It was an impressive play, but it doesn’t quite excuse the combined performance of the Mavs’ 5s.
The atmosphere at the AAC has been a bit lacking this season, but it’s nice to see the in-game entertainment folks stepping up their game.
Caron Butler (nine points, 3-14 FG, four rebounds) did not have a good night, but he was working hard. That’s all you can ask. The Celtics are a great defensive team, and while it’d be nice if every Mav could drain every open shot, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. But we know that Butler is capable of contributing on a consistent basis otherwise, and that type of redeeming factor is what will keep Caron’s status separate from a Josh Howardian designation. Howard’s effort was criticized as much as his decision-making and his maturity level, but Butler was killing himself on the court. His three offensive rebounds tied for the game-high, and he added three steals.
Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-13 FG, six rebounds) is becoming more and more influential. Before, Shawn was a defensive stopper who could score. Then, he was a crutch in a time of need. Now, even with a fully-functional lineup (unless you count the left half of Jason Terry’s face), Marion is easing the burden on the team’s top scorers by providing some much-needed scoring help in the half court. Yes, in the half court. Marion may have started the game with a leak out into transition, but almost all of his damage came by cutting in the half-court game and finding open spots along the baselines. Some of his missed layups are still heartbreaking, but I think you take what you can get when Marion is carrying the scoring load for chunks of the game.
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) was absolutely terrific in the fourth, as he worked against Jason Kidd in isolation. I can feel Mavericks Nation simmer over the fact that Rodrigue Beaubois couldn’t get off the bench until the closing seconds, and I feel you. Roddy is the most physically gifted perimeter defender the Mavs have, and his physique is practically tailor-made for a guy like Rondo. That doesn’t mean you cold call him in the middle of the fourth quarter when Kidd (11 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and (18 points, 8-16 FG, three steals) Terry are still playing well. Theoretically it makes sense, but contextually it didn’t.