The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 73

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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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 Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
  • Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
  • Dominique Jones, making dreams come true:

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Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 9, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Jason Terry, doing his best Michael Caine (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “We endured.”
  • Zach Lowe wrote a fantastic piece on Tyson Chandler and the Mavs’ defense for The Point Forward (SI’s NBA blog). I’m going to quote it liberally, but follow through and read the piece in its entirety: “[At] the 3:45 mark of the second quarter, when Paul Pierce appeared to have Caron Butler beat on a drive along the left baseline. Chandler, who was guarding KG on the right baseline, took a big slide-step into the paint and deterred the drive without giving Pierce an easy passing lane to KG. Pierce pulled up for a contested mid-range shot and missed. That type of shot — a contested, mid-range shot — has been the basis of Dallas’ stinginess so far. Only five teams are allowing opponents to take more shots from the “floater” region between the rim and 10 feet out, and none are holding teams to a lower percentage on those shots than Dallas (33 percent). Boston was 5-of-18 from that range Monday.”
  • Could this be why Caron Butler has been so ineffective?
  • Paul Pierce on Rajon Rondo’s decision to take what could have been a game-winning three in the final seconds of last night’s game (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe): “He’s wide open. He was open two or three seconds before he even took it. We were begging him to shoot it. Hey, we’ll take that, a wide-open look. Rondo, he’s showed he can make those shots, especially under pressure situations. I take it. I told him after the game, I’ll take that shot.”
  • Two fantastic points from’s John Schuhmann: Jason Kidd’s presence may make the 1-3 switch easier on the Mavs than any other team in the league, and Rajon Rondo has attempted just five three-pointers this season, all of which have come with the clock winding down.
  • A stray thought forgotten from the recap: the Mavs did an excellent job of completely eradicating the threat of Rajon Rondo’s scoring.
  • Dirk Nowitzki nails the irrelevance of Terry’s starting status (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “His role, starting or not, is not going to change much. We want him to score. We need him to score and we need him to be aggressive.”
  • A thought that teams should play more zone on endgame out-of-bounds plays, in part because of one particularly successful Mavericks play.
  • Again, wayward Celtics fans: don’t blame the refs.
  • The first installment of John Hollinger’s Power Rankings has emerged. Be angry, if you’re the kind of person who likes to rage against the Mavs’ statistically inferior start.
  • Del Harris is now doing radio broadcast work — in Spanish!
  • Not to get snooty, but isn’t Mark Cuban bigger than an “Owner:” headline?

Dallas Mavericks 89, Boston Celtics 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
-William Shedd

Defense is predicated on calculated risk, and when properly executed, this is what those risks look like. Lots of long two-pointers (Boston shot 31 shots between 16-23 feet and made just 12 of them). Rotations that expose the defense temporarily, but are balanced by a strong presence at the rim. A huge, potentially game-winning shot, put in Rajon Rondo’s hands some 24 feet from the basket. Even the best defense can’t stop everything, but if a team focuses on what’s important and cedes the rest, they can debilitate opposing offenses enough to win games like this one.

The Mavs weren’t flawless in their execution, but we focus primarily on the defense, this is precisely what the Mavs should hope to achieve on a nightly basis. If all goes according to plan, this defensive performance — though fine on its own merits — should be completely unremarkable. This needs to be the regular for Dallas. This needs to be a trademark. This needs to be the schoolwork proudly displayed on the fridge for a day until a new assignment takes its place, rather than some mantle piece riddled with dust. The Mavs have the potential to be this good defensively if they execute properly, and on this night they did just that.

The Mavs also have the potential to rival the league’s elite if they execute properly on offense as well, yet on this night they did anything but. Dallas committed 19 turnovers in a 91-possession game, which might be borderline impressive if it weren’t so maddening. The Mavs can’t expect to win these kinds of games with regularity if their turnover rate is hovering around last night’s mark of 20.9. Dallas’ hot shooting this season has managed to balance out their turnovers, but the shots won’t always fall. This team can’t always hang its hat on high-percentage shot-making, even if they’re working to create more high-percentage looks than ever. The turnovers need to come down, even if it’s hard to peg any specific reasons for the unexpected bump. As I mentioned yesterday, the symptoms are obvious, but if anyone has a proper diagnosis for these sudden turnover concerns, I’m all ears.

Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-16 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) was relentless in his drives to the rim, Jason Terry (17 points, 5-11 FG, four assists) was patient and fought for open looks in the half-court offense, and Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-5 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, zero turnovers) introduced the alley-oop as an item of cultural relevance in the Dallas metro area, and J.J. Barea (12 points, 4-7 FG, three assists, three turnovers) scored just enough, even if he overstepped his bounds a bit.

The Celtics have a number of excuses/justifications if they choose to play those cards. Maybe they were looking ahead to a game against the Miami Heat. Maybe they were physically or mentally exhausted in playing the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless, Dallas was the superior squad last night. They executed more effectively, shot more efficiently, hustled more consistently, and attacked more strategically. The Mavs were ready for this game, and they earned a win. That’s important. That’s what you can take away to keep in your back pocket. Whatever goes on in Boston’s camp is their problem, but Dallas came in with a well-constructed plan and enacted it properly.

Closing thoughts:

  • Tyson Chandler was fantastic. Nowitzki’s offense was obviously instrumental, but Chandler (Gold Star spoiler alert) was obviously the Mavs’ most effective player. He didn’t create any of his offense on his own, but by relying on his teammates to feed him the ball at the proper moments, Chandler was always in the right spot offensively. He finished each of his opportunities, and demanded that the Celtics’ defense account for him, praise that hasn’t been applicable to a Mavericks’ center, well, ever. On defense, Chandler didn’t re-write the rules of help defense, but he recited them from memory to perfection. He stepped up and challenged any Celtic who dared attack the basket, and even recovered fully to challenge his own man at the basket in some cases. He never stopped. Chandler clearly understands that a defensive possession is only finished after his team secures the rebound, and he worked tirelessly to challenge as many shots and potential shots as possible before concluding each and every possession. Books aren’t written about those who do exactly what they’re supposed to, but for his efforts on this night alone, I vote Chandler worthy of a memoir.
  • DeShawn Stevenson started in place of Jason Terry, as Rick Carlisle opted to redistribute the Mavs’ strongest scorers. He answered by hitting a pair of three-pointers and chasing Ray Allen around for 14 minutes, and that’s an unquestionable success. I’m not sure it makes a world of difference to have Terry starting or coming off the bench, as both designations can be balanced by his usage in particular lineups. However, if Stevenson can hit reliably from distance and put in that kind of defensive effort nightly, I’d have no problem with him assuming the starting job until Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
  • Caron Butler knows that the season has started, right?
  • The Mavericks have absolutely no respect for Rajon Rondo’s jumper. So much so that J.J. Barea once forgot that Nate Robinson had subbed in for Rondo, and gave up a wide open three-pointer without even pretending to contest.
  • I’m not sure who this Brendan Haywood is, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the old one come back. Haywood had a nice contested slam and grabbed a few boards, but he had a lot of trouble defending Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, and Glen Davis. I know the matchup wasn’t favorable; Haywood would have been far more useful had we seen more of either O’Neal, but Jermaine played limited minutes and Shaquille sat this one out. I understand that puts Haywood in an awkward position, but he has to do better. He has to provide better help, he can’t let Erden beat him to rebounds, and he can’t give up points on the low block so easily. There’s no problem being patient with Haywood given what he’s capable of, but if this is par for the season’s course, Mark Cuban is going to have plenty of sleepless nights, holding his wallet close.
  • Even after all of the barking and strutting, I still love watching Kevin Garnett play. As long as he milks that pump fake and turnaround jumper, it doesn’t much matter to me what he’s said or done. Garnett — the player — is still terrific in my book, even if Dirk gave him serious trouble with his drives. Also: KG is so brutally effective from the high post against the zone. He backs down a shoots jumpers over JET, while having the passing savvy to abuse any double-teamer that comes his way.
  • If you think this game was in any way decided by officiating, stop. The free throw discrepancy was that large for a reason, and the Mavs’ aggressive third quarter mentality was a big part of that reason.
  • Hail Jason Terry, who in his infinite wisdom, opted to foul Ray Allen with 1.5 seconds left in the game. The Celtics had collected an offensive rebound after Rajon Rondo’s three-point miss, and the Dallas defense was in slight disarray. The Mavs had a foul to give, and Terry took it while he could. Not only is that a smart move irrelevant of the result, but the fact that Dallas was able to completely smother the ensuing inbound pass and force Garnett into a contested turnaround from the far corner…well, you can’t ask for much more. Pitch-perfect execution in all regards by Dallas down the stretch, and a great judgment call by Terry.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Tyson Chandler. I wouldn’t hang the Mavs’ hat on this iteration of Chandler showing up for every game, but Mavs fans should be thankful he was so effective last night.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 28, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

First, in case you didn’t have time to check out all of my season preview work, here’s a quick run-down so you can catch up:

Also, if I may:

  • If you’re following me on Twitter, you probably already know this, but in addition to my work here, at Hardwood Paroxysm, and at ProBasketballTalk, I’ve also joined the New York Times’ Off the Dribble Blog as a contributor. Keep an eye out there for some more of my general NBA work, though I’m sure the Mavs will inevitably pop up from time to time.
  • Matt Moore and I recently launched Voice on the Floor, an NBA audio blog (striving to be an NPR for the NBA, in a way) that has been a blast so far. It primarily consists of extended interviews from Moore, as well as spoken word essays from myself and various contributors. I’m very excited about the project and its potential, so I hope you guys will tag along.

Back to business as usual:

  • Since 2000, no player in the NBA has had more 25 & 10 nights than Dirk Nowitkzi. Not Tim Duncan, not Kevin Garnett, not Shaquille O’Neal. No one.
  • Dirk Nowitzki on Tyson Chandler (via Mike Fisher of “He’s just so unbelievably active, I’ve never seen anything like it…He’s got to be the best runner at the 5 position and one of the most athletic 5’s right now in this league…he covers a lot of ground out there and he’s plugging holes for us defensively.”
  • I guess this kind of confirms something Nancy Lieberman hinted at back in July: Moussa Seck seems set to be a Texas Legend.
  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Turnovers were this team’s flaw all last season, and nothing changed in the season-opener. Twenty-one turnovers led to 28 Dallas points. As a tennis guy (no double-fault is good, but some are far worse than others), I buy Larry Brown’s principle that there are acceptable turnovers (daring passes, intended to make for easy baskets, that just don’t work out), and unacceptable turnovers (lazy ballhandling at mid-court that leads to easy opponent scores). Wednesday the vast majority of the turnovers were the ones that scorch you. Especially so with a Jason Kidd pushing the ball for the other team.”
  • Adventures in overstatement: According to Jason Kidd, having Tyson Chandler as a lob option “changes the whole game.” Right. It’s handy, sure, but game-changing? Play-changing, perhaps. It forces opponents to be conscious of him on the roll, but let’s not get carried away.
  • The Mavs committed more money this off-season to free agents than any other team, save the Heat.
  • Charlotte looked like kind of a mess last night, which prompted David Arnott of Rufus on Fire to engage in an interesting exercise: if on were writing Bobcats scouting reports based solely on last night’s game, what would they say? Follow over to RoF an leave your thoughts, but we could do the very same for the Mavs here.
  • Brendan Haywood didn’t start last night, but he’s playing nice so far (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “Sometimes things don’t go the way you plan. You just got to make the best of it.”

Learn to Fly

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 3, 2010 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Whether wide-eyed, confident, or completely brash, all rookies share in their need to learn. Each first-year player earns a ticket into the big leagues by way of their physical skills, but from there, no rook is excused from the pursuit of basketball betterment. Needless to say, it’s a gradual process of refinement, familiarity, and growth, and each player moves at their own pace.

That said, don’t mistake player development for a solo endeavor. Even though nothing (and no one) can force a given player to put in quality time on the practice court or in the film room, professional athletes are blessed with coaches, trainers, and the most sacred of all, mentors.

The relationship between mentor and protégé is often assumed. Because Jason Kidd is experienced, Rodrigue Beaubois is not, and the two happen to play similar positions, Kidd must be his mentor. Kidd must take him aside to teach him the tricks of the trade, to coach him up on reads, to impart invaluable wisdom on how to succeed as a creator in the NBA. That could very well be the case, but the fact that we assume it to be is a bit problematic. Additionally, the fact that we treat these mentor-protégé relationships with any congruency whatsoever is pretty ridiculous. Just as each player has his own path, he too has his own choice in mentor.

It has nothing to do with position. As Kevin Martin mentioned in an interview with Kevin Arnovitz last week for TrueHoop, Brad Miller, a completely dissimilar player in nearly every regard, had a notable impact on the young Martin:

“With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn’t really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I’d be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, “Slow down! You’re faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!” He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads — when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.”

Jump to San Antonio, where George Hill credits Spurs’ assistant Chad Forcier for his development, even with an All-Star point guard in his midst. Ask Kevin Garnett who helped to shape him as a player and person, and he’ll answer with Sam Mitchell, Terry Porter, and Malik Sealy. Turn to Dirk Nowitzki’s career, and the clearest formative influences are Holger Geschwindner, Don Nelson, and Steve Nash. The relationship needs a unique fit to function properly, and though a positional senior might have a lot to offer from a technical standpoint, that doesn’t always make it a natural pairing.

But sometimes it all works out. Sometimes a grouping is just too obvious to not work, and Mavs fans should hope that to be the case with Jason Terry and Dominique Jones.

Jones is putting in some pre-camp work with Terry and Rick Carlisle, with a specific emphasis on getting into game shape and refining Jones’ shot. Carlisle and his staff have the development of players like Jones in their collective job description, but for JET to work with Dominique is a little something extra. It’s a neat match. Terry and Jones may approach the game in completely different ways, but that’s part of what makes JET an excellent mentor candidate. Terry can help to work on Jones’ weaknesses as a player. He can teach Jones how to create space for himself against taller opponents. He can teach Jones the value of jumper repetition. He can teach Jones how to navigate the rough waters that all “combo guards” are forced to sail.

Maybe nothing ever comes out of this, and Jones’ current work is classified as a nice, one-time clinic with a Mavs vet. Still, these workouts have the potential to create a fairly interesting relationship between a rookie with a lot to learn and a successful player with plenty to teach.

Survival of the Fittest

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 23, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

[RSS users: this post has embedded video.]

NBA teams are valued based on their strength. That strength is evaluated through “power” rankings, through their brute force, and through their ability to execute a game plan without compromise. In the same way that we value unwavering opinion (after all, anything less makes an individual a weak flip-flopper), we praise teams that impose their will on others rather than adapting to circumstance. What the Trailblazers did pre-Camby was impressive, sure, but that storyline was a mere footnote on the NBA landscape while the powerful wills (or temporary lack thereof) of the Lakers and the Cavs stole headlines.

Power matters. It really does. Talent drives the game, the league, and the teams. But even more important is knowing the best ways to optimize the talent that you have, and that involves an incredible amount of flexibility. After all, why hammer a square peg into a round hole with a big rock when you can just swap for a round, well-fitting peg?

That responsibility starts with the players, and having an willingness to try new things. But the primary burden falls on the shoulders of the coaches. It’s the responsibility of any coaching staff to do more than execute a plan of attack; that plan should be adjusted, tinkered with, and even radically altered as the situation dictates. It’s not a concession to switch up match-ups or alter one’s rotation, but a sign of sound decision-making. Survival on the NBA is predicated on the ability to adapt and evolve, and luckily for the Mavs, that’s Rick Carlisle’s specialty.

Case in point: the Mavs use of Dirk Nowitzki on the offensive end against the Celtics on Saturday. In spite of their drop-off this season, Boston is still tied for tops in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s no accident, and even though Kevin Garnett is nowhere near his MVP production levels, he’s still a huge part of that. So while the Mavs-Celtics match-up is interesting for a variety of reasons, chief among them is likely the battle between a world-class offensive and defensive player at the same position. Take a look at this clips and watch how well Garnett contests Dirk in isolation. He prevents Nowitzki from gaining position, plays his favorite sides for spins, crowds him, and gets a hand up.

Of course, Garnett has help. The reason the Celtics’ boast such an impressive defense is because of their ability to rotate and contest. The system strengthens the inferior individual defenders, hiding their weaknesses and exploiting their strengths defensively. On this play, we see Rasheed Wallace (Dirk’s primary defender), Glen Davis, and Paul Pierce all play a hand in defending Nowitzki. ‘Sheed does most of the work as he traps Dirk on the wing, but Davis stepping up to protect the basket and Pierce getting a hand in Dirk’s face on the jumper cannot be ignored. Those are two areas of the floor from which Dirk is incredibly comfortable, and yet he has no room to operate against Wallace and gets a tough look against Pierce.

Then there’s the two-man game. This example comes from late in the fourth quarter, so perhaps it betrays my point a bit. But the Celtics excel at taking away what Nowitzki does best. Every pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop opportunity for Dirk was smothered, he was defended well in the high post and the low post, and it was clear that Boston knew exactly where the ball was going when Dirk set up shop.

The Mavs still worked the ball around to Nowitzki, but the important thing is that the Celtics could anticipate what Dirk was going to do when he caught it. Garnett and Wallace knew to anticipate the spins, and to crowd him. The Mavs best player was still making some tough shots on occasion, but for the most part he was having the most effective parts of his game (or really, his most effective areas on the floor) taken away from him by a terrific defense.

So the Mavs had a few options. They could:

  • Keep doing what they were doing, and rely on Dirk’s offensive prowess to trump KG’s defensive talents.
  • Work the ball through other players, and rely on the offense of Caron Butler and Jason Terry to win the day.
  • Keep going through Dirk, but alter the approach.

Rick Carlisle and Nowitzki opted for a combination of the latter, though Butler hardly carried his weight and Terry was good but well short of supernatural. The key to getting Dirk to 28 points on just 18 shots (with 57.8% shooting) was to take him out of his comfort zones intentionally by switching up the Mavs’ usual sets. That way, Dirk sees the change coming through prescribed play calls, but the Celtics were still operating under the assumption that the Mavs’ offensive scheme would proceed as usual.

Needless to say, it didn’t. Dirk was mindful of openings to score in different ways (he was much quicker on the trigger to fire on an offensive rebound, for example), and the sets were drawn up using a bit of misdirection.

  1. Getting it right.

    The scouting report on Dirk Nowitzki will tell you that he always goes to his left. It was part of his basketball development and helped to keep defenders off-balance early in his career. Now it’s a known fact, and you know Dirk is switching things up when he not only drives to his right, but finishes without pulling up for a short bank shot (as he’s been ought to do this year) or going reverse. He still goes to the left hand to finish at the front of the cup, but I think we can live with that.

  2. A subtle variation of an old theme.

    When the Mavs run the two-man game, it’s typically slow and methodical. Jason Terry works around a Dirk screen, is patient to see if Dirk is more open than he is, and if nothing is there on first or second glance, he explodes toward the hoop or an open spot on the floor for a jumper. In this case, J.J. Barea and Dirk run the two-man game in a completely different capacity (apparently by design). When Barea draws the attention of both defenders, he knows exactly where Dirk will be and dishes it to him with a ball counter. We’ve seen Dirk and JET do this on occasion, but in this case it seems far more deliberate.

  3. The weak side is the strong side.

    Here, Dirk takes advantage of a two-man game setup that doesn’t involve him. Terry and Eddie Najera go to work on the right side, while Dirk works to get open on the left. When Rasheed Wallace is forced to rotate to cover the cutting Najera, Nowitzki is left wide open from three. It was just Dirk’s 33rd made three this season.

  4. Sharing is caring.

    The easiest way to capitalize on an overly aggressive defense is to either put them in a position to commit fouls frequently (A.K.A. driving to the basket) or to exploit help defenders with smart passing. That’s what Nowitzki does here, as he finds an open Kidd on the perimeter after spinning into a Rasheed Wallace/Marquis Daniels double.

  5. Sleight of hand.

    On these sequences, the Mavs run the Dirk-Terry two-man game as a decoy. The play is not only obvious but so effective that teams have to pay attention to it, giving Terry the perfect opportunity to find open teammates on the perimeter. The Celtics were aggressive in pursuing the pick man at almost every instance; Haywood was smothered on each roll to the basket, Sheed stepped up to trail Najera, and Dirk was almost always covered. That left Terry with enough room and enough time to find the weakness in the Celtics’ rotation and exploit it. These possessions didn’t end with points, but they’re still well-conceived.

  6. Inside, outside, USA.

    Wait, you mean having a back-to-the-basket threat alongside Dirk yields tangible benefits? You don’t say. The opportunity to block a Brendan Haywood turnaround jumper is a bit too enticing for KG, which leaves a driving lane open for Nowitzki. Perkins does a nice job of contesting Dirk at the rim, but Nowitzki finishes by creating space with the off-arm. Slightly illegal, maybe, but highly effective.

  7. Do everything you normally do, only different.

    Dirk is so effective at running the pick-and-pop, that’s it’s a bit shocking when he changes things up and rolls to the basket. The real credit here goes to Barea though, who runs this particular sequence to perfection.

  8. So predictable it’s unpredictable.

    Mavs fans should be painfully familiar with this set. Whenever the Mavs want to set up Dirk along the baseline, they’ll run him from one side of the lane to the other utilizing a pick from either Haywood/Dampier or one of the wings. That allows the entry pass to go into Nowitzki easily in most cases, which is important considering that Dirk doesn’t really have the backside to protect the feed. This has really been a post-2007 development; Stephen Jackson and co. were so good at stealing and doubling the feed into Dirk that the Mavs need a counter in their playbook. So they run him off of a baseline screen, and the pass usually goes into Nowitzki without incident.Garnett knows this. But in this particular case, Dirk fakes his usual route and then makes a quick cut to the top of the key.

It might be hard to find solace in something like this after back-to-back losses, but these things matter. Knowing that your team’s star and head coach can adjust to serious defensive pressure is about as important as it gets. The Mavs may not face a power forward or team defense on-par with KG/Boston at all in the post-season, but if they can adjust to allow Dirk to get his against that type of opponent, what’s going to stop them from doing the same against L.A. or Denver?

Boston Celtics 102, Dallas Mavericks 93: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 21, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Continual improvement is an unending journey.
-Lloyd Dobens

  • The fact that this game shows up as an L in a sea of W’s doesn’t change much; the team that lost to the Celtics last night is very much the same team that rattled off 13 straight wins. This one result was obviously quite different, but this performance was just as imperfect as any during the streak, and just as promising. Dallas couldn’t close against a pretty determined Boston team, but the defense was still impressive and the half-court offense made a nice second half rally. The only trouble in paradise is that it was never really paradise to begin with.
  • This was a terrific game. Competitive throughout, no team registering any kind of insurmountable lead, and the stars on each side coming out to play. There were stretches where both teams were in a funk: the turnovers, missed shots, and lazy fouls added up like you would never expect from two contending teams. But the Mavs and Celtics were evenly matched even in their futility. That doesn’t translate to 48 minutes of beautiful basketball, but it did translate to 48 minutes of hotly-contested basketball, which may be the next best thing. Or the best thing if you’re a March Madness zealot.
  • The rumors of the Celtics’ demise were not greatly exaggerated. This Boston squad was dead, pronounced, autopsied, and buried months ago. What we have here is a team of undead soldiers. Kevin Garnett walks again in the Romero mold, lacking the quickness, explosiveness, and general transcendence of his previously human self. But he’s as belligerent a defender as ever, and he hounded Dirk into plenty of tough shots. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are perhaps a bit more self-aware in their second chance at life. Both are pained by the limits of being the walking dead, but they tirelessly carry out the goals of their mortal lives. Rajon Rondo follows the contemporary Danny Boyle model: a relentless, physically intimidating, quick, reactive, and utterly more frightening force. These guys have unearthed themselves and they’re hungry for brains.
  • On paper, the Mavs match up pretty well with the Celtics. Shawn Marion is a terrific counter for Pierce, Caron Butler and Jason Terry may not be able to stop Allen but they can certainly match him and then some, Dirk and KG are excellent foils, and the combination of Haywood and Dampier can hopefully negate any impact that Kendrick Perkins would have. Not all of that came to fruition last night, but the lineups present some incredible possibilities.
  • Rasheed Wallace’s “retribution?” Are we seriously talking about this? Come on.
  • Garnett played Dirk about as well as any defender has all season…and Nowitzki still finished with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. I don’t want to show my hand too much, because I plan to drop a video on this sometime in the next day or so, but the key to jump-starting Nowitzki’s production after a slow start was to take him out of the Mavs’ traditional sets. Rick Carlisle showed some real creativity in finding Dirk scoring opportunities against some elite defense, and that’s huge.
  • That said, KG (eight points, 3-9 FG, nine rebounds, five steals) was essentially a defensive specialist against the Mavs. Dirk defended him well, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The phase of Garnett’s career where he was a dominant scorer has come to a close, and while that puts quite a cap on his league-wide hegemony, it doesn’t entirely negate his influence. He can impact a game as a key defender and a spot scorer, and his work on Dirk could have been what put Boston over the top.
  • The Mavs centers combined for five points, 10 rebounds, and five turnovers. They were completely invisible aside from a pair of Haywood blocks, most notably a obliteration of a third-quarter Rajon Rondo layup attempt. It was an impressive play, but it doesn’t quite excuse the combined performance of the Mavs’ 5s.
  • The atmosphere at the AAC has been a bit lacking this season, but it’s nice to see the in-game entertainment folks stepping up their game.
  • Caron Butler (nine points, 3-14 FG, four rebounds) did not have a good night, but he was working hard. That’s all you can ask. The Celtics are a great defensive team, and while it’d be nice if every Mav could drain every open shot, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. But we know that Butler is capable of contributing on a consistent basis otherwise, and that type of redeeming factor is what will keep Caron’s status separate from a Josh Howardian designation. Howard’s effort was criticized as much as his decision-making and his maturity level, but Butler was killing himself on the court. His three offensive rebounds tied for the game-high, and he added three steals.
  • Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-13 FG, six rebounds) is becoming more and more influential. Before, Shawn was a defensive stopper who could score. Then, he was a crutch in a time of need. Now, even with a fully-functional lineup (unless you count the left half of Jason Terry’s face), Marion is easing the burden on the team’s top scorers by providing some much-needed scoring help in the half court. Yes, in the half court. Marion may have started the game with a leak out into transition, but almost all of his damage came by cutting in the half-court game and finding open spots along the baselines. Some of his missed layups are still heartbreaking, but I think you take what you can get when Marion is carrying the scoring load for chunks of the game.
  • Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) was absolutely terrific in the fourth, as he worked against Jason Kidd in isolation. I can feel Mavericks Nation simmer over the fact that Rodrigue Beaubois couldn’t get off the bench until the closing seconds, and I feel you. Roddy is the most physically gifted perimeter defender the Mavs have, and his physique is practically tailor-made for a guy like Rondo. That doesn’t mean you cold call him in the middle of the fourth quarter when Kidd (11 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and (18 points, 8-16 FG, three steals) Terry are still playing well. Theoretically it makes sense, but contextually it didn’t.

Boston Celtics 99, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 13, 2009 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
-Albert Einstein

Well, I’m glad we can all go into the All-Star break without a care in the world.  I’ve got a smile on my face, and nothin’ in the world is gonna get me down!  I’VE GOT SUNSHIIIINE, ON A CLOUUUDY DAAAAAY…

Dammit.  Dammitdammitdammit.


Okay, I’m putting the plaster smile away.  This one got ugly.  One good half had the Mavs nursing a double-digit lead, but a complete lack of scoring on the floor when Dirk went cold turned the game on a dime.  The Mavs went six minutes without a made field goal, and all the while Paul Pierce had a field day.  It literally came down to Dirk vs. Pierce, but after an entire game of shouldering the bulk of the Mavericks’ offensive production, it’s perfectly understandable that fresh legs won out.  That doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Josh Howard, Dirk’s sidekick, was enjoying the finale from the bench after picking up his sixth foul with almost four minutes left.  Yes, he was 6-19.  But the rest of the team was drawing nothing but iron, and if nothing else Josh gives the illusion of an offensive threat.  That may have been enough to prevent a double/triple team or two down the stretch, which can go a long way in a game this tight.  Dirk was passing out of doubles well and trying to assert himself against the pressure at times, but everything was in-and-out in the 4th.  Howard was nowhere in sight, Kidd’s jumper was slightly reminiscent of the plot twist at the end of The Village, and Dampier and Wright were Dampier and Wright.  It turns out that when the road of life without Terry isn’t paved with Beno Udrihs, things can get a little bumpy.  And just a little tip from one traveler to another: having J.J. Barea switch onto Paul Pierce on the pick-and-roll is a bit of a pothole.  It’s hard to keep the offense afloat when Pierce can’t even see the guy ‘guarding’ him.

What’s miserable is that a terrible fourth quarter just so happened to ruin a good stretch of basketball and a great effort from the Mavs.  Josh wasn’t hitting, but his shot selection was greatly improved.  Brandon Bass was threatening to rip down the rim every time he took a single step in the paint.  Erick Dampier was protecting the rim.  J.J. Barea and Matt Carroll were hitting their shots.  Garnett was neutralized by nature of fouls and Damp for almost the entire game, and battled a brief bit of insanity in the 3rd.  KG’s ‘tude was met with a knowing smile from Dirk, and more than a few whistles from the refereeing crew.  Well played, sir.

Also: Rajon Rondo out-Jason Kidded Jason Kidd with 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists, and I still don’t know how anyone hopes to guard Ray Allen when he’s running around staggered screens.  Is it possible?  Is it even imaginable?

All in all, a pretty frustrating night.  Quite a build-up for quite a disappointment.  Is another fourth quarter meltdown justified with JET out of action?  Probably not.  There will be nights (and there have been nights) when Terry isn’t pure Drain-O, and we can’t always count on Dirk to score hang 37.  If last night’s thriller was a test of the Mavs’ mental fortitude, we didn’t learn anything that we didn’t already know, or at the very least, that we didn’t deeply fear in the very back of our minds.  For better or worse, these are our Mavericks, and though their recent success has inched them up the Western Conference ladder, they still have a long way to go before they’re ready to hang with the big dogs.  Woof.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night is Dirk’s to lose.  37 points, 8 rebounds, 2 threes, and our only hope.  *tear

Heard It Through the Grapevine 1-26-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 26, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Apparently Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is as well-versed in Maverick excuses as the rest of us are.  It really was an awful set of circumstances to play what some consider to be the best team in the league, but the ‘glass half-full’ part of me was hoping for an upset.  I should know better.  From Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: ” “It’s the last game on a four-game road trip,” Rivers said of the Mavericks’ schedule, “which, on an afternoon game, I don’t know if that’s the toughest scenario you can have, but it’s close. And we were just making everything…The ball was moving, too, and our guys – there were at least eight possessions where the clock was down to five and we made two more passes and still found the guy. No one panicked.” “
  • As I noted in the recap, the defense was the big issue on Sunday.  How can the Mavs expect to beat anyone when they refuse to put hands in faces on the three-point line?  I have and never will be a head coach in the NBA, but I definitely could have briefed this team that they might want to guard the likes of Ray Allen and Eddie House out on the perimeter.  Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News continues: “Defensively, the Mavericks were poor. Combined with an uncanny shooting game by the Celtics, particularly in the first half, it was an ugly scene.  The Celtics shot 65 percent in the half, including 8-of-9 from the field by Ray Allen, who had 20 points in the half and 23 for the game. Kevin Garnett and Eddie House also had 23.  “I wasn’t happy with the defense,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “When the shots weren’t going early, it affected us defensively, and we’ve got to fight against that. It’s disappointing, but you learn from it and take something from it.” “
  • Jan Hubbard of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the really strange technical foul situation in Sunday’s depression-fest: “One of the Mavericks said the referees wanted to call a technical on owner Mark Cuban, but league rules allow technicals to be called only on players, coaches or other officials sitting on the first row. Most of the players on the bench were yelling, and it was announced the technical was on the bench. But it has to be assigned to an individual, so it was given to assistant Mario Elie. But Mavericks players said they thought it was against Dirk Nowitzki, and it’s likely to be changed when reviewed by the league.”
  • Garnett, via Jan Hubbard of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on the task of guarding Dirk: ” “We watched a lot of tape the last couple of days,” said Garnett, who had 23 points, “and I noticed he gets a lot of space. If you give him any kind of space, he’s going to let the 3 go. That’s probably one of the most deadliest, unorthodox step-backs in the game today, and all I did was try and pressure him. Guys like Dirk, you can’t stop them. You can only slow them down.” “
  • Mike “Fish” Fisher of describes the play that turned out to be a microcosm of the game: “With just over four minutes left in the first, the Mavs were down 15-14. Nine second later, they were down 20-14. KG scored over Dirk (a challenging match for Nowitzki), and then Dirk’s lazy inbounds was intercepted by Garnett, who was fouled on the dunk attempt. He made the first, missed the second, Boston got the offensive rebound and KG hit a jumper for his team’s fifth point in nine seconds. … and HIS fifth point in nine seconds.”
  • The differences between the Mavs and the Celtics is more a laundry list than it is a paragraph.  There are just so many things that the Celtics do right and so many things that the Mavs do wrong that it’s almost pointless; essentially you’re pointing out that Chili’s doesn’t have a good enough wine list.  It does need to be done at some point though, to get an honest evaluation of where this team is and where it’s headed.  Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News tackles the issue: “The Mavericks were incinerated by a Boston team that showed them what good ball movement and good defense are all about – teamwork. That’s an asset the Mavericks have been missing too often this season. They often have two or three players working hard on defense. That won’t get it done. What it boils down to is trust. It’s easier for a defender to get in the offensive player’s face if he knows the helping defense behind him will be there. That’s what the Celtics do.”
  • Sefko is right, but a choice quote from Kevin Garnett during Boston’s recent troubles caught the eye of Eric Musselman, and it should definitely catch the eye of Mavs fans: ” “One of the biggest tests in this league is when you lose. You learn a lot about each other. When the season is not going well, some things come out. I’ve been on losing teams, and stuff comes out. Guys don’t like each other, cats are fighting over the ball, bickering and stuff. What we learned is to do it together. That’s what brought us out of it. What really brought us back was being fundamentally sound and defense; that’s what we did from Day 1 last year.” “

Boston Celtics 124, Dallas Mavericks 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo from AP Photo/Winslow Townson via ESPN.

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“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
-Chuck Palahniuk

Oh, so that’s what good ball movement looks like.

The Dallas Mavericks reminded us that that they can forget to show up for a game any time they want to, and apparently came to a unanimous decision to stink it up against the defending champs in front of a national audience.  On some level, I’d like for the Mavs to retain a certain sense of a national respect, but that’s not the real issue here; the Mavs had a chance to not only establish some momentum and wow the ABC viewers, but they literally had a chance to redefine the way their season is evaluated.  One of the beautiful things about having an up-and-down team is that as infuriating as it is, the team’s play fluctuates towards the cream of the crop and the bottom of the barrel ad infinitum.  In doing so, it’s hard to determine exactly where they they fall in the basketball continuum, giving them a mysterious potential for unspeakable power when you least expect it.  You feel like they could all of a sudden open up a 30-point can of utter destruction on a bonafide championship contender.

The Mavs are as up-and-down as they come, but they aren’t that team anymore.  Sunday’s loss (yes, I know, it was just one game) effectively shackled this team’s upward potential once and for all.  To be honest, the offense wasn’t terrible.  Dirk had an awful shooting night; just another merit badge on Kevin Garnett’s vest, and perhaps a nomination for Brian Scalabrine to make an All-Defense team.  But the rest of the team shot over 47% from the field, an effort that might be good enough to get a Dallas win on some days.  Needless to say, this was not one of them.

The Celtics just managed to pick out almost all of the Mavs’ significant weaknesses and attack them simultaneously.  They attacked Jason Kidd with Rajon Rondo, one of the quickest point guards in the game.  Dallas’ D got absolutely slaughtered on any play that involved a pick; the typical results were an open Ray Allen jumper, a good look at a J from Kevin Garnett over a smaller defender, or a wide open three on one of the wings.  It was brutal.  You could certainly say that the Celtics hit a ridiculous amount of their shots (notably a ridiculous 16 of 27 from three).  That said, there’s a reason why the Celtics hit at almost 54% on the night: there often wasn’t a defender within ten feet.  I hear that helps.  Throw in the fact that Garnett played some killer, active defense against a lackadaisical offense and blitzed everyone that tried to guard him, and you’ve got the makings of a blowout.  I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, and in a sense I guess it kind of is — not many teams have the talent on both ends that the Celtics have.  That doesn’t mean we won’t see one of these weaknesses attacked each and every night, whether it’s Chris Paul making Jason Kidd look like a guy with a peg leg trying to catch a squirrel covered in vegetable oil or the Spurs making the Mavs’ heads spin.

No ‘Gold Star of the Night.’  Just…no.