“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
This was a game that the Mavs needed to win. This was not the way that the Mavs needed to win it. Denver provided the Dallas’ first real challenge on the schedule, and rather than prove that their defensive success in the first three games was indicative of a real and sweeping change, we’re now left wondering how many of the season’s first 144 minutes should be taken seriously at all.
Dallas was, statistically speaking, an excellent defensive team before last night. Yet when the Mavs had a chance to make a statement against a top-10 offense, they allowed an unpalatable 111 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs’ defensive performance in the first three games matters, but the value of that performance has withered under high heat. There are better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets. There are surely better offenses out there than the Denver Nuggets sans Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen. And when those offense come, the Mavs may not get the lucky bounce they need to leave the floor as victors.
Dallas will have to be better. Luckily, we’re now a mere four games into the season, and the Mavs have innumerable opportunities to solidify their defense before the games stop meaning something and start meaning everything.
We shouldn’t let this win soak up too much gloom, though. Offensively, Dallas was pretty fantastic. That’s an idiomatic Maverick way of saying that Dirk Nowitzki was pretty fantastic. With almost all of Denver’s bigs sidelined, Nowitzki (35 points, 15-31 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists) went to work on a cast of undersized defenders. George Karl refused to throw any kind aggressive double teams Dirk’s way, and his team paid the price with each move on the low block, and each jumper dropped over the hand of a defender that could barely reach Nowitzki’s eye level.
Dirk dominated the game and the Maverick offense, and pushed Dallas’ offensive efficiency just far enough to overcome their deficiencies on defense and the glass. On a typical night this season, Nowitzki uses 24.7% of the Mavs’ possessions. Last night against the Nuggets, he used 47%. Forget alpha and omega, Nowitzki was the entirety of all alphabets of all times, all that had been and all that ever would be for the Mavs’ O.
Others thrived from Dirk’s resplendence. Jason Terry spotted up on the break beautifully and balanced the weak side when things slowed down. JET had 16 points and went 4-of-4 from three in the third quarter alone, keying a 14-4 run that gave Dallas the lead. Of those 14 points, Terry scored 11.
Kidd should also be credited, even if he scored just three points of his own. 83.3% of Terry’s field goals were assisted, and 100% of both Caron Butler’s (16 points, 7-14 FG, seven rebounds) and Shawn Marion’s (eight points, six rebounds, two blocks) field goals were set up by a teammate. Kidd’s 12 dimes don’t account for allof those FGs, but his execution of the offense was masterful. Kidd is just so unbelievably patient; Kidd is kind; Kidd is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; yada, yada, yada; He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Nowitzki had the ball in his hands an astounding percent of the time, but it was Kidd who got it there. He was making perfect entry passes, waiting for plays to develop, and finding Dirk (and JET, and Caron…) when he leaked into open space.
When Kidd is functioning at this level, the Mavs are a rather brilliant offensive team. But when Nowitzki is left purely to his own devices to fuel the entire offense, the well-oiled machine tends to sputter. Both players are essential if Dallas is to have a top-shelf offense again, and games like these give us a glimpse — however stilted it may be in terms of usage — of the Mavs’ offensive potential with both Kidd and Nowitzki playing effectively.
Carmelo Anthony finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, but had a pretty frustrating night overall. He shot 42% from the field on 19 attempts, and while I’d love to attribute some of Anthony’s rougher patches to Shawn Marion and the Mavericks’ defense, Melo didn’t do himself any favors. Dallas played him well, but it was a bit of an off-night.
A silver lining to the Mavs’ defense: Dallas utilized a match-up zone in the second and third quarters that was fantastically effective, but relied on it less and less as the game wore on. The Mavs shouldn’t want to be in a place where their defensive future hinges on the effectiveness of the zone (which, for all of its strengths, is still a bit gimmicky), but knowing that it can still be effective in spurts against rhythm offenses is valuable knowledge.
Speaking of: Nowitzki could probably stand to not hedge quite so heavily toward the middle when playing zone with Chandler. Tyson can cover plenty of ground on his own, and considering the potency of Denver’s three-point shooters, Dirk might be better served honoring the impact of the corner three. Dirk did what he could to close out, but sometimes he was just too far out of position. I realize that threes are a realistic concession of the zone, but in this case some of those attempts (and makes) might have been preventable.
This was not Brendan Haywood’s finest performance.
Gary Forbes is now an NBA player. Forbes started for the Nuggets, and drew the short straw on being the first defender to face Dirk Nowitzki. He did an admirable job, and the former D-Leaguer dropped 12 points on 50% shooting to boot.
Jason Kidd is doing a great job of giving up the ball early on the break and then spotting up as a three-point shooter. In traditional fast break situations, I’m always surprised that opponents pay so much attention to the threat of a Kidd layup. He’s not a very good finisher at all, and the thought of a pass always comes first, second, and third for him. But by giving up the ball early, Kidd turns himself into a fast-break weapon. No longer is he only looking to set up a bucket with a pass. Instead, he’s capable of completing transition opportunities of his own on both the primary and secondary break:
J.J. Barea’s three turnovers hurt, as did his defense at times. But does anyone dare discount the impact of his nine points in a game decided by a single bucket? Barea made mistakes, but he also drew offensive fouls and got to the rim when Dallas needed offensive help.
Arron Afflalo (known affectionately in some circles as “Spellcheck,”) is the real deal. Afflalo had a tremendous year last season with the Nuggets, but he’s become an even more versatile offensive player while continuing to groom a rather potent three-point stroke. Fans of every other NBA team are jealous.
Again: no Kenyon Martin, no Nene, no Chris Andersen. Yet the Nuggets nearly matched the Mavericks in offensive rebounding rate. Dallas has to do better work on the defensive glass. The Mavs’ offensive rebounding on the other hand, was fine. And, might I add, clutch:
All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. In games like these, it’s hard not to wonder if going small is a more viable option than Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff acknowledge. Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are very good defenders, but in games like this one, they become strictly help defenders and rebounders. Taking on-ball post defense out of their job description leaves them slightly less useful, and I do wonder if running a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Butler-Marion-Nowitzki might have been more effective at times. It’s not the most intuitive way to get better defensive results, but having more natural match-ups could be a conceivable boon for the Dallas D.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Come on. Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs won with their offense, and their offense won with Dirk.
Skeets and Tas talk a lot of Mavs-Nuggets on today’s episode of The Basketball Jones, and Tas does not approve of the “Roddy Buckets” moniker. Have to agree on that one — is that really the best we can do? UPDATE: On the Jones’ mailbag episode, the guys announced that they’re running a contest for the best nickname for Beaubois. Call in at 1-888-TBJ-4377 to leave an audio message or send your video message to tbj[at]thescore.com, best entry gets a prize.
Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “Some of you may remember when the Golden State Warriors upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs it was Stephen Jackson who hounded Dirk Nowitzki game after game.If the Nuggets have a player that fits that mold it is Carmelo Anthony.I was hoping to see Melo spend some time covering Dirk and I got what I asked for.Melo worked hard, fought for position and kept Dirk on the perimeter.He could have done a better job boxing out, but it would be interesting to see what Melo could do on Dirk for an extended period of time.” I can’t say I agree. Jackson has always been a more tenacious defender than Melo, and although Anthony’s defense has certainly improved this season, I don’t see him as being a good primary option for defending Nowitzki. Then again, I don’t see Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro, or Joey Graham as good options either, and I’d point to Dirk’s success last year in the playoffs as my evidence.
Speaking of Kenyon Martin, Yahoo’s Marcus Spears reported earlier this morning that it’s possible Martin might not play for the rest of this season at all. Playoffs included.
Something of note that we saw last night: Rodrigue Beaubois playing extended minutes at point guard alongside Jason Terry. I understand Rick Carlisle’s reluctance to play Roddy at the point, especially with the post-season looming. But having Jason Terry as the shooting guard not only gives the Mavs another ball-handler, but someone with enough point guard experience to make for a pretty interesting backcourt. The Spurs have been using Manu Ginobili at point alongside George Hill during Tony Parker’s absence, though Hill might be listed as the PG. I can’t help but wonder if the Mavs couldn’t try something similar with their second unit, playing Terry and Beaubois in a tandem-PG/SG role in which both can use their handles, passing, and shooting to set up each other and their teammates. It’s not a straight up “Beaubois at PG” solution or a “Terry at PG” solution, but a hybrid model that would seem to serve the Mavs’ needs best…supposing those needs involve burying J.J. Barea.
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.
Is Devin Harris really the 24th best player in the league? I mean…really? (Just a few that SLAM chose to rank as inferior to Harris: Vince Carter, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Boozer, Gilbert Arenas, and obviously many, many more.)
Tim MacMahon noted a leaner, more refreshed Dirk at Media Day, which is plenty of reason for optimism. Nowitzki has no reputation for reporting out of shape, but to see Dirk return from a restful summer and still slim down will only help his mobility on both ends: “For the first time in a long time, Dirk looks forward to the grind of training camp. That’s partially because he didn’t play for the German international team this summer, a mutual decision he made with Mark Cuban. He didn’t touch a basketball for nine weeks before getting back in the gym with mentor/personal coach Holger Geschwindner. Don’t take that as a sign that Dirk didn’t work hard this summer. He dropped about a dozen pounds, weighing in at 243 pounds, the lightest he’s been since the early years of his NBA career. He slimmed down in anticipation of the Mavs playing at one of the fastest paces among NBA teams. ‘I feel good,’ Dirk said. ‘I think I’m moving pretty well. It should be fun.’”
If you chug some cough syrup and watch this video, you’d probably think you’re at Media Day.
Dirk’s assessment of the off-season moves, via Marc Stein: “I’m really looking forward to meeting all the new guys because we made some good moves. Obviously I think [Shawn] Marion can help us on both ends of the floor, address some [of Dallas' lack of] athletic ability. I think [Quinton] Ross is going to be able to guard some scoring 2s that have given us trouble. I think [Drew] Gooden is a nice piece. Tim Thomas gives us more shooting, which we need…I’m fired up. I’m ready to get this whole thing started. I’m ready to focus on having a great season.”
Mike Fisher from DallasBasketball.com listed a series of “off-beat” items from Media Day. Among them was a nugget that hopefully represents the camraderie that all great teams seem to have: “In a very short time – maybe a week of pickup games – JJ Barea, Kris Humphries and Matt Carroll have become pals. It’s also clear to me that Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden have a buddy-buddy chemistry that belies the competition they are about to engage in. Oh, and every time Dirk and Shawn Marion were in the same vicinity, they were always giggling about something or other. In fact, The Matrix behaves as if all his new teammates are actually old frat brothers, especially when it comes to poking fun at their advanced ages. The topper: When he insists that Erick Dampier has an endorsement deal with Rogaine.”
Shawne Williams is apparently not with the team, and the Mavs are looking to trade him.
Just a little reminder that despite the lack of a double-header, the Mavs-Nuggs will still tip off at 8:00 central time.
Check me out on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith talking Mavs — mostly Dirk straight beastin’ and the fan hijinx.
Rick Carlisle on technical fouls, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “I’m never an advocate of technicals, even though I’ve had more than my share this year, but when they sort of manifest with a pure heart, you feel a little differently about them, especially if they win. Now, if we’d have lost by a couple points and gave up five technical free throws, I’d be singing a different tune. But I just thought the way we fought was great.”
An extensive history of Dirk’s performances in elimination games tells many Mavs fans what they already know: when the pressure swells, so does Dirk’s play. With one notable exception (2007 was a doozy), Dirk has been exceptional with the series on the line.
Mike Moreau of Scouts, Inc./ESPN: “The Game 5 defensive plan must include better efforts by Howard and Antoine Wright to deny Anthony the ball. Once every three or four times isn’t enough. If Anthony gets it going in Game 5, it will be lights out for the Mavericks. Anthony’s defender must deny, front, fight and refuse to concede a single catch in the post, wing or top of the floor. Just preventing two catches per quarter takes 16 potential points away, and Anthony’s attempt to receive a pass in Game 5 should become a fight for position and for the ball…The Mavericks cannot take a single defensive possession off in Game 5. Any lapse in concentration will turn into the quick scoring runs that can turn this game into a blowout. This must be their best defensive effort of the year — every shot contested, everybody in the lane on drives, everybody on the glass.”
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Asked if he thought Cuban’s blog, where the owner apologized to Kenyon Martin’s mother and to other Nuggets fans, including Vazquez, whose experience at American Airlines Center was marred by confrontations with Mavericks fans, was the wrong forum for an olive branch, Anthony said: ‘No blog to blog. No twitter to twitter. Face to face.’ Martin also voiced his feeling that the online apology to his mother was not the most genuine way to go about it.” For what it’s worth, the TNT crew mentioned on Inside the NBA that Mark Cuban apparently tried to contact K-Mart’s agent, tried to contact his mother directly, and even waited for Martin at pre-game shootaround, where Kenyon refused to speak to him. Let’s all remind ourselves that all of this nonsense is the product of Cuban telling a player’s mother that her son was a ‘punk.’ This is the reason why the off-day hype machine is a bad thing.
Oh, but Kenyon did finally make some attempt to communicate with Cuban face to face…but this video isn’t for ye of virgin ears, those at work, or nuns.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “Mano-a-Melo. It just doesn’t get much better…Down 3-1, the Mavericks still don’t have much chance to rally for a series win. But with Denver seemingly married to the idea of guarding Nowitzki one-on-one, you have to wonder if just about anything is possible for him. ‘I can’t say enough about what Dirk did out there,’ Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ‘Just a fantastic performance. There are very few guys I’ve been around in this league that are as strong-willed as he is. Dirk’s performance was amazing.’”
And wonderful, another incident with a Nugget familial cheerleader and the Mavs’ bleachers. Here’s the video of LaLa Vasquez, Carmelo Anthony’s girlfriend/fiancée, being escorted out of the arena. She’s playing the race card, which isn’t something to throw around. A Mavs fan claiming to be sitting in her immediate vicinity argues otherwise, but at best it’s he said-she said-she might have said.
Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “Now, I’d like to discuss Dirk Nowitzki. Not unlike Carmelo, just about any shot he decides to toss up will have a solid chance of going in. And like a lot of players who can go over either shoulder, on either block, in either direction, in a number of ways, the sheer amount of possibilities and ways for Dirk to score sometimes boggles the mind. His mind, most importantly. It leads him thinking way too much, trying to set up the perfect shot, when sometimes a one-footed fadeaway off of no contact from 17-feet is a 70 percent proposition.”
Rick Carlisle on Dirk, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “The one fadeaway shot that he hit was a force of sheer will to get that ball in the basket, because it was an incredibly difficult shot…I’ve seen Bird make those shots many time during the prime of his career. The great ones, they somehow find the will to do it and they get it done. You know, he’s one of the great ones.”
There are some Nuggets who don’t have much to stand on when it comes to discussing “class,” but that doesn’t mean the crowd at the AAC needs to get into the act. There are some lines that fans aren’t meant to cross, and when family comes into the picture, any insult becomes intensely personal. For everybody’s sake, let’s stay away from that. I don’t care who said what or who did what at this point; cut it out.
Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “…the Nuggets have lost their physical edge.Along with the points in the paint Dallas crushed the Nuggets on the boards.I generally do not make a big deal about rebounds unless the Nuggets get or give up an avalanche of second chance points, but the Mavericks completely controlled their defensive glass giving up only six offensive rebounds to Denver while corralling 41 defensive boards.”
Yes, Erick Dampier suffered, but THIS IS A MYTH. I REPEAT, THIS IS A MYTH.
Woodie Paige, The Denver Post: “In a game of plots, conspiracies, subterfuges, gambits, feints and ploys, it came down to a one-on-one, face-to-face, mano-a-mano Star Wars lightsabers duel between Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki edged Anthony. The Mavericks edged the Nuggets. This was Frazier-Ali, Connors-McEnroe, Gibson-Drysdale, Ben-Hur-Messala, Skywalker-Vader, Russell-Chamberlain, Magic-Bird. Staring down, looking up. Point for point, rebound for rebound, big play for big play. Basketball is a team game, but there was an individual clash of the titans Monday night that was epic and classic, a pleasure to watch, an amusement park ride, a test of wills, drives and jumpers. If you don’t like that, collect butterflies.”
Even if the Mavs fall in Denver, there’s a pretty big difference between losing in four and losing in five.
Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “With Dirk playing in the post as a ’5′, then Bass can be a ’4′. It is not exactly Gasol and Odom, but it makes quite a bit of sense against many teams. If Dampier cannot provide any reason for the opposition to guard him, and if he also brings almost no energy plays, then allowing the offense to run through Dirk on the post against guys who cannot guard him make the Mavs impossible to deal with without a double team. And, then, your shooters make them pay. Dirk as a 5 might be the future of this team. So, maybe a true defensive Power Forward is what this team really needs to allow the Mavs to “play small” even though they would have a 7-foot center. It all starts with Dirk being interested in banging around, but he banged for 44 last night and Denver had no clue what to do.”
In the subplot that I currently could not care less about, Mark Cuban apologizes to Kenyon Martin, his mom, and his family. A kind gesture, but come on, do we still have to talk about this?
ESPN’s Marc Stein: “The historic part: Nowitzki and Anthony became just the third twosome ever in a playoff game to each total at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. Jerry West (41 and 10) and Elgin Baylor (45 and 17) did it as Los Angeles Lakers teammates against Detroit in 1962. Michael Jordan (42 and 12) and Charles Barkley (42 and 13) did so for Chicago and Phoenix, respectively, in the 1993 NBA Finals. Then the list ends with Dirk and Melo.”
“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.
It’s believed that Martin’s history of hard fouls — compared to Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who escaped punishment for high-profile fouls in the Celtics’ first-round series with Chicago — led to a fine in addition to the reclassification of the foul.
“I voiced our opinion [to the league] that we believe the fine was excessive,” Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman said Monday night. “With regard to other incidents that have taken place in these playoffs and some of those actions not [resulting in] a fine, we feel that fining K-Mart for this is a bit excessive and inconsistent.
“But we’re going to accept it and move on. I think that Dirk was off balance as he often is — and he’s one of the best actors in the game, too — but that’s part of the game.”
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.”
Remember the good old days? Those times when the offense took care of itself, and the Mavs’ supporting cast was never to be outdone? Those wonderful days of yore, those wonderful days of last week? They’ve never seemed more distant. 37 minutes of building, rallying, and battling was undone in just 5, as the normally poised, proficient Maverick offense imploded before our very eyes.
In that woeful five minutes, the Mavs were outscored 15-2. They shot five jumpers and made just one. They had no free throw attempts. And, perhaps most importantly, a completely manageable two-point deficit was suddenly a fifteen point one. Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, the Mavs’ two most effective offensive players in the game, combined for just two attempts (both Dirk’s) during the game-deciding stretch. Team basketball is cute and all, but at some point your best players need to be there to make plays, and the offense as a whole needs to put those players in a position to succeed. The Mavs clearly failed in that regard, and my eyes are fixed squarely on Jason Kidd.
Kidd has done plenty to validate his acquisition, but the heady floor general was actin’ the fool during the most critical stretches of Game 1. I can confidently say that I’ve never seen so many poorly timed and poorly executed bounce passes from such a talented point guard, and Kidd made it easy for Denver’s defense by bouncing the ball right into their laps. Obviously the Dallas brass didn’t dream of Kidd double-dribbling away fast break opportunities or hurling passes out of bounds when they traded for him a year ago, but that’s exactly what he was doing with the Mavs’ most critical possessions. I can accept Kidd’s weaknesses. I know he won’t be an impact scorer, and I know that his defensive abilities are impacted by his age. But I’m not prepared for Kidd’s strengths to suddenly disappear before our very eyes.
It’s a shame that the Mavs weren’t able to hang around in the fourth quarter, because the Nuggets’ offensive leaders, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, had been quiet until that point. Entering the final frame, Billups and Anthony had totaled a combined 15 points (4-13 FG) and 5 turnovers. But when Melo finally showed up and the Mavs were unable to answer, the game was essentially over. I can’t give enough credit to Nene (24 points, 9-13 FG) and the Denver bench for keeping the Nuggets afloat and then some during the meat of the game. Chris Andersen was every bit as nutty and active as you’d expect, and with fantastic results. J.R. Smith used his dynamic scoring style to the team’s benefit, which is one of the factors that takes the Nuggets from “good” status to “great.” And Anthony Carter brought a completely unexpected scoring punch off the bench by killing the Mavericks in transition. Those three in particular accomplished everything that the Mavericks reserves could not, completely dwarfing the Mavs’ bench in scoring output, defensive impact, and influence on the pace and momentum of the game.
It’s worth noting that Erick Dampier and Josh Howard each faced a small injury crisis. Both turned an ankle (left for Damp, right for Josh), and both returned to action. Howard never quite returned to his first quarter form (injury or normalcy?), but his defensive effort was certainly adequate despite Carmelo’s explosion. Dampier’s injury was even more difficult to gauge, considering Nene’s speed off of the pick-and-roll would likely kill Damp, sprain or no sprain. Regardless of their individual performances, the Mavs on the whole seemed to fold under the convenient circumstance of the injuries. Their assertiveness went out the window, and the defense that had held Denver to 16 first quarter points went into turnstyle mode. Nene, Smith, and Andersen killed the Mavs’ reserves, and though the game wasn’t out of reach until that fatal fourth quarter stretch, the Mavs surendered the lead and their drive along with their clean bill of health.
Chris Andersen had some very limited success guarding Dirk, but it’s clear that if the Nuggs continue to try to guard Dirk with just one defender and/or continue to switch on screens that Nowitzki will burn them every time. Kenyon Martin was touted as an ideal Dirk defender, but Dirk’s 4 of 5 shooting with Martin D-ing him up should put that speculation to rest. Martin and the rest of the Nuggets were clearly ready to be physical with Dirk, but even an extra shove or two didn’t force him off his game. The key will be getting Terry, whose shot attempts in the flow of the offense were clearly limited, involved, and rallying the bench back into action. Oh, and hoping that Kidd doesn’t decide to channel his inner Rafer Alston.
The Mavs turned to doubling Carmelo and Chauncey on the catch, and we learned two things: coming off of Dahntay Jones is okay, coming off of the Birdman is not. KA-KAW!
We need to start worrying about Nene…now. And, Dampier has no business chasing him around on the perimeter. If Nene wants to start popping jumpers, I’ll live with that.
There were referees at this game, and they were truly odd souls.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes, hands-down, to Dirk, who finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. Dirk started off a white-hot 6 for 6, and though he had undoubtedly one of the worst misses of his career on an errant jumper, it’s hard to ask more of Dirk offensively.