“Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.”
*A quick programming note. From now on, the four factors values will be precise, empirical calculations rather than estimations. The calculated values are courtesy of HoopData.com‘s more detailed box scores, which will also be linked (when available) as the game box score.
While this afternoon’s game was night a contest of great statistical achievement on the defensive end (the Mavs’ defensive efficiency on the night was 11.4 points/100 possessions lower than their season average), something must be said about the Mavs’ ability to limit Zach Randolph after his early domination. A tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is not one that’s easy to counter, due to their high/low post interchangeability and the combination of strength and touch. Both players can show a little range and can certainly get things done on the low block, and though Gasol had merely a productive first half, Randolph was off the charts. Zeebo had 19 points in the first quarter and five early in the second, but over the game’s final 33:40, Randolph managed to score just six points. While it only slowed the Grizzlies enough for the Mavs to scrape out a lead, it took away Memphis’ most dominant offensive weapon at the time. That kind of thing completely changes the flow of the game, and the nine point deficit at the time was reversed into a five point positive margin.
Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds) bounced back from his worst game of the season by playing a very productive 25 minutes. That said, his minutes didn’t necessarily come easy, as Rudy Gay (22 points on 22 shots, 10 rebounds) simply could not be denied. Marion had good defensive positioning time and time again, made a little contact to push Gay away from his shot of choice, and yet Rudy would lean or elevate before finishing possession after possession with a make. What’s a bit odd is that Marion left the game with 3:27 left in the third quarter and never returned, despite throwing down a pair of dunks and creating extra possessions with his hustle.
A lot of the Mavs’ early defensive sequences ended tragically: Dallas would play 10-20 seconds of pretty incredible defense (nice on-ball pressure, ball denial, perfect rotations) before one of the Grizz would force up a shot, only to see Gasol, Gay, or Randolph pull in an offensive rebound for a clear bucket or a fresh shot clock. Considering that the starting lineup features four solid to great rebounders by position, that’s not a result I would expect on a regular basis. Still, this isn’t the first time the Mavs have been shown up on the boards (the final margin was 49-40 in favor of Memphis, who also won the offensive rebounding battle 20-10), and while I’m not quite ready to call it a recurring problem, it’s something to keep under your pillow.
Drew Gooden missed the game with back spasms, and as a result, Dirk saw some minutes at center and Kris Humphries was pulled out from beneath the couch. Hump can be such a positive force for this team, but the man is simply the master of the anticlimactic possession. I appreciate his efforts on the boards, but it’s a bit disheartening to watch all of his work end in a blown layup attempt. Keep doing what you do, Hump, but hopefully next time you’ll be doing what you do just a little bit better.
The Mavs looked completely incapable of defending the rim without Erick Dampier in the game. I don’t know if it’s primarily a shift in coverages or just a perceived shift on part of the opposition, but Rudy Gay danced down the lane for slams whenever Damp took a breather on the bench.
Promising offensive nights from both Jason Terry (23 points, 7-18 FG, five assists) and Josh Howard (11 points, 4-6 FG). JET took every touch as a personal invitation to attack the rim, and Terry and the Mavs reaped the benefits later as a more confident JET made plays of consequence. In addition, Jason looked to expand his on-court contributions beyond the points column, and his playmaking in the two man game or after penetration opened up new wrinkles of the Maverick offense. All of a sudden Shawn Marion was wide open and in position to score, and Dirk Nowitzki was left all alone at the top of the key or out on the wing. Josh’s totals don’t demand your attention, but his 25 minutes were an exercise in minimalism. He didn’t over-dribble, he didn’t hold the ball too long, and he didn’t think too much after receiving the ball. Howard looked completely in the flow of the game without feeling the need to dominate the ball, and while the Mavs should certainly expect more raw production out of Howard, they can still appreciate his discretion.
The Mavs shot and scored at a terrific rate, but they simply did not get to the free throw line. Excluding six late FTAs during the game’s final moments, the Mavs attempted just 14 free throws on the game, less than half of the Grizzlies’ 29. That said, it’s not safe to assume that the discrepancy is attributable to the Mavs’ shot selection; against the Grizz, the Mavs shot 22 attempts at the rim (with 15 makes), which is comparable to their season average of 24.6 attempts (with 14.7 makes).
The Mavericks took care of the ball. 9.9 is a pretty ridiculous turnover rate (As a reminder, TOR is equal to the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in a turnover. Atlanta is the most careful team in the league, and their average is 20.3.), and it’s a testament to the Mavs’ efficient offense that they were able to finish with such a number in spite of Dirk’s abnormal four turnovers.
Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was as wonderful as you’d expect, even if he was a bit more turnover-prone than usual. But for those of you looking for a storyline, this game wasn’t about what Dirk did, but what he didn’t have to do. Seven Mavericks scored in double figures, and Dirk didn’t score a point over the game’s final 15 minutes. Terry, Howard, and company were ready and willing to take over, and they closed the game beautifully.
Only two teams in the Western Conference have yet to lose ten games. One of them is Los Angeles (23-5), reigning champions and resident “team-to-beat.” The other is Dallas (21-9).
“There’s such a thin line between winning and losing.”
-John R. Tunis
Sometimes a game flows like the scripted word, with a rhythm, climax, and resolution that unfold seamlessly. All is right in the world as the good guys win and the bad guys falter, with no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who was the victor. Heroes are born, legends are written, and everything fits neatly into archetypal form.
But others are written like a biting satire. They make mockery of everything we think to be true, and rely on that defiance and a departure from the expected to prove some kind of point. There may be heroes, but winning the day is hardly an assumption.
From a Maverick perspective, the game would certainly be described as the latter.
After just ten minutes of play, a collision between Dirk Nowitzki and Carl Landry left Dirk with a deep laceration on his arm and Landry minus three teeth (according to Marc Stein, pieces of two of those teeth were actually in Nowitzki’s arm). Neither returned, and the game’s narrative structure had set a prime opportunity for the Mavs to prove their Rocketsesque mettle; Dallas would have to win without their primary scorer, their undisputed best player, and their leader. The cast of characters included: Jason Kidd (the wise sage), Jason Terry (the sidekick with an iron will), Josh Howard (the returning hero), Erick Dampier (the rock, the guide), Shawn Marion (the unwavering defender), J.J. Barea (the seemingly overmatched hero), and Tim Thomas (the rogue with a heart of gold). The stage was set for an epic tale of loss and redemption and triumph in the face of adversity.
And though the game lacked any kind of rhythm or pacing whatsoever, it seemed bound for the fairytale ending. With the Mavs trailing by four points with just over a minute remaining, Shawn Marion stripped Trevor Ariza on what looked to be an easy bucket for the Rockets. After running the floor in transition, Marion was left wide open by the scrambling Houston defense, and Jason Kidd rewarded his efforts with a feed for an easy bucket. And once Aaron Brooks missed one free throw to plant hope in the Maverick huddle, Rick Carlisle drew up a doozie of a play. After some misdirection by Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and a nice shot fake, Tim Thomas was left with a wide open look from the corner. Nothing but net, and the Mavs had one shot to make a defensive play and send the game into overtime.
Shawn Marion, who had been terrific on defense all night, demanded the assignment of guarding the red-hot Aaron Brooks. According to Kidd, Marion insisted that with his height and length he could bother Brooks on the drive or on the shot, and he couldn’t have been more right. Brooks passed up a shot attempt with a taller defender in front of him, and Marion forced him into an out-of-control dive toward the basket that ended with Shawn standing triumphant and a Rockets turnover with .4 seconds to play. The stage for the miracle had been set, but Jason Kidd’s lob was a bit off the mark, and Shawn Marion’s alley-oop layup attempt a bit short as a result.
But in most cases, overtime periods carry only false hope for short-handed teams. With Dirk nowhere in sight, the Mavs certainly qualify, and what had been a tremendous run by the remaining Mavs quickly spiraled into an emotional explosion. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry continued to run their offense with confidence, and the Mavs provided themselves no opportunity for catharsis by missing jumper after jumper. Ultimately, the game’s defining sequence featured the Mavs down six with a minute to play, and a bit of hope as Erick Dampier began to elevate for a dunk attempt. But rather than rise and finish with a momentum-shifting slam, Dampier was pulled down by the shoulders by Aaron Brooks, who made no play on the ball whatsoever. Brooks was assessed a flagrant one, and in the ensuing video replay aftermath, the officiating crew also assessed a technical foul to Erick Dampier. It was Damp’s second tech of the night, and despite the fact that the elbow is virtually invisible on video, it warranted Damp’s automatic ejection. From then on, finishing the game was a mere formality.
It was a bizarre sequence, and according to Mark Cuban, one that doesn’t follow the letter of the rulebook (only flagrant two fouls are eligible for video review, and Brooks was assessed a flagrant one). But such a sequence only illustrated the value of a single basket in a close game. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong in their assessment of whatever it is that happened on that play, the Mavs had wasted two and a half quarters worth of opportunities. With no Dirk Nowitzki to balance the offense and no cohesion to the team defense, the Mavs looked beyond helpless. Kyle Lowry (a career high 26 points, 10 assists, and a career high-tying five steals) and Aaron Brooks (23 points, six assists) were simply too proficient, and with both on the court, the Mavs lacked the speed to combat their penetration into the lane and separation for jumpers. Meanwhile, Jason Terry struggled from the field (6-15 FG) and didn’t have command of his usual basketball savvy. Josh Howard started the game terribly before finally getting his act together in time to help the Mavs mount a run. And though Erick Dampier’s work on the glass and on defense was, frankly, game-changing (three blocked shots, seven offensive rebounds, and 14 total rebounds), his reinforcements (Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries) failed to defend or produce in any meaningful way. After Dirk left the game, the odds were not stacked in the Mavs’ favor, and until the final run of the fourth quarter, the responded with lethargic D and sloppy offensive execution.
The finale was poignant and demonstrative. It was a sign to the Mavs that coasting isn’t acceptable, and that refusing to play to your potential will only end in heartbreak. Dallas’ efforts were all for naught, and though Dirk’s absence provides a convenient scapegoat, the message here makes no mention of fighting valiantly. Rather, the point is this: Although the Mavs have come so far in terms of their defense and clutch execution, this is still a work in progress. This is still a team that has plenty to learn from a game that has plenty to teach, and regardless of just how high you’ve climbed, every game has the potential to be a humbling experience.
J.J. Barea was instrumental in keeping this game competitive. He finished with 23 points on 8-15 shooting, with his couple of turnovers balanced by some pretty timely shots.
The Mavs and the Rockets shot an identical 8 of 20 from three, but you would have never guessed it based on their impact. Each Maverick long ball was powerful, but the Rockets’ makes were of monumental importance. Brooks’ final shooting numbers (8 for 20 from the field) may not be sterling, but that man is a master of the momentum-killing three-pointer.
Jason Kidd didn’t have a great defensive night, but he does so many things for the Mavs when he’s on the court. His work out of the post against Brooks gave the Mavs a fighting chance in overtime, and though the Dallas offense was anything but smooth, Kidd still contributed with 11 rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, and two blocks.
The Rockets killed the Mavs with their ability to quickly shift into the transition game, and only when the Mavs began to counter the fast break did they make any headway whatsoever.
Kyle Lowry was sensational. Seriously.
The Mavs tried their hand at some zone, with mixed results. It seemed to at least slow down the Rockets, but the Mavs surrendered too many offensive rebounds because of the lack of box-out accountability. On top of that, David Andersen (16 points) and Luis Scola (19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) have the range to be zone busters, and Lowry and Brooks were able to lure away chunks of the zone to leave jumpers open for the taking.
Emotions were running high as the Mavs put pressure on the Rox late in this one. A tech for Jason Kidd and David Andersen for a little scuffle, two Ts on Erick Dampier (one for the alleged elbow, and another for Damp breaking his usually stoic demeanor to argue a non-call), two Ts on Rick Carlisle, and one T to the talkative Josh Howard.
Shawn Marion really put the shackles on Kevin Durant the other night, but this may have been an even more impressive defensive performance. He wasn’t quite as consistent, but he made huge defensive plays with the game hanging in the balance.
Dirk Nowitzki is considered questionable for Sunday due to the deep lacerations in his elbow, and Carl Landry will see a surgeon tomorrow.
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.”
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.
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.
“It is the direction and not the magnitude which is to be taken into consideration.”
The Dallas Mavericks have the nerve to treat basketball like a game. Some nights, they’ll sprint out to a big lead and take a breather, just because they can. Others, they’ll tie Dirk Nowitzki’s hands behind his back just to see what happens. And when they’re really in a sporting mood, they’ll do both, cough up turnovers at twice their usual rate, and laugh as the mayhem unfolds.
We’ve seen it happen against the Jazz, the Rockets, the Pistons, the Bucks, the Spurs, the Kings, the Sixers, the Suns, the Bobcats, and as of last night, the Hornets. Whereas Chris Paul was once a reminder of everything the Mavericks were not (quick, young, and ruthless), for 48 minutes he was merely a plaything. A plaything that managed 20 points, 16 assists, and five steals, but one still trapped within the confines of the Mavericks’ game.
It’s not as if Dallas had complete control, but perhaps that’s what keeps a veteran team like the Mavs intrigued with the possibilities. Rather than eliminate the suspense by taking care of business, Dallas insists on flaunting their vulnerability. The offense falls off track, the pick and roll defense breaks down, and the rebounding effort disappears. It’s so clever a ruse that even the Mavs themselves are fooled into desperation, a desperation that only fuels the comeback fire of their opponents. What was once a safe victory is now a matter of clutch execution and timing. Dirk Nowitzki unleashes his wrath, as every jab step and pump fake is like an expertly planned chess move. Jason Kidd rules the floor with his precision, placing every pass exactly where it needs to be and playing the angles on defense. And Jason Terry bides his time, licking his chops at the chance to rip a team’s heart out.
These, ladies and gents, are the 2009-’10 Dallas Mavericks. They want you to think you have a chance, and they’re ready to break your spirit.
Aside from the Mavs’ victory-sealing plays and their explosive first quarter, it’s hard to pick out the positives. J.J. Barea (23 points, 10-13 FG) was stunning in his ability to maneuver through traffic and finish over the Hornets’ bigs. It’s obvious to say that without those 23, the Mavs fall way short, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Each of those buckets was crucial to keeping the team above water, and considering no other Mav was performing at anywhere near their typical offensive efficiency, that carries even more weight than usual.
The Maverick collective carried the weight in the first quarter, but when the free-flowing offense began to break down, it became obvious that someone needed to step up and hit baskets. Barea did more than his share. Jason Terry chipped in as well, with a much-needed but very mortal 12 points. Then Josh Howard took over for a few possessions, providing a cool 14 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting.
But each of those stretches of solo scoring only helped disguise the fact that the Mavs’ offense was pretty woeful. The final numbers don’t paint an accurate picture, as it took three quarters of sandbagging to bring down the Mavs’ epic start. A brutally efficient 35-point first quarter (and an even more efficient 22-5 run) will work wonders on a stat sheet, even if Dallas followed up such a performance with a sour offense and turnovers of every variety. That’s the real story of what held the Maverick offense to just 94 points despite a 59.4% eFG. Chris Paul and the Hornets get all the credit in the world for playing excellent pressure defense and forcing those turnovers, not to mention converting them into easy points. Howard (5 TOs), Terry (4), and Dampier (4) each racked up surprising totals, and what could have been a solid offensive night was instead a parade of bobbled passes, sloppy drives, and failed communication.
So Dirk scored 10 points (on 4-11 shooting, no less), the offense failed to compensate, and the Mavs still won. When finely tuned, the Dallas defense is absolutely smothering, and though it may not have seemed that way when Darius Songaila (12 points in 11 minute, 6-6 FG) went hog wild in the fourth quarter, it’s literally what won the game for Dallas. Dirk and Kidd’s performance in the clutch (they were responsible for 16 of the Mavs’ 23 in the final frame, and nine of the last 11) may have put the Mavs over the top for good, but they’re not even in a position to do so without a pretty impressive defensive effort. It wasn’t always consistent, but it was good enough.
For the first time I can remember, Dirk Nowitzki (-4) and Jason Terry (-1) both finished with net negatives for the evening in terms of +/- . The Maverick high (and game high) was Shawn Marion’s +15, despite Marion’s limited box score contributions (10 points, just 2 rebounds) otherwise. Gotta love his D.
Drew Gooden must have done something to get on Rick Carlisle’s bad side, because he played just seven minutes last night. Kris Humphries even played eight, despite falling out of the rotation as of late. Rodrigue Beaubois, Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, and James Singleton all received DNP-CDs.
After scoring the game’s first basket, the Hornets never led. The Mavs built up a 21-point lead, and managed to tread water the rest of the way (especially in the second half, where they were outscored by just two despite their limited offense.)
The Mavs didn’t commit a single foul in the first. They also didn’t shoot a single free throw in the second or third.
Despite his turnovers, Erick Dampier is still looking good. It wasn’t a big statistical night for Damp, but his moves are as quick as ever and his defense is game-changing.
The clincher for the Mavs was a beautiful inbounds play that had three Mavs in the backcourt, Jason Kidd on the trigger, and Dirk Nowitzki in the front court covered by James Posey. Dirk pushed off a bit to create a little space, juked left and went right, and ended up with the ball directly in his hands for a layup attempt with just 20 seconds left. The Mavs’ two point advantage at that point was boosted to a much safer four, and though it’s likely that Dallas could have secured two on the inevitable free throws (remember, only 20 seconds remaining), the Mavs’ last encounter with the Hornets taught them not to take those makes for granted.
Speaking of, Jason Terry got another chance to ice the game, with the Mavs up two yet again with 12 seconds remaining. Last time around, JET left the door open for Peja Stojakovic to hit a big 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. This time around, Terry calmly walked to the line and buried any chance the Hornets had of a comeback.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to J.J. Barea. An argument could be made for Jason Kidd and his heady play, but this was one of the best scoring nights of Barea’s young career. It’s nice to have a back-up point guard step in to run your offense, but J.J. succeeded in an entirely different role last night. As the placeholder at shooting guard until Josh Howard is healthier, it’s Barea’s prerogative to attack, attack, attack, and he was both fearless and emphatic in that regard last night. Plus, Barea played some terrific defense on Chris Paul in the first quarter, holding him to just four points on 2-5 shooting with one turnover for the opening frame. It’s Barea’s time to shine, so it would be cruel of me not to give J.J. his due.
Drew Gooden insists that his big game against the Spurs wasn’t a personal statement (via Tim MacMahon): “Not at all…From the day I got there to the day I left, I knew it was all business. That’s a great group of guys over there. I enjoyed playing with them and trying to make a playoff run with those guys. …But this is a business. I had to move on. Now, I switched sides to the team that beat us. Spurs fans don’t like it too much, but it wasn’t my choice.” That last sentence may sound strange, but Drew has a very valid point, one that I wish Mavs fans would have taken to heart in 2006. The Spurs decided to move in a different direction, and chose not to re-sign Gooden. In the same vein, the Mavs decided to move in a different direction, and chose to cut Michael Finley. Considering the circumstances, does it really make sense to declare either a turncoat? Especially Finley, whose years of playing his ass off for a miserable Dallas team were forgotten with a quick change of clothes?
Dirk Nowitzki, on the difference between this year’s start and last year’s start (via Art Garcia): “Last year coming into camp, after Avery, we focused so much on offense, opening up the offense, let [Jason] Kidd run a lot of stuff…This year we said screw that. We’re going to do all defense. We worked a lot of defense and it’s really paid off early, but now the offense is slacking a little bit.”
It’s difficult to protect players from their bad habits. Yesterday Humphries was complaining about how yet another scrum with the media was keeping him from a more attractive destination: the fast-food joint where he intended to procure a delicacy known as The Baconator before a flight to Indianapolis for a game with the Pacers. The club had laid out the usual healthy post-practice buffet for its players in an effort to keep them from just such a dietary choice, but Humphries said he didn’t care for the team-endorsed pork chops.
As such, it’s my understanding that some of Humphries’ cult following have dubbed him “Baconator.” Not bad as far as nicknames go, I must say.