Joon Kim is the author of NBA Breakdown, and its subsidiaries, Spurs Motion Offense and The Triangle Offense — a tree of sites dedicated to analyzing the NBA’s structural elements. He’ll be contributing periodically to The Two Man Game with video-based breakdowns, illustrating particular aspects of the Mavericks’ performance. You can follow Joon on Twitter: @JoonKim00.
Our minds are obsessed with recent history. The last memories we form about an event can dominate how we later relive those experiences: a good first date can be ruined by a bad kiss, or a relaxing vacation can be undone by a stressful return home. With basketball it’s no different; regular season MVPs who falter in the postseason are labeled as chokers, and superstars who struggle but manage to hit clutch shots are remembered as heroes.
If we focus only on the end, the Mavericks seemingly created the looks necessary to win both games. Last year those shots came up heads, this year they’ve hit a stretch of tails.
However, the Mavericks shouldn’t return home regretting how they played at the end of their most recent game. The game was truly lost in a brutal 21-4 Thunder run lasting from the end of the first quarter through midway of the second. During that stretch, the Mavs weren’t locked down by a smothering Thunder defense. They were undone from within: over-dribbling, mental lapses, and the willingness to settle for jumpers all culminated in this possession:
In the initial play we see one pass made to Vince Carter, who isolates at the elbow. Carter dribbles at that spot for six seconds, attempting to survey the defense as James Harden cedes the entire baseline. The other Mavericks aren’t much help as none can decide where to spot up. Carter’s pounding is finally broken up by Harden’s deflection. Now further from the basket at a worse angle, Carter eventually goes baseline, but with no available passing angles, Carter forces a shot behind his head over the contest of Nick Collison. The Mavericks secure the rebound with a new shot clock, but Jason Terry decides to launch a 30-foot contested three-pointer.
All was not lost during this lopsided Thunder run, and there remains a silver lining. The deep hole forced Carlisle to go to a three-guard lineup with Shawn Marion at the four and Dirk Nowitzki at the five. The flow of the offense returned, but not in typical small ball fashion. The offense was revived because Kendrick Perkins was forced to guard Dirk Nowitzki:
In the beginning of the clip, we notice the pace and aggression of the Mavs is noticeably higher. Jason Kidd’s misses a layup but the Mavericks gather the rebound. Dirk slides into the post and the ball is swung to Marion who feeds him. As Dirk sets up, Marion cuts and the other Mavs properly space the floor. Perkins gives Dirk just enough airspace to rise up for the jumper.
Again, in this clip, the Mavericks are attacking quickly. Dirk gets to the same spot and Kidd feeds him the ball. Having established the jumper, Dirk pump fakes Perkins, who bites hard. Nowitzki drives by and uses another pump fake to draw an and-one on Serge Ibaka.
Growing frustrated, Perkins commits an off-the-ball foul while attempting to deny Dirk:
The fast pace of the Mavericks finds Perkins uncomfortably matched up against Dirk again. This time in transition, all the way out to the three point line:
Once again, Dirk uses a pump fake to get by Perkins leading to another and-one. It’s that simple.
The Thunder are a talented group, but they feature a jump-shot heavy half-court attack that can quickly turn south. The difference between being up or down two can be blamed on coin flips alone, but an improbable series win lies more in the Mavs ability to play a complete game than in any particular late-game fortune.
No series in this year’s playoffs better illustrates the gulf between winning and winnable; the Dallas Mavericks begin their postseason journey against a familiar foe, and although they hold the potential for a hugely significant upset, there is an auspicious lack of logical explanation as to why the series might actually unfold along those terms. Based on the evidence we have, we can’t write the Mavs off completely, and yet the Thunder are simply too good to not be penciled in for the second round on the basis of their far steadier — and noticeably more superior — play on both ends of the court. The playoffs always bring the potential for a reset and subsequent upset, but we can’t rightly expect either without even the slightest justification.
There’s reason to think that the Mavs might be competitive in this series, but we lack the magic bullet that could throw any predictions over the top. There’s a chorus for good reason; “Oklahoma City in six,” is the most reasonable outcome at this point, although there’s a distinct possibility of this series breaking in virtually any which way. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the Mavs push this to seven or lose in four; there are too many variables at work to have a good feel for how either team might play over the course of this series, leaving us with questions on questions and OKC’s far more convincing regular season exploits.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
This game was a prime demonstration of Vince Carter (14 points on nine shots, three assists) as a post-up option. It’s not about the buckets scored, but the opportunities created; Dallas ran their offense through Carter on the block in the second and third quarters, and VC was able to respond by drawing fouls, getting to the rim, and attracting plenty of defensive attention. Carter was such a convincing post threat that the Thunder left Dirk Nowitzki wide open in the opposite corner in order to blitz him down low. That kind of rotation barely seems possible, but mismatches like the ones Carter was able to create often force opponents into drastic measures.
Nowitzki (26 points, 10-16 FG, 1-5 3FG, six rebounds) may not have matched last year’s playoff performance in magnitude, but Monday night was a return to normalcy. The last time these teams met, Dirk looked rushed and uncomfortable. He hesitated before shooting open jumpers, and didn’t put much effort into establishing position at “his spots” on the floor. This performance was “vintage” Nowitzki, if they do indeed make months-old vintages. His footwork, ball fakes, and spins were all in playoff form, and though Dallas didn’t lean on Nowitzki’s offense as heavily as they did in the postseason, he was every bit as efficient as the Mavs could have expected him to be. I hope you enjoyed the first of what will undoubtedly be many brilliant showings for Nowitzki this season.
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 Mavericks’ offense was magnificent in the first half. Every movement was crisp and precise, whichmade the Thunder’s stagnation even more apparent. By my count the Thunder attempted just five shots at the rim in the 1st Quarter, with two coming on offensive rebounds. Everything else was on the perimeter. Both sides had plenty of movement, but the Mavericksdisplayed a prescient awareness of where space would be, moving there as it opened up. The Thunder seemed to be seeking open space, and in most cases it eluded their desperate chase. On offense, the Thunder players were looking for opportunities to score; the Mavericks were waiting for opportunities to score. One Dallas offensive possession, in particular, stood out to me. Their second possession of the 2nd Quarter started with a Jason Terry steal. Within 12 seconds, the ball had crossed half-court, at least four passes had been made, three different Mavericks had touched the ball, nearly every Thunder defender had been forced to make a rotation, and Dirk Nowtizki had knocked down an open 16 footer.
In the 4th Quarter the Mavericks’ offense came off the rails. They scored enough to hold on and win, but gave up quite a bit of ground. Instead of the movement and passing that helped them build their lead, which had gone as high as 23 points, there seemed to be a concerted effort to “Get the ball to Dirk.” This resulted in isolation after isolation. A few tough defensive possessions from Nick Collison and the Thunder were back within striking distance.
Kevin Durant had a tough night, as Stevenson and Marion hounded him into a 7 of 22 performance. Durant certainly helped them out by staying on the perimeter. Just 4 of his 22 shot attempts came at the rim, and just one of those 4 was taken before the 4th Quarter. Some may point to his 0 of 8 shooting on three-pointers as a fluke. However, most of those long jumpers were contested and he struggled all game long to find enough space to operate comfortably.
Tyson Chandler completely out-Perkinsed Kendrick Perkins. Chandler finished with a game high 15 rebounds, and stated clearly that the paint belonged to him from the game’s outset. The physicality and nastiness that Chandler has brought to the Dallas back line is what Perkins was supposed to give Oklahoma City. Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if the Chandler to Oklahoma City trade, of two years ago, hadn’t been voided because of his toe injury.
I’m a basketball nerd so I see references and connections everywhere. ESPN’s time out feature during the 1st Quarter, on notable playoff beards was clearly paying homage, intentionally or incidentally, to the now-defunct FreeDarko and the “Hair up There” section in their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. Well done, nameless ESPN segment producer.
The biggest storyline going into this game was Thunder coach, Scott Brooks, holding Russell Westbrook out for the entire 4th quarter of Game 2. The narrative coming out of Game 3 will likely continue to focus on Westbrook; but I’m curious to see what shape it will take. Westbrook was 8 of 20 from the field, and scored 30 points, thanks to 14 free throw attempts. His critics will likely focus on his 7 turnovers and 4 assists. I would be happy to offer criticism of Russell Westbrook for his play tonight, but none of it would focus on the ratio between his shot attempts and Durant’s. A comparison of their shot attempts as an evaluation of his effectiveness misses the point completely. Despite how it’s been framed this week, the problem is not a trade-off between Westbrook forcing the action or Durant getting open looks. It’s a trade-off between Westbrook forcing the action or Durant forcing the action. The Thunder offense created next to nothing in terms of open looks for Durant tonight. That’s an indictment of the entire team and everything leading up to the culmination of each possession, not just Westbrook’s ability and willingness to deliver the ball.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Perfection, thy name is Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s Game 1 showing was dominant and poetic, an awkward exercise of mismatch exploitation that can be matched by none. His skill is something to behold in itself, but it was Nowitzki’s versatility that set him apart on Tuesday night; Dirk worked against Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Buckminster Fuller, Frankenstein’s monster, Joe Montegna, and Rube Goldberg. He varied his approach depending on the coverage — pump faked bigs, backed down guards, shot over the geodesic dome — but the results were always the same. 48 points on 15 shots isn’t a level of efficiency that can be comprehended by the human mind. It’s a transcendent performance, one which we can’t fully grasp by looking at a stat sheet or even watching the game film. Somewhere under the layers and layers of that video is an otherworldly white noise, an aura surrounding Nowitzki that we’re unable to precisely detect but is impossible to ignore. It’s just there, and while puny simpletons like you and I can’t come to a complete understanding of what happened in a game like this one, we’re perceptive enough to know that something special is going on that, frankly, goes beyond our existential pay-grade.
This series was branded as a shootout, and lived up to its billing in Game 1. Kevin Durant (40 points, 10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG, 18-19 FT, eight rebounds, five assists, three turnovers) may not have matched Nowitzki shot-for-shot, but he came as close as his own limits (and the Dallas defense, for whatever it was worth) allowed. His was a remarkable performance as well, but feats of basketball strength are forever boosted and obscured by the power of context. On any other night, Durant’s incredible production would have been the story, and the ordaining of a young star in the biggest game of his life would have grabbed national headlines. Those in the know don’t need a strong performance in this series to know that Durant is great, but performances like this one certainly don’t hurt his repute. Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson defended Durant for most of Game 1, but Jason Kidd — primarily through switches on 1-3 pick-and-rolls — got his chance, too. It didn’t matter. Durant was fantastic from all over the floor, and though Tyson Chandler did an excellent job of contesting his attempts in the paint, KD was awarded with enough free throws to keep the Thunder competitive in the face of a Nowitzki onslaught feat. J.J. Barea. Yet Durant’s problem is exactly that which I addressed in the preview; while he holds distinct advantages over Marion and Stevenson, he lacks the means to attack as consistently as Nowitzki. That won’t stop him from putting up huge point totals with efficient percentages, but if the dynamic of this series really is to be centered around Dirk vs. Durant, then the slight limitations of the application of Durant’s offensive game could prove costly.
The Mavs’ collective defense against Russell Westbrook went precisely according to the expected plan, with one small change: Stevenson started on Westbrook, and Dallas employed even more zone than one might have thought. Both of those elements worked out swimmingly; while Stevenson wasn’t notably great on the defensive end, he did his job and executed the game plan, while the match-up zone seemed to create some serious problems for Westbrook. The problem isn’t that Westbrook isn’t a “true point guard,” merely that he is particularly vulnerable to defensive coverage that grants him any shot he wants while defending the rim. The results speak for themselves, and though Westbrook is due for a big game at some point during this series (his talent alone should allow for that much), I don’t see how he combats this defensive strategy aside from making more jumpers. Chandler gives Westbrook a lot of problems inside, and while the young Thunder guard was able to compensate for those problems by drawing fouls and getting to the line (he attempted 18 free throws), it’s hard to object with any particular aspect of the Mavs’ defensive execution in this regard.
If it hasn’t already become pretty clear, this game turned into a bit of a free throw fest. Dallas’ 46.6 free throw rate is a bit ridiculous, but Oklahoma City’s 51.4 mark is flat-out bonkers. The whistles were quick on both ends of the court (beginning with a bizarre double-technical on Chandler and Kendrick Perkins just a minute and a half into the game), and played a significant role in the efficiency of both Durant and Nowitzki, as well as whatever semblance of efficiency Westbrook was able to muster. I’d expect OKC to continue shooting free throws at a high rate, but it’s no such certainty for Dallas.
The fundamental obstructions to the Dirk vs. Durant narrative were a pair of reserve guards. J.J. Barea (21 points, 8-12 FG) was again insanely effective as an initiator of the pick-and-roll, and Jason Terry (24 points, 8-16 FG, 4-8 3FG) continues his run of the gauntlet in an effort to restore his postseason reputation. Both produced as necessary, though the performance of the former may not have the same sustainability as Dirk’s; Barea looked unstoppable running the pick-and-roll with Dirk from the top of the key, but the Thunder are a better defensive team than they showed in Game 1. They may not have an answer for Nowitzki, but they can certainly tweak their approach to contain Barea, as even a single body between J.J. and the rim would limit the impact of that particular sequence. Of all of the areas of adjustment for the Thunder, I’d expect this to be the most significant.
Several observers on Twitter wisely pointed out the disconnect between the feel of the game and the scoring margin, and it’s something to consider. Nowitzki was amazing, Barea astounding, and the interior defense excellent, and yet the Thunder were within seven points with just a few minutes remaining. Dallas is good, but this is going to be a fiercely competitive series, regardless of how many games it goes on.
On the bright side for the Mavs: Shawn Marion’s performance has plenty of room for immediate improvement. His finishing totals and percentages were pretty decent, but Marion fumbled away many a scoring opportunity in Game 1, with some resulting in turnovers and others mere missed opportunities. If he’s a bit crisper on the catch and off the dribble in Game 2, his slashing and curling around the rim gives Dallas another dynamic offensive contributor.
James Harden’s 12 points and four assists weren’t back-breaking, but he did create some problems for the Mavs with his work in the pick-and-roll. I still see this as a directly addressable problem, and though Harden made some terrific passes after getting into the lane, Dallas can do better to prevent that initial penetration. Rest assured: the Mavs are well aware of the problems that Harden can create, and will look to make explicit changes in their execution to account for him.
Again: Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, even with both teams’ defenses taken into account. If the Thunder are to win, they’ll need either a sudden drop in the Mavs’ shooting from all over the floor, or a significant advantage on the offensive glass, in the turnover column, or in free throw attempts. They secured modest advantages in two of those areas on Monday, and it still wasn’t enough — Dallas won with a 9.9 efficiency differential.
I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.
Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.
*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.
The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.
As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.
Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.
Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.
Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.
**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.
In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.
If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.
That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.
“Continual improvement is an unending journey.”
The fact that this game shows up as an L in a sea of W’s doesn’t change much; the team that lost to the Celtics last night is very much the same team that rattled off 13 straight wins. This one result was obviously quite different, but this performance was just as imperfect as any during the streak, and just as promising. Dallas couldn’t close against a pretty determined Boston team, but the defense was still impressive and the half-court offense made a nice second half rally. The only trouble in paradise is that it was never really paradise to begin with.
This was a terrific game. Competitive throughout, no team registering any kind of insurmountable lead, and the stars on each side coming out to play. There were stretches where both teams were in a funk: the turnovers, missed shots, and lazy fouls added up like you would never expect from two contending teams. But the Mavs and Celtics were evenly matched even in their futility. That doesn’t translate to 48 minutes of beautiful basketball, but it did translate to 48 minutes of hotly-contested basketball, which may be the next best thing. Or the best thing if you’re a March Madness zealot.
The rumors of the Celtics’ demise were not greatly exaggerated. This Boston squad was dead, pronounced, autopsied, and buried months ago. What we have here is a team of undead soldiers. Kevin Garnett walks again in the Romero mold, lacking the quickness, explosiveness, and general transcendence of his previously human self. But he’s as belligerent a defender as ever, and he hounded Dirk into plenty of tough shots. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are perhaps a bit more self-aware in their second chance at life. Both are pained by the limits of being the walking dead, but they tirelessly carry out the goals of their mortal lives. Rajon Rondo follows the contemporary Danny Boyle model: a relentless, physically intimidating, quick, reactive, and utterly more frightening force. These guys have unearthed themselves and they’re hungry for brains.
On paper, the Mavs match up pretty well with the Celtics. Shawn Marion is a terrific counter for Pierce, Caron Butler and Jason Terry may not be able to stop Allen but they can certainly match him and then some, Dirk and KG are excellent foils, and the combination of Haywood and Dampier can hopefully negate any impact that Kendrick Perkins would have. Not all of that came to fruition last night, but the lineups present some incredible possibilities.
Rasheed Wallace’s “retribution?” Are we seriously talking about this? Come on.
Garnett played Dirk about as well as any defender has all season…and Nowitzki still finished with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. I don’t want to show my hand too much, because I plan to drop a video on this sometime in the next day or so, but the key to jump-starting Nowitzki’s production after a slow start was to take him out of the Mavs’ traditional sets. Rick Carlisle showed some real creativity in finding Dirk scoring opportunities against some elite defense, and that’s huge.
That said, KG (eight points, 3-9 FG, nine rebounds, five steals) was essentially a defensive specialist against the Mavs. Dirk defended him well, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The phase of Garnett’s career where he was a dominant scorer has come to a close, and while that puts quite a cap on his league-wide hegemony, it doesn’t entirely negate his influence. He can impact a game as a key defender and a spot scorer, and his work on Dirk could have been what put Boston over the top.
The Mavs centers combined for five points, 10 rebounds, and five turnovers. They were completely invisible aside from a pair of Haywood blocks, most notably a obliteration of a third-quarter Rajon Rondo layup attempt. It was an impressive play, but it doesn’t quite excuse the combined performance of the Mavs’ 5s.
The atmosphere at the AAC has been a bit lacking this season, but it’s nice to see the in-game entertainment folks stepping up their game.
Caron Butler (nine points, 3-14 FG, four rebounds) did not have a good night, but he was working hard. That’s all you can ask. The Celtics are a great defensive team, and while it’d be nice if every Mav could drain every open shot, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. But we know that Butler is capable of contributing on a consistent basis otherwise, and that type of redeeming factor is what will keep Caron’s status separate from a Josh Howardian designation. Howard’s effort was criticized as much as his decision-making and his maturity level, but Butler was killing himself on the court. His three offensive rebounds tied for the game-high, and he added three steals.
Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-13 FG, six rebounds) is becoming more and more influential. Before, Shawn was a defensive stopper who could score. Then, he was a crutch in a time of need. Now, even with a fully-functional lineup (unless you count the left half of Jason Terry’s face), Marion is easing the burden on the team’s top scorers by providing some much-needed scoring help in the half court. Yes, in the half court. Marion may have started the game with a leak out into transition, but almost all of his damage came by cutting in the half-court game and finding open spots along the baselines. Some of his missed layups are still heartbreaking, but I think you take what you can get when Marion is carrying the scoring load for chunks of the game.
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) was absolutely terrific in the fourth, as he worked against Jason Kidd in isolation. I can feel Mavericks Nation simmer over the fact that Rodrigue Beaubois couldn’t get off the bench until the closing seconds, and I feel you. Roddy is the most physically gifted perimeter defender the Mavs have, and his physique is practically tailor-made for a guy like Rondo. That doesn’t mean you cold call him in the middle of the fourth quarter when Kidd (11 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and (18 points, 8-16 FG, three steals) Terry are still playing well. Theoretically it makes sense, but contextually it didn’t.
“The unpredictability inherent in human affairs is due largely to the fact that the by-products of a human process are more fateful than the product.“
It’s getting to the point where the Maverick offense is almost impossible to predict. The Mavs were unable to get the ball in the basket for long stretches against the Toronto Raptors, who despite their improved play of late, are dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. In the first half last night, the Mavs were scoring relatively well, but were turning the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate.
Then in the second half? A deluge. 58 points (which is notable considering the there were only 90 total possessions) dropped on the head of one of the league’s top defenses (currently ranked 3rd). The less surprising part was that Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 14-22 FG, seven rebounds, three assists) was the primary bread-winner, scoring 22 of his 37 points in the second half on 9-15 shooting. He was 6 of 7 in the third quarter, when the Mavs scored 34 points on an insane 16 of 20.
Dirk was mismatched against the likes of Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, but he abused any defender Doc Rivers assigned to him. But honestly, as brilliant as Dirk was in getting open off of picks and the like, Boston’s defense had a complete breakdown. I’d imagine that Nowitzki takes up a pretty substantial part of the scouting report, and yet he was frequently wide open for mid-range jumpers. He is the undisputed best player in a Maverick uniform, and yet the Celtics were leaving him open to double in the post or sending two defenders to rotate due to miscommunication. Even great defensive teams are due for some mental errors once in awhile, but the second half (and the third quarter, in particular) was just mistake after mistake after mistake.
What’s scary is how good the Mavs could have been offensively if Jason Terry (eight points, 3-12 FG) and Josh Howard (three points, 1-5 FG, three rebounds, four assists) had been in any kind of rhythm. JET didn’t score a single point within 15 feet of the basket (0-4 from that range), as he was denied at the rim and forced into tough jumpers after prematurely killing his dribble. Terry caught the ball looking to score, but simply failed to convert. But he kept his turnovers down, played some decent defense, and deferred at the appropriate moments. Josh, to his credit, kept his shot attempts down. But his play continues to frustrate. His recent play should already have him on thin ice, and every missed layup and long, contested jumpshot is another step closer to the freezing water beneath his feet.
But Dirk wasn’t carrying the offense alone. Erick Dampier (11 points, seven rebounds, four turnovers, two blocks), Drew Gooden (10 points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Jason Kidd (13 points, 5-7 FG, 3-3 3FG, 17 assists, three turnovers), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-9 FG, eight rebounds, two blocks) provided ample scoring support. Damp’s performance was especially notable for just how explosive of a scorer he was; all 11 of Damp’s points came in the third frame, where he also grabbed five rebounds and went a perfect 5-5 from the field. He was also surprisingly versatile, dropping a free throw line jumper and what I only know to describe as a runner (maybe a walker?) along with a few layups and some post work. That’s the closest thing you’ll ever see to an Erick Dampier offensive clinic, and it was against a pretty solid defender in Kendrick Perkins.
Gooden had a similar role in the first half, but in my mind Drew’s offensive contributions are far eclipsed by those on the defensive end. I’ll be blunt: Drew Gooden is not a strong defender. The rhetoric that he often “floats” on that end of the court is certainly true, and his concept of defensive spacing is certainly not in line with Coach Carlisle’s. But last night was a pleasant surprise, as Gooden combined excellent anticipation, great hands, and a high activity level to put together one of his best defensive performances of the season.
The shocking thing about Kidd and Marion’s performances was that there was really nothing spectacular about them. Kidd simply made the right plays, again and again, and his teammates finished inside. He displayed that incredible efficiency from the three-point line, which has become a staple of his time in Dallas. He played tough defense (even when switched onto bigger threats like Paul Pierce), pressured shooters, and initiated the offense. His numbers are absolutely stellar, but Jason Kidd only did what Jason Kidd does.
Shawn Marion’s outing was similar, with one notable exception: he finished. Marion’s time in Dallas has already seen him miss plenty of layups and several dunks, but Shawn maximized his opportunities last night. He was excellent in transition, but even more impressive with what he was able to do in half-court sets. Plus, his defense on Paul Pierce was admirable, even though it wasn’t totally effective. That happens when your primary objective on the court is to contain the league’s best players night in and night out. And though Pierce still scored 24 points while shooting over 50% from the field, Marion is putting in the effort to deny, bump, and challenge, and on the whole it’s working.
It was certainly an impressive win for the Mavs, but they hardly turned a corner. We’ve seen this team put up the occasional dominant offensive outing, and in truth, this was only half of one. It came against a quality opponent and a quality defense, but don’t misconstrue the Mavs’ third quarter brilliance for some sort of grand revelation. This team still only goes as far as Dirk can take them, and until Josh Howard and Jason Terry become more efficient and effective parts of the offense, Dallas will continue to struggle on that end of the court.
Rajon Rondo (seven points, 12 assists, two steals) is tremendously improved as a shooter. He was 3 of 5 from 16-23 feet last night, and he’s managed to virtually eliminate one of the holes in his game. That shot doesn’t need to be his bread-and-butter, but being able to hit from that range consistently can really complicate things for the defense.
Oh, and Rondo’s okay at passing, too. A lot of the Mavs’ defensive trobles came from collapsing too hard on Rondo’s lane penetration, which gave players like Kendrick Perkins (14 points, 12 rebounds, three turnovers, two blocks) all kinds of easy buckets. Not that Perk wasn’t a beast in his own right. The Celtics routinely sent him to work on the low block, and his array of turnaround jumpers was a clear homage to teammate Kevin Garnett.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 37 points on 22 shots…isn’t that good enough for you?
The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003. But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets. This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.
It’s tough, but hardly impossible. Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft. The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.
Here are the picks at 22 this decade:
2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey
Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops. Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals. In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)
It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round. Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.
Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team. Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League. As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.