“It is the direction and not the magnitude which is to be taken into consideration.”
The Dallas Mavericks have the nerve to treat basketball like a game. Some nights, they’ll sprint out to a big lead and take a breather, just because they can. Others, they’ll tie Dirk Nowitzki’s hands behind his back just to see what happens. And when they’re really in a sporting mood, they’ll do both, cough up turnovers at twice their usual rate, and laugh as the mayhem unfolds.
We’ve seen it happen against the Jazz, the Rockets, the Pistons, the Bucks, the Spurs, the Kings, the Sixers, the Suns, the Bobcats, and as of last night, the Hornets. Whereas Chris Paul was once a reminder of everything the Mavericks were not (quick, young, and ruthless), for 48 minutes he was merely a plaything. A plaything that managed 20 points, 16 assists, and five steals, but one still trapped within the confines of the Mavericks’ game.
It’s not as if Dallas had complete control, but perhaps that’s what keeps a veteran team like the Mavs intrigued with the possibilities. Rather than eliminate the suspense by taking care of business, Dallas insists on flaunting their vulnerability. The offense falls off track, the pick and roll defense breaks down, and the rebounding effort disappears. It’s so clever a ruse that even the Mavs themselves are fooled into desperation, a desperation that only fuels the comeback fire of their opponents. What was once a safe victory is now a matter of clutch execution and timing. Dirk Nowitzki unleashes his wrath, as every jab step and pump fake is like an expertly planned chess move. Jason Kidd rules the floor with his precision, placing every pass exactly where it needs to be and playing the angles on defense. And Jason Terry bides his time, licking his chops at the chance to rip a team’s heart out.
These, ladies and gents, are the 2009-’10 Dallas Mavericks. They want you to think you have a chance, and they’re ready to break your spirit.
Aside from the Mavs’ victory-sealing plays and their explosive first quarter, it’s hard to pick out the positives. J.J. Barea (23 points, 10-13 FG) was stunning in his ability to maneuver through traffic and finish over the Hornets’ bigs. It’s obvious to say that without those 23, the Mavs fall way short, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Each of those buckets was crucial to keeping the team above water, and considering no other Mav was performing at anywhere near their typical offensive efficiency, that carries even more weight than usual.
The Maverick collective carried the weight in the first quarter, but when the free-flowing offense began to break down, it became obvious that someone needed to step up and hit baskets. Barea did more than his share. Jason Terry chipped in as well, with a much-needed but very mortal 12 points. Then Josh Howard took over for a few possessions, providing a cool 14 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting.
But each of those stretches of solo scoring only helped disguise the fact that the Mavs’ offense was pretty woeful. The final numbers don’t paint an accurate picture, as it took three quarters of sandbagging to bring down the Mavs’ epic start. A brutally efficient 35-point first quarter (and an even more efficient 22-5 run) will work wonders on a stat sheet, even if Dallas followed up such a performance with a sour offense and turnovers of every variety. That’s the real story of what held the Maverick offense to just 94 points despite a 59.4% eFG. Chris Paul and the Hornets get all the credit in the world for playing excellent pressure defense and forcing those turnovers, not to mention converting them into easy points. Howard (5 TOs), Terry (4), and Dampier (4) each racked up surprising totals, and what could have been a solid offensive night was instead a parade of bobbled passes, sloppy drives, and failed communication.
So Dirk scored 10 points (on 4-11 shooting, no less), the offense failed to compensate, and the Mavs still won. When finely tuned, the Dallas defense is absolutely smothering, and though it may not have seemed that way when Darius Songaila (12 points in 11 minute, 6-6 FG) went hog wild in the fourth quarter, it’s literally what won the game for Dallas. Dirk and Kidd’s performance in the clutch (they were responsible for 16 of the Mavs’ 23 in the final frame, and nine of the last 11) may have put the Mavs over the top for good, but they’re not even in a position to do so without a pretty impressive defensive effort. It wasn’t always consistent, but it was good enough.
- For the first time I can remember, Dirk Nowitzki (-4) and Jason Terry (-1) both finished with net negatives for the evening in terms of +/- . The Maverick high (and game high) was Shawn Marion’s +15, despite Marion’s limited box score contributions (10 points, just 2 rebounds) otherwise. Gotta love his D.
- Drew Gooden must have done something to get on Rick Carlisle’s bad side, because he played just seven minutes last night. Kris Humphries even played eight, despite falling out of the rotation as of late. Rodrigue Beaubois, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, and James Singleton all received DNP-CDs.
- After scoring the game’s first basket, the Hornets never led. The Mavs built up a 21-point lead, and managed to tread water the rest of the way (especially in the second half, where they were outscored by just two despite their limited offense.)
- The Mavs didn’t commit a single foul in the first. They also didn’t shoot a single free throw in the second or third.
- Despite his turnovers, Erick Dampier is still looking good. It wasn’t a big statistical night for Damp, but his moves are as quick as ever and his defense is game-changing.
- The clincher for the Mavs was a beautiful inbounds play that had three Mavs in the backcourt, Jason Kidd on the trigger, and Dirk Nowitzki in the front court covered by James Posey. Dirk pushed off a bit to create a little space, juked left and went right, and ended up with the ball directly in his hands for a layup attempt with just 20 seconds left. The Mavs’ two point advantage at that point was boosted to a much safer four, and though it’s likely that Dallas could have secured two on the inevitable free throws (remember, only 20 seconds remaining), the Mavs’ last encounter with the Hornets taught them not to take those makes for granted.
- Speaking of, Jason Terry got another chance to ice the game, with the Mavs up two yet again with 12 seconds remaining. Last time around, JET left the door open for Peja Stojakovic to hit a big 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. This time around, Terry calmly walked to the line and buried any chance the Hornets had of a comeback.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to J.J. Barea. An argument could be made for Jason Kidd and his heady play, but this was one of the best scoring nights of Barea’s young career. It’s nice to have a back-up point guard step in to run your offense, but J.J. succeeded in an entirely different role last night. As the placeholder at shooting guard until Josh Howard is healthier, it’s Barea’s prerogative to attack, attack, attack, and he was both fearless and emphatic in that regard last night. Plus, Barea played some terrific defense on Chris Paul in the first quarter, holding him to just four points on 2-5 shooting with one turnover for the opening frame. It’s Barea’s time to shine, so it would be cruel of me not to give J.J. his due.