“Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.” – Tom Robbins
The Mavericks and Thunder have arrived in the Western Conference Finals by way of very different trajectories – the Mavs having swept the defending champion Lakers, the Thunder fighting off their future rivals, the Grizzlies. Game 1 tonight will be the beginning of a, hopefully, spirited series between the youngest and oldest teams in league (weighted by minutes played). Besides the dichotomy between youthful exuberance and aged wisdom, here are a few other items to watch for:
- The Mavericks outscored the Thunder by 5.46 points per 100 possessions in their three regular season matchups. However, in the 24 minutes Jeff Green wasn’t on the floor the Thunder outscored the Mavericks by 24.86 points per 100 possessions. I have it on good authority that Green will not be playing for the Thunder in this series, and no I won’t be revealing my sources. Taking away Green and Nenad Kristic, replacing them with Kendrick Perkins and a bigger dose of Serge Ibaka means there will be some configurations the Mavericks haven’t seen in person. The Mavericks also have gone through some changes of their own, losing Caron Butler and finding a place for Peja Stojokavic. In short these are two very different teams than the ones that last met in the regular season.
- Rob pointed out in his series preview yesterday, that the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of 131.37 against the Thunder this season with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. To be fair to the Thunder, a lot of that offense came at the expense of Jeff Green. Against the frontcourt tandem of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of just 105.26. Expect the Thunder to try a few different defenders on Nowitzki.
- Oklahoma City led the league in FT/FGA and FT% this season. The average NBA team scored 18.6 points per game at the free throw line. The Thunder scored 24.1. During the regular season, the Mavericks did as good a job as anyone at keeping the Thunder off the free throw line. They held the Thunder to 17.7 points per game at the free throw line and a FT/FGA ratio of 0.215, that’s below the league average and well below their league-leading mark of 0.299. If the Mavericks can continue to keep the Thunder off the foul line they’ll have neutralized one of their biggest weapons.
- The Mavericks have rebounded really well against the Thunder this season. Across their three games they’ve grabbed 26.2% of their own misses, and 76.6% on the defensive glass. The 76.6 DRB% would have been the second best mark in the league had they maintained it across the entire season. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are coming off a thorough stomping of one of the best front-courts in the league. Their ability to maintain intensity and focus will be key for the Mavericks.
- The lineup of Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler has been one of the Mavericks’ most frequently used and most successful lineups. This lineup was particularly effective against the Thunder during the regular season, scoring 28 points on 15 possessions in just under 8 minutes of play. That’s an Offensive Rating of 186.67. They also held the Thunder to 13 points on 15 possessions over the same time span, a Defensive Rating of 86.67. Matchups will be important all over the floor. If the Mavericks can be successful with largely the same rotation they’ve been using in the playoffs, it should help them maintain continuity with their blistering offensive execution.
Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.
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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 healthier team won, even if they were able to skate by having only played a quarter and a half of solid defense. Dallas is trying. They really are. They’re just outmanned and handicapped offensively, so much so that a win against a competent team should come off as a pleasant surprise. The Thunder are certainly competent, so this is the kind of outcome we can come to expect for the time being. Slice and dice it for moral victories if you’d like, but the Mavs couldn’t win this one, even if they played hard enough for a W. I wish there were more delicate analysis required, but the outcome of this game was rather blunt.
- I’m not sure you can bottle up this kind of Shawn Marion (25 points, 12-17 FG, three rebounds) performance for repeat consumption, but it’s always to see Marion cutting and driving to a huge night. I don’t know whether the Thunder have a particular problem with Marion’s style or if it’s just a coincidence that his runners happen to fall to spite Jeff Green, but this seems to be a kind of strange situation trend for Marion. Regardless, a nice scoring effort on a night when it was needed, but all for naught.
- Tyson Chandler (14 points, 3-5 FG, 18 rebounds) is a monster. This was a nice encore performance by Chandler on the offensive glass, where he generated six extra offensive possessions while his team struggled a bit in their half-court sets. Plus, Chandler was able to milk free throw attempts out of some of those rebounds, converting an effort play directly into a point-scoring opportunity. No one could accuse Chandler of not doing his part in Dirk’s absence; he’s been superb in all facets of the game.
- DeShawn Stevenson (14 points, 5-12 FG, 4-8 3FG, ) cannot guard Kevin Durant. He does his best to stay in front of him, but Stevenson is in that strange defensive place where he can neither effectively halt Durant’s drives nor successfully alter his shot. Stevenson’s a nice defensive asset on most nights, but Durant — a tough match-up for any defender in the league — is a particularly poor fit for Stevenson’s defensive abilities.
The Difference is a new feature here at The Two Man Game, in which I’ll provide a bit of instant analysis on games shortly after they occur rather than the following morning. The longer, more detailed recaps will be up as soon as they’re available, but consider these morsels your post-game snack to hold you over until then.
For this feature, I’ll offer one bullet point for each point in the margin of victory. That makes this first installment fairly simple, but fun will be had when the blowouts come. Let’s not have another 50-point win though, eh?
- Combined 6-of-23 shooting for Jason Terry and Jason Kidd? No big. That field goal percentage deficit ain’t no thang when the Mavs completely dominate their opponent in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding rate. These are not the Mavs we’re used to or even the Mavs that will be around for the season, but it’s still nice to have them drop by for a game every now and again.
- Tyson Chandler (17 points, 5-9 FG, 18 rebounds): unlikely offensive weapon, skilled defender, rebounding fiend, ruler of men, master of Oklahoma City bigs. If Chandler were the leader of an underground, post-apocalyptic cult, I’d follow him. As far as basketball is concerned, though, he’s only sublime. I guess that will have to do.
- Turnovers were the cause of the Mavs’ early troubles, but they rounded out their performance nicely by carefully protecting their possessions over the game’s final three quarters. Besides, Dallas couldn’t miss 18 threes if they were turning the ball over so often, now could they?
- Russell Westbrook had 13 points on 13 shots. Is that good defense? Partially, sure, but Dallas can in no way claim full credit for keeping Westbrook in check. For whatever reason he just wasn’t as assertive as he could have — or should have — been.
- Caron Butler can’t exactly redeem himself in a single night, but he started on the right path with a simple 6-of-13, 15-point performance. That’s the thing with Butler: he doesn’t have to wow anyone. All he has to do is not induce groans with his shot selection. All he has to do is not head fake his way into a migraine. This kind of moderate scoring and fairly efficient line will do nicely.
- The Mavs’ transition defense still needs work. It’s not hugely bothersome given the limited number of transition possessions in the average game, but there’s not really a valid excuse for uncontested drives through the middle of a Maverick cluster.
- I’m typically an advocate of starting Serge Ibaka in Jeff Green’s place, for reasons of fit and talent. Green had a solid outing, even if his defensive efforts were a bit futile. Someone has to guard Dirk Nowitzki, and Green had a tough night defending Nowitzki without fouling. That said, Green had a successful offensive evening from all over the court, as his versatile style tilted toward the scoring column for a night.
- Jason Kidd had a throwback shooting performance, as he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and 3-of-12 overall. Kidd has plenty of tough shooting nights filled with near-misses, but he put up more than a few knuckleballs in this one.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
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“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”
Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.
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“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
WORST. TRADE. EVER. I mean, did you see how out-of-sync Caron Butler looked? How many botched put-back attempts he had? How Serge Ibaka made a baby hook over Brendan Haywood?
Well, get used to it. Until the Mavs, new and old, have sufficient time to get acquainted, we’ll likely see more of the same. But you’ll also see Caron Butler charging baseline for a one-handed throwdown. You’ll see Brendan Haywood finishing a contested layup on the move after a feed from Jason Terry. In terms of what Butler and Haywood brought to the table in the first game of the rest of our lives, there was a lot to like, and a lot to make you cringe. That’s just the way of things when you’re incorporating new pieces into the rotation, especially with players as significant as these; the old Mavs are trying really hard to integrate the new ones, the new Mavs are trying really hard not to overshoot and alienate the old ones, and everyone out there is just a bit anxious to prove that the trade is as good as it sounds.
The result was some awful shooting, defensive failings, and finding ways to either move the ball too much or move it too little. Dallas Mavericks as pick-up team are not good enough to beat a team as skilled and successful as the Thunder, but that doesn’t say much at all about how good the Mavericks will be when they play like themselves.
On the other hand, you have to applaud the Thunder’s performance. Kevin Durant’s 25 points an 14 rebounds is impressive, but it took him 28 shots to reach that total. On most nights, the Durantula has to carry OKC’s offense. But last night it was his counterparts — Jeff Green (17 points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Russell Westbrook (17 points, eight assists, six rebounds, just one turnover) — bearded wonder James Harden (17 points on 5-7 shooting, five rebounds, six assists), and the cavalry of Thunder role players that got the job done. The Mavs had a particularly tough time stopping the Thunder’s transition game, in which Westbrook drove it down the throat of the defense before finishing at the rim or kicking it out to an open shooter. For a night, he was a more explosive Tony Parker, and the cast of OKC’s shooters were gunning from the corners in the Spurs tradition.
Fouling also turned out to be a huge problem, as the step-slow Mavs defense ended up hacking the Thunder to the tune of 30 free throw attempts. Most of OKC’s struggles have taken place on offense, and giving them that many free points is just asking for a loss. Know your opponent.
The Mavs were far too hesitant on offense to counter, as efforts to include Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were often met with turnovers or a short shot-clock. Jeff Green and, oddly enough, James Harden, played some pretty terrific defense on Dirk (24 points on 9-22 shoot, nine rebounds, six assists), with Green in particular hounding Nowitzki out of any late-game heroics he may have had up his sleeve. Dallas couldn’t manage much at all in the way of scoring, as Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Caron Butler (the only other Mavs in double-figures) combined for 39 points shooting 12 of 41 from the field. The Mavs played poorly enough offensively to fall short of a lot of teams in this league, and their lack of purposeful ball movement and poor shooting were exacerbated by the hyper-athletic, impressively active Thunder defense.
It certainly wasn’t the Mavs’ finest hour, but hardly their darkest. Give it time.
- The Mavs’ third quarter was miserable. Just miserable. They shot 3 of 21 from the field and scored just 11 points. Sigh.
- J.J. Barea leap-frogged Rodrigue Beaubois in the rotation last night, which makes sense. Though Roddy may seem like a nice defensive match-up against Westbrook, Rick Carlisle was much more concerned with integrating Butler and Haywood into the offense. That’s something that Barea, the more experienced point guard of the two, is able to do…at least theoretically. Barea didn’t exactly have a terrific night, but that doesn’t make the logic any less sound.
- I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many terrible misses from a Maverick team. Butler and Haywood whiffed some of their attempts, which you could easily chalk up to nerves. But how about Dirk? Kidd? Terry? There were some truly miserable attempts that caught nothing but air or backboard, making last night not only one of worst nights of the new year in terms of offensive production, but certainly the worst in terms of offensive aesthetic.
- DeShawn Stevenson did log some playing time, though he only contributed one turnover and one missed shot.
- To the Mavs’ credit, they hit the offensive boards hard. Butler led the team with four, but Marion, Nowitzki, and Haywood each had three, followed by Erick Dampier’s two. Then again, the Mavs missed so many shots around the basket (they were somehow 9-24 at the rim, compared to the Thunder’s 17-25) that they afforded themselves plenty of opportunities to snag boards.
- Does anyone on this planet not love watching the Thunder play basketball? I enjoy watching just about every team in the NBA, but watching OKC is a pretty sublime experience.
- With the game on the line, Rick Carlisle went with a lineup that he was comfortable with: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Erick Dampier. It didn’t really help; the Thunder still closed out the game with authority, holding the Mavs at arm’s length the whole way.
Photo by Larry W. Smith/NBAE via Getty Images).
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“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
With this season’s Mavs, there is no switch for Rick Carlisle to flip. They need not token motivational speeches, or external motivation, or emotional incident. There’s simply an internal trigger that brings everything into focus. There’s a gentle whisper in the ear of the team leaders with a simple message: It’s winning time.
A Serge Ibaka dunk put the Thunder up 75-71 with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and over the subsequent seven minutes (in which the Mavs went on a 21-5 run), the Mavs were a whirling dervish of defensive stops and heady offensive play. The sloppy execution by OKC was a perfect contrast to Dallas’ patience with the basketball. As the Mavs looked to seal the win and wrap it in a bow, they refused to give into the temptation of contested jumpers or solo heroism, and as a result, they reaped the benefits of open jumpers and, well, solo heroism. Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-17 FG, 11 rebounds) had already established his offensive rhythm, but the Mavs continued to execute their game plan. Sometimes that involved getting the ball into Dirk, but even those possessions were carefully executed and fed the ball to Nowitzki at his favorite spots on the floor. The spacing was excellent, and when OKC’s pressure proved to be too much, Dirk was quick to kick the ball to an open teammate around the basket or at the 3-point line.
On defense, the Mavs managed to exploit the limits of the Thunder offense. As I made note of prior to yesterday’s game, Russell Westbrook (16 points, 6-19 FG, six rebounds, five assists) is a terrific talent, but if it’s the point guard’s job to manage the offense on critical possessions and under difficult circumstances, Westbrook failed. He worked so hard to get into the paint, and it’s hard to rip a guy when he’s putting forth that kind of effort. But last night was an excellent case study in the differences between a veteran offense with a point guard in the truest sense, and a young, developing team still in search of its offensive mojo. Westbrook didn’t have a bad game and the loss hardly falls on his shoulders, but if the Thunder had a different breed of point guard, does the blanketed Kevin Durant get more open looks? Does he get the ball in space, on the move, or from the spots on the floor in which he likes to operate? It’s hard to say conclusively given the stellar defensive effort by the Mavs, but the end result is a bit telling.
The Thunder certainly didn’t give up, and the manner in which they attacked the basket late in the game is commendable. But the Maverick D was ready and waiting, helping and covering to counter screens and giving OKC’s shooters all the room in the world and dared them to shoot. It was the same philosophy that allowed the Mavs’ zone defense to be so effective in the second and third quarters, and a logical plan of attack against a team that ranks 23rd in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
The crowning achievement of the Mavs’ defense was their shackling of Kevin Durant (12 points, 4-18 FG, four turnovers). It started on the ball with Shawn Marion and Josh Howard, who limited Durant’s touches through ball denial and crowding. When KD finally got his hands on the ball, he faced pressure on his shot from Marion and Howard, pressure on the dribble from Jason Kidd, and pressure on his drives from Erick Dampier and Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs were able to take away everything that makes Durant so brilliant, and those looking for a keynote performance from the Maverick D need look no further than their work against Durant and the Thunder.
Oh and by the by, Dirk Nowitzki looked pretty much unguardable. He had a few turnovers, but Ibaka and Green, for all their best efforts, were more or less hopeless.
- James Harden (12 points, six rebounds, three turnovers) and Jeff Green (15 points, 7-11 FG, 11 rebounds) were the OKC offense, and I mean that in ways both good and bad. Green was especially remarkable with his range and his touch around the basket, but the fact that the Thunder offense was left to lean so heavily on Harden and Green (who combined to score just 27 points) is a bit problematic. OKC’s offense isn’t very good to begin with, and without big contributions from Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, they’re going to have a hard time winning games.
- The Mavs were able to weather another minimal scoring performance from Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, five assists). He ran down the shot clock needlessly and even committed a double-dribble violation while trying to break down his man at the top of the key. Not exactly what you’d like to see out of your team’s second best scorer, regardless of who is matched up against him.
- Rick Carlisle is definitely tightening up the rotation, as only three Mavs (Howard, Gooden, Terry) managed to get off the bench. More to come on that topic later.
- 15 points and three turnovers for Josh Howard, whose offensive efforts were productive, if not pretty. I can’t say I’m too proud of Josh’s shot selection, but again, he came up big. 15 points in a 14-point win? I wouldn’t say that every bucket was crucial, but finding scoring relief with Dirk on the bench is paramount right now.
- Jason Kidd was Jason Kidd. That is all.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, he’s pretty good, right? Good enough to drop 35 on 18 shots, good enough to impact the game defensively, and good enough to take over the Maverick offense and make all the right plays. Nowitzki is as good as it gets in the NBA right now, and the Dirk we saw last night had virtually no weaknesses in his game.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the Oklahoma City Thunder
I love the home-and-home. It’s one of the regular season’s greatest creations, and what it lacks in variety it makes up for in intrigue. It’s almost like a mini-playoff, usually against a team that you would never, ever, under any circumstances play in the playoffs. Which is cool.
The Mavs and the Thunder are practically playing a home-and-home, although not entirely. The Mavs played the Raps and the Thunder played the Grizzlies, but the overtimer in Dallas is still fresh on everyone’s minds.
The game’s in OKC this time around, and the Thunder are still decidedly lacking in the Durantula department. Again, a pity. In his absence, though, the Thunder are playing like wounded tigers with laser eyes and rabies, pushing the Mavs to the limit and taking down the Grizz. They don’t need the best small forward in the West, apparently. KD is expected to miss out on tonight’s game with the same ankle troubles, meaning OKC gets another crack at the Mavs. This is where it gets tricky. On one hand, you’d expect the better equipped team to take care of business in the second game. They know what to expect from Green and Westbrook, and don’t have their gameplan scrambled around by planning for Durant. On the other, a previously hungry OKC team may now be nothing short of ravenous, and could feast on a the Mavs if they show up even the least bit lacksidasical. Or will a team with few offensive options outside of Kevin Durant snap out of it and realize what they really are? SO MANY VARIABLES, PEOPLE.
Regardless of the turnout, last week’s preface provided a backdrop to an otherwise meaningless game. No offense to the Thunder, but without Durant they’re small fries. But, armed with the knowledge that this team is capable of getting all up in their biznass, the Mavs should be able to respond in ways that capitalize on the differential in talent and the fairly transparent strategy the Thunder will no doubt employ. Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook are both awesome, but can they really beat the Mavs on their own when Dallas knows what’s coming?
EDIT: Thanks for the heads up from commenter Marrrkus – Jeff Green will not play tonight (back spasms). Source.