The elusive regular season home-and-home series is perhaps the best way to artificially generate a playoff-like atmosphere. The two games may lack in post-season gravity, but by pitting two competitive teams against one another in consecutive contests, players are allowed to slide into their narrative roles while coaches make more detailed game plan adjustments than usual. It’s another regular season game in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hardly an independent entity; perhaps we could view the second game as vaguely episodic, but each outing only makes thematic sense when evaluated within the context of a two-part series.
The Mavericks are in the middle of such a series at this very moment, as they’ll take on the Nuggets this Saturday albeit on more familiar turf. I’ve already harped enough on the relevance of the Mavs’ defensive performance in Wednesday’s game, so naturally that’s a point of interest in the follow-up. However, just as important will be the sustainability of the Mavs’ offensive execution, and more specifically, the Nuggets’ response to a dominant performance by Dirk Nowitzki.
With Denver’s primary bigs sidelined, Nowitzki was free to score at will from the low block. In Dallas’ first concentrated effort to isolate Dirk in the post, Shawn Marion freed him up with a baseline screen that ultimately proved to be counterproductive; the 6’5” Arron Afflalo had previously been assigned to defend Nowitzki, but Afflalo switched with the more sizable Carmelo Anthony on the screen. Dirk was still able to draw a foul while battling for post position, but the play setup made Dirk’s post-up far more complicated than it had to be.
Dallas then ran a nearly identical set with one caveat: rather than having Marion set the baseline screen (and have Anthony switch onto Nowitzki as a result), the Mavs used Dominique Jones. Rather than having to wrestle with Melo to allow the entry pass, Dirk was free to catch and finish easily over venerable statesman J.R. Smith.
Next trip down, the Mavs executed the exact same play with the exact same result. Smith decided to chase the entry pass, but Nowitzki finished with the same easy two.
Following a timeout, Denver tries something a bit different. Anthony is designated to follow Nowitzki, and the Nuggets ditch their plan to switch on low screens. It didn’t matter much. Although Nowitzki would obviously have preferred going to work against Chauncey Billups rather than Carmelo Anthony, he faces up, his teammates clear out, and Dirk rains a jumper over Anthony, who can’t even make much of a play on the ball.
Which defender Denver opted to use was irrelevant to Dirk. He scored over and around everyone placed in front of him, and in the few instances when the Nuggets were caught doubling? Dallas’ shooters were ready and waiting on the weak side. In this sequence, a fast break matches Nowitzki against Billups, which urges Smith to cheat off of Marion. Dirk finds Shawn in the corner, who swings it to Terry, and the ball moves back to the strong side to J.J. Barea for a wide open three. He doesn’t convert, but that’s a quality shot created by moving the ball out of the mismatch.
Later, a side screen sets up Nowitzki with prime post position, and his subsequent back down draws three Nuggets defenders. Dirk kicks the ball out to Jason Kidd, who is relatively open at the three-point line, but the ball doesn’t stop there. Kidd swings the ball to an open Jason Terry — who actually triggered the initial screen action — in the corner. Boom, as they say, goes the dynamite.
I’m not sure there’s a proper counter for Denver. Nowitzki can abuse any one-on-one matchup the Nuggets throw his way, and he’s also smart enough to find the open man in the case of a double/triple-team. Terry, Kidd, and Caron Butler have been hitting their looks from outside, which means that the Nuggets merely have their choice of execution. It’s not a flawless offense (all it takes is an off-day from Dirk and the whole scheme dissolves), but considering the Mavs’ clear positional advantage, there’s no excuse for Dallas to have anything but sterling offensive efficiency come Saturday.
Chris Tomasson of NBA FanHouse: “Dirk Nowitzki has a seen a lot of basketball. Entering Wednesday, he had played in 923 career NBA games. He had no clue who the guy guarding him was at the start of his 924th game. ‘I actually did not. I had no idea,’ Nowitzki said. The 13-year veteran Dallas forward wasn’t alone. Mavericks center Tyson Chandler also had zero knowledge of the guy wearing No. 0 and starting at forward for the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. ‘I didn’t know who he was before the game and, for a while, when he kept hitting jump shots, I was trying to figure out who he was,’ Chandler said.”
Matt Moore of CBS Sports’ NBA Facts and Rumors: “The trap we often fall into when evaluating great performances is that somehow, the defense was useless. That they were pathetically overmatched by the greatness we just witnessed. But in truth, it’s often a great performance in the face of great defense. Great players hit tough shots and figure out a way to get it done. And that’s what Dirk Nowitzki did against a surprisingly good defensive approach from the Nuggets. Rookie Gary Forbes and Al Harrington did everything they could, had position, got a hand in his face, and Nowitzki just kept working them over with the fadeaway. There were a few times when questionable switches and assignments doomed the Nuggets. J.R. Smith trying to defend Dirk? Aaron Afflalo? That’s not going to work, kids. He may be “Euro-soft” or whatever (averaging 9.8 rebounds this season), but he’s still 7 feet. And he took advantage of it.”
From the Elias Sports Bureau, via Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas: “Wednesday’s victory in Denver marked the 21st time in Jason Kidd’s career that he registered at least a dozen assists while managing no more than one field goal. Which is, obscure as it sounds, an NBA record.”
“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.
“…All the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
It honestly does not get much worse than this.
Worst loss in nearly a decade? Check. Embarrassing effort level on both ends of the court? Double check. Truly horrid execution? You betcha. Completely whiffing in a ‘statement game?’ Probably an understatement, but yes. The Dallas Mavericks failed in just about every conceivable way on Tuesday night, giving the players, coaching staff, and front office personnel plenty to think about going into the All-Star break.
You’ll find no more cogent and persuasive argument for the Mavs to make a trade than last night’s misery. The Nuggets just seemed to be operating on a completely different plane of existence, one that was simply beyond that of the pitiful, mortal Mavs. All Dallas could do was stare wide-eyed as Denver’s shooters nailed shot after shot, and marvel at every backdoor cut and spot-on defensive rotation. Nothing the Mavs did on the court could really be classified as actively playing the game of basketball, so don’t misunderstand my rhetoric; the Mavericks were spectators on the floor, watching the true professionals do what they do. They simply couldn’t be bothered with offering the slightest resistance or competition.
Dismissing the Mavs didn’t even require a spectacular game from either of Denver’s biggest stars, Chauncey Billups (16 points, 6-8 FG, six assists, three steals) and Carmelo Anthony (19 points, six assists, four rebounds). Instead, the Nuggets simply cashed in on the ordinary performances of their top players, and supplemented with some ridiculous production off the bench. Four of Denver’s reserves finished in double-figures, and it was actually the ridiculous second quarter runs of the Nuggets’ bench players that put away the game early. The Mavs expect, scheme, and tech to stop the players that are difficult to stop otherwise; Billups is so crafty and Anthony so talented that if you’re not preparing for them, you’re doomed to allow a monster scoring night from one or both. But Ty Lawson? Arron Afflalo? Johan Petro? These aren’t supposed to be the guys that give a team like the Mavs trouble…and yet here we are, looking at a decisive 18-33 quarter that says otherwise.
Without a healthy, fully-functional Erick Dampier, the Mavs have no hope of stopping Nene (21 points, 8-9 FG, eight rebounds). Eddie Najera got the start at center in Dampier’s absence (you know the drill – left knee effusion), but both he and Drew Gooden looked absolutely clueless in “guarding” (I use this term loosely) a player with such size, speed, and finishing ability. Nene was one of the unheralded difference-makers of last year’s playoff series between the Mavs and Nuggets, and his most recent domination of the Mavs was only more of the same.
J.R. Smith (12 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Chris Andersen (14 points, ten rebounds) were predictably troublesome, if only because the Mavs didn’t match their energy and activity. Based on everything else you’ve read and seen regarding this game, that shouldn’t be at all surprising.
Look, the Mavs were awful. Terrible, really. They slowed to a crawl when the should have (and could have) been sprinting, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences. So the best thing I can tell you to do is just laugh this off. Chuckle a bit at the thought of Ty Lawson running circles around the Mavs’ defenders. Let out a laugh because you know that Malik Allen, MALIK ALLEN, scored six points against Dallas. Just giggle with delight because you know that Denver shot 16-18 at the rim, and that’s probably not even the Mavs’ most embarrassing defensive feat of the night. But most importantly, laugh this off because there’s really nothing else you can do. This loss was so bad that it’s probably beyond anger or frustration, and qualifies as pure comedy. I mean, this is all some sort of elaborate joke…right?
The Mavs were once destined to rely on Dirk to conquer their demons, and in doing so, doomed themselves against more talented foes. But Dirk shot 6 of 15 from the field against the Nuggets last night, and was anything but the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece. He was more a fancy napkin or a nice tablecloth, an appropriate setting and a suitable distraction from the true forces at work. His offensive efforts were largely complementary, and though Nowitzki managed to drop a dagger of a three-pointer with just 50 seconds remaining, he was ultimately but a part of the Maverick machine. Dallas has had its fair share of struggles in making their offense a team affair, but they’ve had seven double-digit scorers in each of the last two games. Nowitzki’s shot attempts have remained down, the rest of the offense has picked up, and for perhaps the first time all season we have reason to believe that the Maverick offense is ‘getting it.’
The Mavs were once fated to be a step slow on the perimeter, and the league’s elite wings licked their chops at the opportunity to tear up the Dallas D. But add Carmelo Anthony (16 points, 5-19 FG, 12 rebounds) as the latest to fall under the constant pressure of the Maverick defense, a mighty juggernaut that has bested the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. To call this defensive outfit “for real” is a tad understated and a few months too late, and all the credit in the world for that goes to Shawn Marion and Josh Howard. The two drew the primary defensive responsibilities of covering Anthony, and though the Maverick plan of attack featured frequent and early double teams, it was Marion and Howard’s execution on and individual level that kept Melo’s shooting percentage so dreadfully low. Anthony absolutely torched the Mavs (who at the time depended heavily on the defensive skills of Antoine Wright) in last year’s playoffs, but the addition of Shawn Marion and a healthy Josh Howard proved to be a world of difference. This is the defensive tandem that will largely determine the outcome of games against the Western elite, and they added another line to their already impressive resume with the way they shackled Carmelo Anthony.
The Mavs were slated to be soft inside, as perennial punchline Erick Dampier and non-center Drew Gooden formed the entirety of Dallas’ center rotation. But Dampier nearly notched a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds) in just 21 minutes, and Gooden (19 points, 8-8 FG, 10 rebounds) was completely and utterly dominant against Nene, Chris Andersen, and the Denver bigs. The Nuggets seemed to only have a fleeting interest in playing solid defense, and Dampier and Gooden positioned themselves to best exploit Denver’s lackadaisical attitude. Damp was able to capitalize on the Nuggets’ D in a way he had failed to do in last year’s playoffs, and Gooden showed what is perhaps his most valuable skill as a Maverick: interior shot creation. Creating shots is a crucial part of any offense’s success, and part of the reason why the Mavs have struggled this season is the inability of players (outside of Dirk Nowitzki) to create good shot attempts for themselves. Gooden is certainly capable of that, as his array of hook shots and finishes around the basket demonstrated beautifully. And to drop a cherry on top, Gooden and Damp were instrumental in the Mavs’ shot-challenging and defensive rebounding (to the tune of a 22.6 and 33.2 defensive rebounding rate, respectively). Damp and Drew were nothing if not tough on the interior, and they moved earth, expectation, and Nuggets in search of rebounds and scoring opportunities.
Though supposedly aged and wise, the Mavs were foretold as a team that would inevitably falter in the face of adversity. Not only have the Mavericks completely flipped that theory on its head with their performance in clutch situations this season, but against the Nuggets they played with the poise of a contender while closing out yet another strong opponent. Denver was visibly distracted by the overly and overtly physical play, but Dallas simply executed their sets, got their stops, and scored just enough to keep the Nuggs at bay. It wasn’t the prettiest finale (late turnovers, blown free throws, and missed opportunities can put a blemish on even the most beautiful of wins), but the Mavs pulled together enough scoring and rebounding to secure a victory.
Everything has changed.
It simply has to be noted that Chauncey Billups missed the game due to injury. He changes the outlook and execution level of this Denver team, and though Carmelo Anthony has elevated his game over the last season or so, he operates much more comfortably with the safety net that Billups provides. When the Mavs really brought the heat against Melo, the rest of the Nuggets were left to sort out the mayhem. That’s the kind of situation in which Billups thrives, whereas his replacements, rookie Ty Lawson or the limited Anthony Carter, falter.
Arron Afflalo was a nice pick-up for the Nuggets, even if his jumpshot was absolutely erratic last night; he nailed a few of his early looks before throwing up some bricks in the fourth quarter. But as someone who has watched plenty of Nuggets this year, let me simply say that he makes sense as a defensive stopper/offensive contributor when Chauncey Billups is in the game and the Nuggets are on their game. He’s a contributor to the system, and that’s all you should expect from your role players.
It was a good night for the Shawn Marion hook shot, as the Mavs looked to engage Carmelo Anthony both offensively and defensively. The game plan was obvious: wear him out on both ends and frustrate him with constant pressure and movement. It worked beautifully, and Marion’s work in the low post against Anthony was a carefully executed part of that plan.
With Carmelo Anthony in and out of the game with foul trouble (he played just 31 minutes on the night), the Maverick defense turned its full attention to J.R. Smith. Rick Carlisle clearly had the utmost respect for Smith’s offensive game, and he wasn’t shy about throwing additional defensive pressure J.R.’s way. The results were often even better than they were against Anthony, as the flustered Smith committed offensive fouls (including one near-flagrant by introducing his elbow to Jason Terry’s head) and jacked up ill-advised three-pointers. In Billups’ absence, Smith is supposed to fill in with ball-handling and scoring, and instead, he stalled the flow of the Denver offense when met with the Mavs’ defensive pressure.
Again, Shawn Marion was not on the floor to finish the game. That said, the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Gooden was entirely deserving and successful.
DNP-CDs for Tim Thomas and Quinton Ross. Defending Carmelo Anthony was one of the more obvious reasons for adding a player of Ross’ defensive caliber, and though I was thrilled with the Mavs’ coverage of Anthony last night, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to see Q give it a try. Maybe next time.
J.J. Barea (13 points, 6-10 FG, four assists) continues to excel in his starting role. Say what you will about the aesthetic of the starting lineup (a 6’0” shooting guard? Wha-wha-what?), but he’s adding a ton offensively while he’s on the floor. The defense may be another story, but for the moment, his time on the floor is certainly a net positive (he was a +4 on the night).
Dirk Nowitzki really was a virtual non-factor on offense, but he continued to influence the game through his rebounding. As far as defensive efforts go, Dirk’s night was merely so-so, but Nowitzki pulled in tough, contested rebounds at crucial times to help put this thing away.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden, whose perfect night from the field and tough interior D were highlights of the Mavs’ win. Dallas simply doesn’t get the job done without Gooden’s tangible and intangible contributions. This was perhaps Drew’s finest game in a Maverick uniform (his effort against Tim Duncan and San Antonio stands out as a potential equal, in my mind), and as such he gets the gold sticker bling.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
The Mavs’ season ended not with a bang nor a whimper, but with the sigh of a team that just didn’t have enough. The Nuggets were the better basketball team, and they played like it. That’s why, for the first time in a long while, I rested easy after the Mavs bowed out of the postseason. There was no implosion and there was no letdown. Although we Mavs fans were holding onto the hope of another Western Conference Finals, they should be able to find solace in the way these Mavs fought and the way that Dirk thrived.
All the credit in the world has to go to the Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were a good basketball team playing their best basketball at the right time, but the Nuggets are a superior basketball team playing even better basketball with more two-way consistency. Personally, I’m ecstatic every time I get to watch the player that Carmelo Anthony is morphing into. Something about his game was both equally troubling and appealing, and to see him do away with the silly turnovers and the forced shots is to see him morph into an incredible basketball player. He showed every bit of that transformation in this series, and put the cherry on top in Game 5 with 30 points on 13-22 shooting (he had to miss 6 straight attempts to fall to that mortal mark). Melo will never be the playmaker (read: LeBron) that some wished he would be, but I sincerely doubt that many will be disappointed with his finished product.
Chauncey Billups (28 points on 10-16 shooting, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) made the point guard match-up a bit of a joke. While the Mavs’ veteran floor general was ignoring easy layup opportunities, being caught in the air with nowhere to go, and getting completely abused by a fairly rudimentary two-man trap in the half-court, Chauncey was doing more than his fair share to push the Nuggets over the edge. His shots were timely and brutal, and the lack of mistakes in his decision making was a perfect way for Billups to put his stamp on this series.
But before I get too gushy about the Nuggets’ stars, let’s not forget our own. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the rest of the team simply could not carry the burden of doing the rest. Dirk was positively glorious. He was drawing fouls on any Nugget that dare try to defend him, and when Dirk wasn’t waltzing his way to the free throw line he was draining jumpers that barely touched net. Though his 5 turnovers are quite uncharacteristic, I think he’s done more than enough to absolve himself. After all Dirk has done to carry the Mavs this season and this postseason, he’s certainly earned that much.
The Mavericks’ defense was undoubtedly their downfall. Though it’s easy to point the finger to the careless turnovers or flubbed offensive possessions, you hardly even need to single out the atrocious transition defense and nearly as miserable half-court execution. The perimeter defense just isn’t good enough to stay with quality NBA players, and the Mavs lack the type of help side defenders that can compensate for that weakness. The result is layups, and dunks, and free throws, which are a bit easier than the Mavs’ jumpers. Dirk is a fantastic jumpshooter, but he can hardly keep pace with a Nugget layup drill.
Jason Kidd (19 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 threes) had a tough time running the offense, and couldn’t stay in front of Chauncey Billups to save his life. But to Kidd’s credit, he came out in the second half ready to make a difference. The Mavs trimmed their 10-point deficit in a jiffy, in large part to Kidd hitting open three after open three. It was a nice second half effort to step up as Dirk’s scoring bro, but needless to say I expected a more complete game (and series) from Kidd.
Brandon Bass (17 and 7) was great, and J.J. Barea (7 points on 3 of 5 shooting) played some good minutes to spell Kidd during his turnover phase. Unfortunately for both of them, J.R. Smith (18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) was better. How many momentum-killing long threes did Smith hit in this series? He can shoot from the damn parking lot.
The Mavs had chances to win this game, but here’s the important thing: they earned those chances. Dallas sprinted out of the gate to a quick lead, but eventually ceded it to the Nuggs. Then they fought back several times in the second half, only to be held at arm’s length by a Carmelo three or a J.R. heartbreaker. But this outcome is something the Mavs should have been expecting since Game 2, and rightfully so. Congrats to the Nuggets, but plenty of congratulations to the Mavs for putting up a helluva fight, staying within reach, and hoping for a miracle. The fact that it never came doesn’t make their effort any less impressive.
Dear Jason Kidd, You need to eliminate the jump pass from your brain. I don’t want you to be able to perform that action anymore. Know who you’re going to pass to, stay on your feet, and be a damn point guard. Love, Rob.
Chris Andersen was rendered a non-factor in the last two games he actually played, largely because Dirk was very aware of his presence. Andersen tried to swoop in on several occasions for a weak side block on Dirk, only to find Nowitzki waiting patiently to draw the foul. Great stuff as always from Dirk.
This was not a good series for Jason Terry. I might go as far as to say that this was the worst playoff run of his career. Rick threw him into the starting lineup, and it did a whole lot of nothing.
Can someone explain to me how Anthony Carter got three offensive rebounds, all of which were around the basket?
Great season, guys.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night is practically a formality. I’d feel dirty if I gave it to anyone else but Dirk. Well deserved, buddy.
“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.
In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos. He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force. The result? Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory. The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp. Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.
Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3. After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor. For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm. Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek. The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.
The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights. One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully. Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim. K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper. More coming on Dirk in a later post.
Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk. Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer. His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own. Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one. I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly. It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers. Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.
Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him. J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble. Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.
Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint. Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work. This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed. He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.
Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls. The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer. I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense. Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds. Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets. When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams. But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win. That’s no coincidence.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Seriously? Do you have to ask? Dirk Nowitzki. No-brainer.
“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”
There are losses that make you want to yell and scream. There are losses that make you want to roll over and die. And then, there are losses that leave you staring in disbelief, mouth agape, as if the life has been sucked right out of you.
Or, if you’re like me, it’s a rotation of the three until I successfully recover from my postgame stupor.
In general, I try to avoid the thing that nobody wants to talk about but everybody wants to talk about: officiating. There’s a certain give and take to the ref game, and I respect that. But tonight is different. Although a blown call in the fourth quarter technically carries the same weight as one in the first, the critical mistake of the officiating crew in the final seconds of Game 3 was the biggest dagger I’ve seen in these playoffs. In one missed call, Dallas fell from a hopeful 1-2 to a funereal 0-3, a death knell in NBA basketball. It’s up for debate whether or not the Mavs had a real chance at winning this series, but one suddenly silent whistle made any debate irrelevant.
No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, and though winning some games would dress up the series in its Sunday’s finest, the Mavs don’t appear to be a team that can buck that trend. Every piece of evidence imaginable would point to the Mavs losing this series, and can’t even convince myself, much less you, otherwise.
What makes last night’s loss so painful is that the Mavs did what they needed to to win. Nene (5 points, 2-10 FG), a dominant force in Games 1 and 2, was neutralized by a more effective frontline and a defense aware of his presence. Josh Howard was revived from ankle hell to score 14 points, grab 7 rebounds, and play some commendable defense on a white-hot Carmelo Anthony. Dirk (33 points, 16 rebounds) was absolutely wonderful, and managed to actually build upon his prior brilliance by adding an impressive 15 free throw attempts to his series resume. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each broke out of their respective slumps, with Kidd running the break with mastery and Terry hitting the (original) biggest shot of the game to put the Mavs up 4. But all of that was wiped away when Antoine Wright tried to use the Mavs’ foul to give with two seconds remaining and was denied by official Mark Wunderlich, who saw no reason to stop the play and allowed Carmelo a free look at a game-winner. This isn’t a complaint about a questionable call — NBA president of league and basketball ops Joel Litvin confirmed the boo-boo — but rather voicing the frustration of a clear error that denied the Mavs a chance at this series.
The thought that history will likely remember this day as a Nuggets’ triumph rather than an officiating failure pains me, but credit to Denver for clawing their way through this game. It wasn’t always pretty and, to be frank, wasn’t always effective, but they managed to perservere despite a lot of things going wrong. Foul trouble and poor execution be damned, the Nuggets weren’t going to see themselves embarrassed, and that mentality just so happened to get them face-to-face with a winning jumper. Luckily for the Nuggs and their fans, Melo didn’t blink.
Brandon Bass (16 points, 5 rebounds, 12-14 FT) was awesome. He alone dominated Chris Andersen (plagued by foul trouble) and J.R. Smith (plagued by poor shot selection being J.R. Smith), and played tough interior defense while Erick Dampier was resting. Early in the game, it looked as though Ryan Hollins may have supplanted Bass as the back-up center, but Bass played with exactly the kind of energy and discipline that he needs to be effective on a regular basis. The free throw attempts are clear evidence of his assertiveness around the basket, but that kind of quantification hardly tells how important he was to the Mavs’ offense. In the first half, Dirk sitting on the bench meant a scoring drought. But once Bass started hitting his stride, he afforded Nowitzki some much-needed rest and the team a much-needed weapon.
Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups…were Carmelo Anthony (31 points, 8 rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (32 points). They had the kind of big games that you expect from players of their paygrade, and there was no chance that Denver even sniffs a win if those two don’t contribute huge baskets and meaningful plays at both ends.
Aside from that, the only other Maverick-killer was their inability to secure defensive rebounds. The Nuggets grabbed 13 offensive boards, many of which were converted into impressive tip-ins and dunks. That’s a disheartening way to end a play, especially when Dallas’ half-court defense seemed much improved from the first two games. They were putting the Nuggets in tough spots, but Birdman or Kenyon Martin would swoop in for an easy jam as the ball bounced off the rim. We’ve asked the Mavs to improve their defense and they responded, which makes those easy put-backs that much more harrowing.
Well, Gerald Green played a full 9 minutes, and it wasn’t pretty. Josh Howard and Antoine Wright’s foul trouble left Carlisle digging into his bench, and Green rewarded his generosity with 0-4 shooting, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 steals, 0 blocks, and 3 fouls. Ai yai yai.
In case you missed it, you can actualy re-watch the game in its entirety here.
Say what you will about Antoine Wright “giving up” on that final play, but I don’t see many faults with his play. If he challenges the shot, there’s actually a decent chance that Anthony catches him jumping from out of position, draws a foul, and gets three free throws (or maybe even more if the foul was flagrant). If he even challenges the shot, there’s still a chance that a whistle negates his efforts. And all of this is taking place in about a second flat, fleeting moments in which Wright is expecting play to be stopped by a tweet.
Josh Howard was called for an offensive foul on a play where he drove into the lane and warded off a defender by kicking out his foot…which you may remember was almost the exact play that won a regular season game for Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets against the Mavs back in January (check the clip here at the 1:50 mark, although it’s pretty bad quality).
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass. Dirk has been playing well all series long and deserves his props, but Bass provided something both unexpected and delightful tonight. Shooting 14 free throws off the bench in just 25 minutes is quite a feat, and Bass is quite a player.
“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.”
Brick by brick, the Mavs built the foundation for a victory. They survived 1st quarter adversity to remain within striking distance. The bench stepped up as Josh Howard went down. They clawed their way into a game that they really had no business being in. And yet, when a Jason Terry three finally pushed the Mavs ahead 74-72, I couldn’t shake the unmistakable feeling that it would all come crashing down.
Boy, did it, in a way that may seem eerily familiar.
After hanging, and hanging, and hanging with a Nuggets team playing better basketball than them on both sides of the floor, the Mavs blew a perfect opportunity by scoring just 2 points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter. There were rim-outs, there were horrible turnovers, and there were blocked shots, all of which seemed to end in free buckets for Denver on the break. The offensive magic that pulled the Mavs through the third quarter unscathed was left gasping the thin Denver air, and the Nuggets danced on the grave of the Mavs’ dead and buried transition defense. The team that wanted to turn this series into a marathon was run out of the gym, and I can’t decide whether ‘leak out’ better describes the nemesis of the Mavs’ defense or the insufferable feeling of their playoff hopes dripping away. Each drop brings us a bit closer to another playoff loss puddled on the floor, and another step towards the team staring itself down in the puddle’s reflection.
For three quarters, this was a game. You can thank Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) for that. Dirk’s impact was anything but the silent assassinations we’re used to; each fall-away and maneuver in the post was deafening. He served as a constant reminder that no Nugget can guard him (don’t worry, I’ll get to the TNT crew later), and also that the Mavs’ offense can’t function without him. That’s where Denver’s defense really excels. They can’t stop Dirk, and they don’t even do a very good job of limiting him. But the second that the offense stops going through Dirk or the second that he sits on the bench, the Mavs look bewildered. Our possessions begin with a lot of dribbling on the perimeter by Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, and usually end with a turnover or a forced jumper at the shot clock buzzer. They haven’t taken away our best player, but they may have taken away much more.
The number of open dunks and layups the Nuggets had was humiliating. Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and James Singleton finally started stopping the freebies with a steady supply of fouls, but the attempts the Nuggets were able to get on the whole were entirely too easy. The Mavs would grind and pick and squeeze two points out of a jumper, and the Nuggets would respond in a matter of seconds by hitting a wide open Nene for a dunk. It’s impossible to say exactly how much Dampier’s ankle is limiting him, but for his sake I hope it feels like a ball and chain. Otherwise, Nene has basically ripped Damp’s heart out of his chest, demoralizing and emasculating him on national television with rolls to the basket, thunderous dunks, and sly work in the post. Nene finished with 25 and 8, but it seemed like his highlight reel would last for days.
The Mavs’ bench does deserve the appropriate credit for their offensive exploits, but the defense was bad enough that no Mav should leave this recap unmarred. Jason Terry finally looked like Jason Terry again, registering 21 points and 6 assists off the bench. Ryan Hollins was the Mavs’ most effective center, and he somehow corralled his speed and athleticism into a few buckets. J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass vaguely resemble the contributors we saw against San Antonio, but even their mild success was balanced with a steady diet of defensive failure.
On his return, JET ran headfirst into his foil, J.R. Smith (21 points on 6-10 shooting). Smith showed his full range by making alert, intelligent passes to open teammates, and pulling up early for an errant 26-footer at the end of the second quarter that allowed Kidd to run the length of the court and hit a bomb of his own to pull the Mavs within three going into the half. He was every bit the Maverick irritant, coming away with a few steals and hitting big shots to stop the Mavs’ momentum dead in its tracks. I’m sure George Karl will fall asleep smiling.
Carlisle made frequent use of the zone defense, and personally, I’m not sure what to think about it. It seemed to limit the number of successful slashes, but the Mavs gave up entirely too many offensive rebounds to Denver’s bigs, and surrendered a few baskets to backdoor cuts. It’s hard to tell exactly how effective it was without some in-depth analysis, but to be honest it seemed like a wash.
Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) was again brilliant in the fourth quarter, capping an otherwise quiet game with a 15-point explosion to put the game out of reach. Whether foul trouble or stomach pains have kept Melo mortal, his close-out performances have been stellar. He’s hitting tough jumpers without forgetting to attack the basket, and essentially using a style that is quintessentially Melo to improve on his perceived shortcomings. There’s no doubt that he has evolved as a player, and when that fully-evolved form is on display it is to be both feared and respected.
I can’t think of anything that makes me angrier than Jason Kidd penetrating all the way to the rim, and declining a layup for a chance to whip the ball around to a shooter. Truly infuriating basketball.
The TNT crew (and by that I mean Kenny, Charles, and C-Webb) really grilled Dirk for describing Denver’s defenders with positive attributes. Apparently in saying that Nene and Martin are strong and Andersen can challenge shots, Dirk was ceding some gravely important psychological edge. Oh, but then he kind of dropped 35 on them. A big thanks to Ernie Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo for being voices of reason and actually listening to Dirk’s soundbite before they frolick off into exaggeration land.
Denver’s first quarter parade to the free throw line was brutal. They entered the bonus with about 6 minutes remaining, and shot 14 free throw attempts in the first quarter alone.
Jason Kidd’s performance was much easier to swallow, but with all the free three-pointers he blew, his performance still hurt. On top of that, Chauncey Billups (18 points, 8 assists, 4-9 3FG) finally emerged from whatever cave he was hiding in, so not only was Kidd sub-par, he was outclassed.
For those who don’t know, Josh Howard missed three of the four quarters with some swelling and soreness in his ankle.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk. Let’s just leave it at that, because even though Dirk had a wonderful night offensively, this team doesn’t deserve a superlative right now.
Nene, via Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post: “We don’t a send message to Dallas,” Nene said…”We send a message to us. If we play like that — simple, humble, hard, share the ball, play defense — this is going to be the result.”
Bethlehem Shoals of The Sporting Blog: “‘X-factor’ may be one of the emptiest cliches in all of sports, but somehow it’s not only appropriate for Josh Howard—it practically has become his nickname. Like if your friend earned the sobriquet “Wingman.” In Howard’s case, though, the concept is taken to an entirely different level. The Mavs swingman can either be the team’s best player or fade into the background; light up the scoreboard in the first quarter and then barely assert himself; hustle like crazy or get accused of being a lousy malcontent. He has been troubled by ankle issues all season, and it has become painfully clear that, while Howard may be mercurial, he also is the difference between the Mavs being solid and potentially very good. For Dallas to make a series of this after today’s steamrolling, Howard needs to stay healthy and for once play the same way for several days in a row.”
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Carlisle insisted he didn’t want to turn this into a whine party about the referees. Never mind that the last 16 times Dan Crawford has refereed one of their playoff games, the Mavericks have one win. At least he’s out of the way early this series. Nowitzki didn’t want to get dragged into any discussion about the referees. ‘It is what it is,’ Nowitzki said. ‘I’m not going to sit here and complain about it. We knew they were going to play tough.’”
Joey from FreeDarko: “There was a moment against the Mavericks yesterday when Denver broke its huddle by Karl imploring them to “keep on playing the right way.” This “right way,” one which had stolen the early lead and momentum from Dallas, consisted of leak outs and aggressive defensive rebounding; of Nene, not always so nimble, swooping to the basket as Dallas looked slow and confused; of Kenyon Martin elbowing anything that got in his way anywhere on the floor; of defensive breakdowns against Dirk rapidly fading amidst retaliatory secondary breaks; of Linas Kleiza taking threes early in the shot clock; of J.R. popping over guys with hands in his face; of Chris Andersen swatting a shot into the fifth row and egging on the crowd in a knowing frenzy. Erick Dampier spent most of the first half falling over himself, and it might have owed to the sort of dimentia which the Nuggets can cause when the unconventional parts are orchestrated in a common direction. Honestly, this moment was sublime. With its brooding and surly and muscular and wild elements in explosive harmony, Denver was so far afield of anything Larry Brown has ever moaned at any of the players he loves to hate that George Karl, unintentionally, made a mockery of what we attach to the concept of “playing the right way.” And yet, it was less farce and more cooptation, because Denver was, in fact, playing the right way. It was playing its right way. Its shit worked.”
Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News: “It’s not that Terry was awful in the Nuggets’ 109-95 win in this Western Conference semifinal; it’s that he was a nonfactor. That won’t get it done. The Mavs need more from their emotional linchpin. When Jet is draining jumpers and running down the court with his arms extended as though they were airplane wings, these Mavs defend better. And rebound better. And shoot better. When he’s not, the Mavs often receive a butt-kicking like the one Denver delivered in Game 1, because these Mavs feed off the enthusiasm that comes with Terry’s shot-making.”
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “You see, the Nuggets are 2009. Carmelo Anthony is the future, J.R. Smith is quite young, and nobody seemed to hear about Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen until this year, but this team is now. They are full of guys who are either in their prime, or possibly a bit removed from it, but still brilliant enough to take down giants. And while Melo and Smith are years away from the top of their pops, that’s not enough to ably predict that the Nuggets of this season (and, possibly, next season) will be as good as this team (as currently constructed) will get.”
Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop: “Last week, we characterized many of Dwyane Wade’s defensive blocks as “horror flick” plays — just when you think Wade is out of the play, he comes in for the kill. Andersen is a horror show, too — only he’s not a furtive killer that we never see on screen. He’s Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, walking in broad daylight with a pneumatic air gun.”
Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “Things changed when Kenyon Martin leveled Dirk with a forearm along the baseline.I think that play triggered a response from both the Nuggets and Dirk.For Denver, they started playing Dirk much more physically and the open space he was enjoying early on disappeared.For Dirk he was no longer as aggressive going to the rim.Over his final 17 shots he only took four at the rim.Was it a result of the hard foul or the Nuggets’ increased pressure?My guess is it was a little of both.”
Woody Paige of the Denver Post: “Andersen played 28 minutes, 17 seconds against Dallas in Game 1 of the Western Conference semi- finals. The Nuggets outscored the Mavericks by 24 points during the time he was on the floor. ‘Now that’s a fun fact,’ Andersen said afterward. Andersen tied his postseason high with 11 points. He also had six rebounds. But he finished with a playoff personal-best six blocks, the most for a Nugget since a guy named Dikembe Mutombo rejected seven in 1994. To the Mavs, Andersen was a road rash. Dirk Nowitzki felt like he had fallen into a briar patch, and then attacked by killer red ants. ‘If Dirk squares up at the basket, he’ll make the shot every time. You’ve got to frustrate him, get up against him, get in his face, disrupt the shot, force him to drive,’ Ander- sen said.”
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “In the words of philosopher/coach George Karl, these Nuggets are aggressive physically and conceptually. They will put two defenders on Kidd. They will chase the ball all over the court and force the other Mavericks to make quick decisions. Those decisions were frequently wrong in Game 1. Denver’s 15 steals set a postseason record against the Mavericks.”
George Karl on what kind of coverage the Nuggets should use on Dirk, via Anthony Cotton of the Denver Post: “I don’t know exactly what our concepts are except to say that I don’t think staying too much with one thing is the right formula. I think the best thing is to mix it up with jumps and switches and double teams.”