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You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The healthier team won, even if they were able to skate by having only played a quarter and a half of solid defense. Dallas is trying. They really are. They’re just outmanned and handicapped offensively, so much so that a win against a competent team should come off as a pleasant surprise. The Thunder are certainly competent, so this is the kind of outcome we can come to expect for the time being. Slice and dice it for moral victories if you’d like, but the Mavs couldn’t win this one, even if they played hard enough for a W. I wish there were more delicate analysis required, but the outcome of this game was rather blunt.
- I’m not sure you can bottle up this kind of Shawn Marion (25 points, 12-17 FG, three rebounds) performance for repeat consumption, but it’s always to see Marion cutting and driving to a huge night. I don’t know whether the Thunder have a particular problem with Marion’s style or if it’s just a coincidence that his runners happen to fall to spite Jeff Green, but this seems to be a kind of strange situation trend for Marion. Regardless, a nice scoring effort on a night when it was needed, but all for naught.
- Tyson Chandler (14 points, 3-5 FG, 18 rebounds) is a monster. This was a nice encore performance by Chandler on the offensive glass, where he generated six extra offensive possessions while his team struggled a bit in their half-court sets. Plus, Chandler was able to milk free throw attempts out of some of those rebounds, converting an effort play directly into a point-scoring opportunity. No one could accuse Chandler of not doing his part in Dirk’s absence; he’s been superb in all facets of the game.
- DeShawn Stevenson (14 points, 5-12 FG, 4-8 3FG, ) cannot guard Kevin Durant. He does his best to stay in front of him, but Stevenson is in that strange defensive place where he can neither effectively halt Durant’s drives nor successfully alter his shot. Stevenson’s a nice defensive asset on most nights, but Durant — a tough match-up for any defender in the league — is a particularly poor fit for Stevenson’s defensive abilities.
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You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- First, the relevant information that transcends the scope of this game: Dirk Nowitzki left the game around the nine-minute mark in the second quarter after landing just a bit awkwardly on one of his trademark jumpers. There were no defenders in Dirk’s immediate vicinity, no flailing limbs to throw Nowitzki off balance or planted feet to disturb his footing. He just landed, winced, and left the game. The injury didn’t appear serious, but it very well could be. We’ll know more when Nowitzki gets an MRI later today.
- Even after losing Nowitzki for the night, Dallas did a great job of keeping pace with a Thunder team that was anxious to attack in transition. Kevin Durant (28 points on 21 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers, two steals, and two blocks) was his typically fantastic self, but the Mavs rallied to keep pace while going on some very effective defensive runs. The fourth quarter belonged to Dallas; the Maverick zone held the Thunder to just 12 points in the frame, as Durant and co. shot just 4-of-18 from the field for the quarter while turning the ball over five times. The zone is probably more effective with Shawn Marion and Caron Butler on the wings in place of Nowitzki anyway, and Dallas went into full lockdown mode in a game-turning fourth quarter. In most cases, I’m quick to dismiss the overvaluation of the fourth (over any other quarter, anyway), but in this case there was an observable change in momentum in addition to a literal turn on the scoreboard. After 36 minutes played, the Mavs were down two, and after a dominant defensive performance, they won the day by 10. Influential enough for me.
- When playing zone, Dallas seems to have found the perfect balance of ball pressure and reactive defense. They force opponents into tough shots by restricting access to the paint and allowing opponents to kill themselves with outside shots, but have a knack for attacking a ball-handler at just the right moment, or completely swarming a passer with limited vision at the perfect moment. The Mavs’ match-up zone looks like a legitimate long-term weapon, and though the playoffs provide a completely different preparation dynamic, zoning up seems to confuse the hell out of regular season opponents.
- Interestingly enough, the Thunder started off the game with a little zone of their own. Unlike earlier zones that the Mavs have seen this season, they didn’t seem too affected by it. Progress!
- The Mavs are still killing it from the three-point line. DeShawn Stevenson and Butler combined to shoot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 47.8% from distance. OKC shot a decent enough 35.3% from the three, but the discrepancy in percentage and attempts helped the Mavs almost double the Thunder’s three-point makes.
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jason Terry struggled through the first three quarters — both with Nowitzki in the lineup and without him — but came alive in the fourth. JET shot 5-of-8 and made his only three-pointer of the night in the fourth, which was home to 11 of Terry’s 13 points. This isn’t a terribly positive habit to fall into, but it’s nice to know that Terry isn’t so affected by a shooting slump as to miss a chance to soak up the bright lights.
- Jason Kidd (10 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, two turnovers) surged appropriately. With Nowitzki out of the lineup, the offense relies even more heavily on ball movement and spacing, which provides Kidd a perfect stage to showcase his showrunning talents. Kidd excels when given the pieces to run a balanced offense, and though the Mavs are unquestionably a lesser offensive team without Nowitzki, Kidd is a tremendous asset to have on a team with limited shot creation that could help Dallas keep their collective head above water if Dirk is forced to miss a little time.
- Terry’s defensive improvements are pretty subtle, but continue to impress me. As is usually the case on the defensive end, it’s all about the little things: stopping a Russell Westbrook fast break by attacking his dribble, closing out just a tad more quickly…I’m sure proper defensive effort is a big part of it, but Terry nonetheless deserves credit for figuring out how to boost his all-around effectiveness.
- Alexis Ajinca found some minutes in Nowitzki’s absence, and looked alright. Interesting to have a player with his height and length on the wing in the zone alongside Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler. Also: Ajinca hit a three-pointer, the first in his NBA career.
- Marion and Butler are crucial offensive contributors even under normal circumstances, but for the duo to add 41 points on just 37 shots is certainly notable. That’s more Marion than Butler, but Caron had a solid all-around night.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.
This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.
As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.
That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.
|Player||PER||adj +/-||win shares||WARP
Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.
Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.
I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.
Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate. I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.
The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.
As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:
- The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
- Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
- Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.
Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.
It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.
If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.
That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.
For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:
- LeBron James
- Dwight Howard
- Dwyane Wade
- Kevin Durant
- Dirk Nowitzki
Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
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“More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.”
- As much as I’d like to congratulate the Mavs for mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this is not a win that deserves celebration. The Thunder were a team with something to play for, and play they did. Dallas had a real chance to spoil (or at least delay) Oklahoma City’s playoff celebrations, but to call what they did defensively “execution” wouldn’t exactly be accurate. It shouldn’t take an 18-point deficit and 41 minutes to suddenly instill a playoff team with a sense of urgency, yet that really seems to be a reality with these Mavs. It’s been the story throughout most of the season, regardless of who it was hitting the floor in a Maverick uniform.
- Jason Kidd chimed in with a harsh reality for a wannabe contender: “It’s not that we don’t have talent. We’re one of the deepest teams in this league. I think we all need to take this nice little break we have and figure out who we want to be, and that’s sad to say with only five games left.”
- The most effective center for the Mavs was Eddie Najera (11 points), and that’s a problem. Erick Dampier (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) was fairly meh, but Brendan Haywood (nine points, three rebounds) was the big disappointment as he struggled defensively and managed to fumble the ball away three times despite limited touches. When the Mavs traded for Najera, they were expecting a veteran, an end-of-the-rotation guy, and a solid energy player. When the Mavs traded for Haywood, they were expecting a “franchise center,” sayeth Mark Cuban. It’s not good when the former outperforms the latter, especially when the former manages to play 13 and a half minutes without grabbing a single rebound.
- Seeing Dallas play well only during crunch time is something of a cruel tease. In many cases, they manage to pull out a win after only really playing a quarter or half a quarter of good basketball. That’s impressive, sure, but it only serves as a constant reminder of how good this team could be if they executed more consistently, and makes one wonder how many of these close games would be walk-off wins. This team has had time to gel, and now it’s time to perform.
- Jason Terry, undoubtedly frustrated, making sure that the guys at the head of the Maverick bench get their due: “Our play is sporadic. Sometimes we play good D, sometimes we don’t. It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable.”
- Caron Butler and Jason Terry combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Beautiful.
- On the frustrating side of things, the Mavs actually played pretty good defense on Kevin Durant. If they did one thing well defensively tonight, it was that; the Durantula scored 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, though he also had five assists, five steals, and five rebounds. And the Thunder win by five. It was fated to be. Shawn Marion was matched up with KD early, and that responsibility shifted to Caron Butler after Marion left the game with a strained left oblique. Butler did a decent enough job and his teammates were able to pressure Durant well when he had the ball in his hands. The only problem is that the Mavs didn’t rotate well to compensate.
- That left guys like Nick Collison (17 points), Eric Maynor (14 points, four assists), and James Harden (11 points, three assists, three turnovers) wide open. The problem wasn’t Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green, even though they combined for 62 points; the real trouble was that Dallas gave uncontested threes and open layups to the Thunder’s role players. There’s typically going to be some price to pay when traps and double-teams figure prominently into a team’s defensive strategy, but giving up 17 to Nick Collison? Letting OKC, a team 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, go completely hog-wild and drop 121 points? That stench isn’t trouble a-brewin’, but trouble fully and thoroughly brewed and only now starting to really stink.
- Then again, plenty of it wasn’t overaggressive defense, just bad defense. With 7:26 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs down by 16, Collison drove right down the center for an easy layup…against a zone defense. Not good, guys.
- Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10-19 FG, 13 rebounds, five turnovers) actually had a pretty terrific scoring night, and it’s a shame that it will be completely obscured by the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. Despite OKC having two good defensive options for Dirk in Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green, he performs well against them for some reason (excluding tonight’s game, Nowitzki has averaged 30.3 points per game on 53.5 % shooting against the Thunder). Dirk was a huge reason why the fourth quarter comeback was so successful, and he hit some huge shots. Or really, what would have been huge shots had Dallas’ late-game efforts not been all for naught.
- Dallas also wasted a great scoring night from Jason Kidd (24 points, 10-15 FG, six assists), who was the sole reason the game wasn’t completely unwinnable by the end of the third quarter. Kidd had 13 points in the third, half of the Mavs’ total for the frame.
- The Mavs actually out-shot the Thunder, both in terms of effective field goal percentage (56.2% to 54.9%) and raw field goal percentage (53.1% to 51.9%), and outrebounded them (39-34), yet still lost. I’m not positive that this is the case, but it could have something to do with forgetting to play defense in the first half and surrendering 67 points over the first 24 minutes.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, two turnovers) got the first minutes as the back-up point, but J.J. Barea (10 points) ultimately outperformed him when he provided a spark for Dallas in the fourth.
- Nick Collison, via Twitter (@nickcollison4), regarding Oklahoma City’s playoff-clinching win: “Got 1 “congrats” text from my wife and one from her dad. Just realized I accidentally replied “thank you baby, love u” to her dad. Awkward”
Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.
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“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
WORST. TRADE. EVER. I mean, did you see how out-of-sync Caron Butler looked? How many botched put-back attempts he had? How Serge Ibaka made a baby hook over Brendan Haywood?
Well, get used to it. Until the Mavs, new and old, have sufficient time to get acquainted, we’ll likely see more of the same. But you’ll also see Caron Butler charging baseline for a one-handed throwdown. You’ll see Brendan Haywood finishing a contested layup on the move after a feed from Jason Terry. In terms of what Butler and Haywood brought to the table in the first game of the rest of our lives, there was a lot to like, and a lot to make you cringe. That’s just the way of things when you’re incorporating new pieces into the rotation, especially with players as significant as these; the old Mavs are trying really hard to integrate the new ones, the new Mavs are trying really hard not to overshoot and alienate the old ones, and everyone out there is just a bit anxious to prove that the trade is as good as it sounds.
The result was some awful shooting, defensive failings, and finding ways to either move the ball too much or move it too little. Dallas Mavericks as pick-up team are not good enough to beat a team as skilled and successful as the Thunder, but that doesn’t say much at all about how good the Mavericks will be when they play like themselves.
On the other hand, you have to applaud the Thunder’s performance. Kevin Durant’s 25 points an 14 rebounds is impressive, but it took him 28 shots to reach that total. On most nights, the Durantula has to carry OKC’s offense. But last night it was his counterparts — Jeff Green (17 points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Russell Westbrook (17 points, eight assists, six rebounds, just one turnover) — bearded wonder James Harden (17 points on 5-7 shooting, five rebounds, six assists), and the cavalry of Thunder role players that got the job done. The Mavs had a particularly tough time stopping the Thunder’s transition game, in which Westbrook drove it down the throat of the defense before finishing at the rim or kicking it out to an open shooter. For a night, he was a more explosive Tony Parker, and the cast of OKC’s shooters were gunning from the corners in the Spurs tradition.
Fouling also turned out to be a huge problem, as the step-slow Mavs defense ended up hacking the Thunder to the tune of 30 free throw attempts. Most of OKC’s struggles have taken place on offense, and giving them that many free points is just asking for a loss. Know your opponent.
The Mavs were far too hesitant on offense to counter, as efforts to include Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were often met with turnovers or a short shot-clock. Jeff Green and, oddly enough, James Harden, played some pretty terrific defense on Dirk (24 points on 9-22 shoot, nine rebounds, six assists), with Green in particular hounding Nowitzki out of any late-game heroics he may have had up his sleeve. Dallas couldn’t manage much at all in the way of scoring, as Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Caron Butler (the only other Mavs in double-figures) combined for 39 points shooting 12 of 41 from the field. The Mavs played poorly enough offensively to fall short of a lot of teams in this league, and their lack of purposeful ball movement and poor shooting were exacerbated by the hyper-athletic, impressively active Thunder defense.
It certainly wasn’t the Mavs’ finest hour, but hardly their darkest. Give it time.
- The Mavs’ third quarter was miserable. Just miserable. They shot 3 of 21 from the field and scored just 11 points. Sigh.
- J.J. Barea leap-frogged Rodrigue Beaubois in the rotation last night, which makes sense. Though Roddy may seem like a nice defensive match-up against Westbrook, Rick Carlisle was much more concerned with integrating Butler and Haywood into the offense. That’s something that Barea, the more experienced point guard of the two, is able to do…at least theoretically. Barea didn’t exactly have a terrific night, but that doesn’t make the logic any less sound.
- I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many terrible misses from a Maverick team. Butler and Haywood whiffed some of their attempts, which you could easily chalk up to nerves. But how about Dirk? Kidd? Terry? There were some truly miserable attempts that caught nothing but air or backboard, making last night not only one of worst nights of the new year in terms of offensive production, but certainly the worst in terms of offensive aesthetic.
- DeShawn Stevenson did log some playing time, though he only contributed one turnover and one missed shot.
- To the Mavs’ credit, they hit the offensive boards hard. Butler led the team with four, but Marion, Nowitzki, and Haywood each had three, followed by Erick Dampier’s two. Then again, the Mavs missed so many shots around the basket (they were somehow 9-24 at the rim, compared to the Thunder’s 17-25) that they afforded themselves plenty of opportunities to snag boards.
- Does anyone on this planet not love watching the Thunder play basketball? I enjoy watching just about every team in the NBA, but watching OKC is a pretty sublime experience.
- With the game on the line, Rick Carlisle went with a lineup that he was comfortable with: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Erick Dampier. It didn’t really help; the Thunder still closed out the game with authority, holding the Mavs at arm’s length the whole way.
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have unearthed the All-Star reserves, with a few surprises.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
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-Alfred, as played by Michael Cain
The Mavs have yet to present their magnum opus of home wins, but the formula for their nail-biting win over the Thunder as scribed a bit differently than their other near-letdowns. The effort level was not only consistent, but sufficient, and though the Mavs scored just 19 points in the first quarter while allowing the Thunder a nine-point lead, it was not for lack of trying. The level of execution was clearly sub-par, but in such instances, the Mavs must continue to run. They must continue to rotate. They must continue to drive, and help, and slash, and box-out. Too many teams have been discouraged by the ball refusing to go through the hoop, when effort level should exist in a vacuum.
On some nights, the Mavs would give in. The picks would be weaker, the moves less decisive, and the help defense a step slow. But to their credit, Dallas never ceded the competitive edge. This team knows that it can beat the Thunder, and just as importantly, knows that it can stop Kevin Durant.
Shawn Marion is the man for that unenviable task, and he clearly knows something that the rest of the world does not. How else do you explain KD’s 22.2% shooting against Marion and the Mavs this season, and his 6-18 performance last night? How else do you explain Durant’s seven turnovers, three above his season average? Durant was put on this planet to score the ball, but something in Shawn Marion’s defense has made that objective incredibly difficult. Yes, Durant still put up 30 points, thanks to his 16 attempts from the line. But I’m not sure that anyone in the NBA today is a better man-up defender of the Durantula than the Mavs’ own Shawn Marion, and considering KD’s ridiculous season thus far, that’s quite the compliment. If you’re having trouble with kids sneaking into your garage to steal a trinket or two, you might want to call Shawn. If you’re having trouble convincing a jury of your innocence, you might want to call Shawn. And if you need to close off and defend your borders from an incoming army of up-and-coming All-Star small forwards, you should really, really call Shawn.
Oddly enough, despite of the truly admirable job that Marion did on the defensive end, he probably wasn’t the Mavs’ defensive MVP for the night. That honor goes to Jason Kidd, who played the scouting report on Russell Westbrook to perfection in the first half…only to see Westbrook nail mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper. Naturally, Rick Carlisle and Jason Kidd adjusted, and in the second half, Kidd made defensive play after defensive play. Westbrook was six of nine from the field at halftime, to the tune of 12 points. By game’s end, he was eight of nineteen (that makes two of ten in the second half, for those not in the number-crunching mood) with just 18 points. Kidd’s two blocks tied Erick Dampier for a game-high, and his four steals put him in a class of his own. When the Mavs needed stops, it was Kidd that created possessions out of thin air. When Kevin Durant had a chance to tie the game with 30 seconds left, it was Kidd who challenged his shot, negating Durant’s height advantage with superior effort and technique. Oh, and in between the stops and deflections, Kidd managed to drop 11 points on 50% shooting while totaling 11 assists to just one turnover.
Then there was Dirk Nowitzki, who looked more or less unstoppable against single coverage. 32 points on 18 shots is a tad impressive. Though five rebounds and four turnovers isn’t what you’d like to see out of a star power forward, you take what you get with a guy who can score like hell and hit what was essentially the game-winning shot. Dirk had the Mavs’ final six points, icing the Thunder and putting up just enough to to eek out a victory.
Jason Terry was kind enough to join Dirk in the scoring column, as JET did went to work in the second half en route to a 21-point night on 9 of 17 shooting. It’s no surprise that the Mavs operate at a completely different level offensively when Terry’s shot is falling, and this win belongs to him as much as it does to Marion, Kidd, or Dirk. His looks ranged from obscenely open to closely contested, but JET is a shooter, and once his aim is properly calibrated for the basket’s sweet spot, he’s tough to deter.
- Josh Howard had a horrible offensive night. He was not only shooting blanks but shooting plenty of them (2-14 FG), as the Mavs looked to him often in the absence of Dirk and JET. In theory, that approach is sound; Howard is the most natural wing scorer the Mavs have aside from Terry, and his ability to create his own shot trumps the rest of the rotation easily. But the Thunder were practically daring Josh to pull the trigger from mid-range, and though he was happy to oblige, the Mavs can’t be happy with the result. Howard’s shot selection remains his biggest flaw, and on a night where he simply can’t find the net, he’s not in a position where he can shoot himself into a rhythm. Those are shots that should be going to more efficient scorers, and while I’d very much like to see Josh scoring big in the flow of the offense, I’d rather he not make it his personal mission to chuck up jumper after jumper.
- Rodrigue Beaubois and Byron (the artist formerly known as B.J.) Mullens, who were swapped for each other on draft night, logged a combined zero minutes. It’s a fun time to be a rookie.
- Eddie Najera was suited up for the game, but did not play.
- James Singleton logged seven minutes of action, grabbing two rebounds and…well, not much else. But he appears to be stepping into Kris Humphries’ role as a reserve power forward. I’d expect that to continue, particularly on nights where Shawn Marion is locked in to the three on defensive duties, as he was tonight against Kevin Durant.
- Though Josh had a tough night, he did have a hand in saving the game. Jason Terry missed two free throws with four seconds remaining, leaving the door open for the Thunder to get one final shot. They had no timeouts remaining, and thus Nenad Krstic had to get the ball into the hands of a playmaker in a timely manner. Westbrook was ready and waiting, but when Krstic attempted the outlet, Josh Howard tipped the pass, wasting crucial seconds off the clock. It wasn’t an outright steal, but it was still a tremendous play at a crucial time.
- J.J. Barea has definite value off the bench, and though that role prevents him from applying consistent offensive pressure over long stretchers, it may be his best with the team. He can step in, catch defenses off guard, and create some confusion for half-court defenses.
- Dirk was able to get to the line at will, and his 15 attempts were a huge reason why the Mavs posted an absurd .557 free throws per field goal. That’s a nice parade to the free throw line for a team that sparingly, and oh, every single one of those free throws means a hell of a lot.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…I don’t know, man. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion are all great candidates, with Jason Terry as a possible dark horse. You guys can decide this one; sound off in the comments with your choice for the Gold Star of the Night, with an explanation if you’d like.
- As far as shoes go, I liked the look of Kevin Durant’s KD1s, and I’m particularly fond of the inside/outside colorways. But last night, Durant and the Thunder unveiled the truly awful, traffic cone orange “Dreamsicle” KD2s. It’s a definite downgrade, and although the kicks don’t make the man, I can’t help but feel that these shoes don’t do Durant justice.
- Last night’s game didn’t sit well with Royce Young of Daily Thunder: “…I’m not going to lie, I’m a little upset about this one. Not because OKC lacked effort. Because boy howdy, these guys busted it. But when it really mattered, the seasoned, veteran team took over and made the plays. The young, inexperienced group didn’t. In areas the Thunder are normally very good, they weren’t. An uncharacteristic 14-23 from the free throw line. A couple defensive breakdowns late. Poor shooting from their best players. Maybe it was the pressure of the night, the lights of ESPN or something else. But the fact is, Oklahoma City just didn’t perform.”
- Those of us who watch Dirk Nowitzki on a nightly basis are fully cognizant of his excellence. And for national columnists, it’s easy to overlook the footwork, the pump fakes, and the jumpers in favor of the more obvious talents of a LeBron James or a Dwyane Wade. All the more reason to appreciate Kelly Dwyer, who makes note of Nowitzki’s play almost nightly in his ‘Behind the Box Score.’ His words on Dirk’s performance last night were short and sweet, but to me ring with a sincerity and appreciation that’s not as easy to find among basketball scribes as one might think: “In the end, I think my favorite part of this game was listening to Hubie Brown slowly fall in love with James Harden. Either that, or the way you keep falling in love with Dirk Nowitzki’s game. Ten years later. Night after night. So glad this guy is still around, playing at a level like this.”
- Skeets and Tas loved the Mavs-Thunder game last night, even if Tas isn’t too fond of Dirk’s headband.
- As of yesterday, Kevin Durant was shooting just 30 of 80 (37.5%) in six games against the Mavs. As of this morning, he’s shooting 34 of 98 (34.6%). That, my friends, is a bonafide trend.
- Over their next fifteen games, the Mavs play the Lakers (twice), the Celtics, the Cavs, the Nuggets, the Jazz, the Spurs, the Blazers, the Rockets (twice), the Thunder, the Kings, the Grizzlies, the Pistons, and the Raptors. The total W-L of those teams (weighted appropriately for opponents that appear multiple times) is 225-150, or a .600 win percentage. That means that for the next fifteen games, the Mavs will play an average opponent of the Utah Jazz.
- In an “impromptu dunk contest” at practice today, Kris Humphries showed off some between-the-legs dunks, while assistant coach Darrell Armstrong tried his hand at the high-flying game…by doing a between-the-legs layup. It’s a sad reminder of Armstrong’s actual dunk contest appearance, which featured one of the worst dunks (or non-dunks) in contest history.
- According to Mark Cuban, there are four factors which have been instrumental in the Mavs’ success over the last decade: a dedicated fan base, Donnie Nelson, Dirk Nowitzki, and keeping a consistent core.
- Henry Abbott goes to work debunking the myth that Kobe Bryant is the best clutch player in the NBA, and goes to the numbers to reveal some clutch Mavs: “Every which way people slice and dice crunch time numbers — field goal percentage, plus/minus, you name it — Bryant is not the NBA’s best in crunch time. A glance at last year’s crunch time numbers on 82games.com makes clear Bryant shoots more than anyone else in the NBA in crunch time, but is he more skilled at making those shots? That’s what we’re trying to judge, right? In crunch time field goal percentage, last season Bryant finished 92nd in the League, right behind Michael Beasley. Others ahead of him include Kevin Garnett, both Gasols, Zach Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Terry, Jameer Nelson, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Eric Gordon, Brandon Roy, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kidd, Ben Gordon, and Chris Bosh. You can remember Bryant hitting all those clutch baskets, stat geeks say. But you’re forgetting all the misses. (And if you are learning about Bryant from highlights, then you’re not even seeing most misses.)” Emphasis mine.
Photo by Larry W. Smith/NBAE via Getty Images).
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
With this season’s Mavs, there is no switch for Rick Carlisle to flip. They need not token motivational speeches, or external motivation, or emotional incident. There’s simply an internal trigger that brings everything into focus. There’s a gentle whisper in the ear of the team leaders with a simple message: It’s winning time.
A Serge Ibaka dunk put the Thunder up 75-71 with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and over the subsequent seven minutes (in which the Mavs went on a 21-5 run), the Mavs were a whirling dervish of defensive stops and heady offensive play. The sloppy execution by OKC was a perfect contrast to Dallas’ patience with the basketball. As the Mavs looked to seal the win and wrap it in a bow, they refused to give into the temptation of contested jumpers or solo heroism, and as a result, they reaped the benefits of open jumpers and, well, solo heroism. Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-17 FG, 11 rebounds) had already established his offensive rhythm, but the Mavs continued to execute their game plan. Sometimes that involved getting the ball into Dirk, but even those possessions were carefully executed and fed the ball to Nowitzki at his favorite spots on the floor. The spacing was excellent, and when OKC’s pressure proved to be too much, Dirk was quick to kick the ball to an open teammate around the basket or at the 3-point line.
On defense, the Mavs managed to exploit the limits of the Thunder offense. As I made note of prior to yesterday’s game, Russell Westbrook (16 points, 6-19 FG, six rebounds, five assists) is a terrific talent, but if it’s the point guard’s job to manage the offense on critical possessions and under difficult circumstances, Westbrook failed. He worked so hard to get into the paint, and it’s hard to rip a guy when he’s putting forth that kind of effort. But last night was an excellent case study in the differences between a veteran offense with a point guard in the truest sense, and a young, developing team still in search of its offensive mojo. Westbrook didn’t have a bad game and the loss hardly falls on his shoulders, but if the Thunder had a different breed of point guard, does the blanketed Kevin Durant get more open looks? Does he get the ball in space, on the move, or from the spots on the floor in which he likes to operate? It’s hard to say conclusively given the stellar defensive effort by the Mavs, but the end result is a bit telling.
The Thunder certainly didn’t give up, and the manner in which they attacked the basket late in the game is commendable. But the Maverick D was ready and waiting, helping and covering to counter screens and giving OKC’s shooters all the room in the world and dared them to shoot. It was the same philosophy that allowed the Mavs’ zone defense to be so effective in the second and third quarters, and a logical plan of attack against a team that ranks 23rd in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
The crowning achievement of the Mavs’ defense was their shackling of Kevin Durant (12 points, 4-18 FG, four turnovers). It started on the ball with Shawn Marion and Josh Howard, who limited Durant’s touches through ball denial and crowding. When KD finally got his hands on the ball, he faced pressure on his shot from Marion and Howard, pressure on the dribble from Jason Kidd, and pressure on his drives from Erick Dampier and Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs were able to take away everything that makes Durant so brilliant, and those looking for a keynote performance from the Maverick D need look no further than their work against Durant and the Thunder.
Oh and by the by, Dirk Nowitzki looked pretty much unguardable. He had a few turnovers, but Ibaka and Green, for all their best efforts, were more or less hopeless.
- James Harden (12 points, six rebounds, three turnovers) and Jeff Green (15 points, 7-11 FG, 11 rebounds) were the OKC offense, and I mean that in ways both good and bad. Green was especially remarkable with his range and his touch around the basket, but the fact that the Thunder offense was left to lean so heavily on Harden and Green (who combined to score just 27 points) is a bit problematic. OKC’s offense isn’t very good to begin with, and without big contributions from Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, they’re going to have a hard time winning games.
- The Mavs were able to weather another minimal scoring performance from Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, five assists). He ran down the shot clock needlessly and even committed a double-dribble violation while trying to break down his man at the top of the key. Not exactly what you’d like to see out of your team’s second best scorer, regardless of who is matched up against him.
- Rick Carlisle is definitely tightening up the rotation, as only three Mavs (Howard, Gooden, Terry) managed to get off the bench. More to come on that topic later.
- 15 points and three turnovers for Josh Howard, whose offensive efforts were productive, if not pretty. I can’t say I’m too proud of Josh’s shot selection, but again, he came up big. 15 points in a 14-point win? I wouldn’t say that every bucket was crucial, but finding scoring relief with Dirk on the bench is paramount right now.
- Jason Kidd was Jason Kidd. That is all.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, he’s pretty good, right? Good enough to drop 35 on 18 shots, good enough to impact the game defensively, and good enough to take over the Maverick offense and make all the right plays. Nowitzki is as good as it gets in the NBA right now, and the Dirk we saw last night had virtually no weaknesses in his game.