At the Summit, or Close Enough

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 25, 2011 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Tyson Chandler made a radio appearance yesterday with Mason & Ireland of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, and gave his own respectable, respectful take on the lockout and its proceedings. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a thoughtful player like Chandler, and his lockout comments are worth a listen (or a read, via Sports Radio Interviews).

Yet what interested me about Chandler’s radio spot was his tackling of a fairly routine question posed to him by the show’s co-hosts, regarding his determination of the league’s best player. Here was Chandler’s response:

“I would go with Dirk. It’s funny, I tweeted about it and I’ve been catching the same flack about it. But I feel it’s proven by what he did last year, what he did to the Lakers, what he did to Oklahoma City, what he did in the Finals, throughout the whole playoffs Dirk just became a man possessed. He went to a whole other level offensively. People talk about what he did defensively, but he actually stepped it up better during the playoffs last year and became a better team defender. And my whole thing is if you outscore the guy defending you by 10 to 15 points, then you’re playing pretty good D.”

Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA? Not quite. LeBron James — even after a disappointing series in the Finals — should still rank as the NBA’s top contributor, and Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul all have legitimate claims over Nowitzki. Generally, the #ESPNRank project was right on the money in its assessment of the top five NBA players; Nowitzki still showed incredibly well at No. 5, but he’s still a bit removed from status as the league’s absolute best.

That said, Nowitzki is dominant enough that Chandler’s opinion isn’t considered absolutely absurd. One would expect Chandler to get his teammate’s back here; I doubt I need to remind anyone that Dallas recently won the NBA title, largely due to Nowitzki’s ability to anchor the offense and contribute on defense. Considering Dirk’s playoffs performance — the most recent NBA basketball we’ve seen, mind you — Chandler’s perspective is completely understandable. The logic isn’t flawless, mind you, but Nowitzki is in an elite class that can be noted as the NBA’s best without being met with incredulity. Dirk is that good, and with trophy in hand — a foolish reason to finally acknowledge Nowitzki’s success, but alas — the entire basketball-loving world has finally recognized it.

But my question in light of Chandler’s response is this: at what point is a great player’s teammate not “obligated,” (in some sense of the word) to throw out their colleague’s name in these discussions? I’m sure plenty of Mavs would cite Dirk as the league’s best considering the postseason he just had, just as I’m sure that many Magic players would name Howard, many Hornets players would glorify Paul, or virtually every Bulls player would cite Derrick Rose. The same would undoubtedly be true for Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But would a Clipper really introduce Blake Griffin into this discussion? Would a knick put Carmelo Anthony toe-to-toe with the best in the business? Who exactly can be included in this group worthy of coworker endorsement, and where is the brightline for teammate stumping? Or, to put it another way: which players are worthy of being in the “best NBA player” discussion, even if only as a function of reasonability?

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 105, Miami Heat 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 15, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-06-15 at 4.52.21 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas91.0115.456.714.625.015.4
Miami104.452.127.823.117.6

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • In professional sports, panic is easy. Identifying worries and overreacting to them quickly is the path of least resistance, false adjustments that feign activity. Throughout their entire playoff run, the Mavericks never were tempted into that panic; they took their path every time, even when the win-loss binary told them that path was faulty. Rick Carlisle never pushed a button for pushing’s sake, nor did any of the Mavs attempt to drastically alter their approaches in an effort to counter some real or perceived problem. They just ran their stuff. They ran their stuff in the house and with a mouse, they ran their stuff here, and there, and anywhere. They ran it in a box and with a fox, and then they skipped the green eggs and just went ham. True commitment to a system or strategy often seems a lot easier than it is (case in point: Miami’s willingness to abandon their pick-and-roll game with a single kick-ball in the fourth quarter of Game 5), and I’m convinced that perseverance within their system is among the most crucial reasons for Dallas’ first ever NBA title. Carlisle could have easily rewritten the book after Game 1 of the Finals, or drastically changed his team’s defensive strategy once Dwyane Wade began to really go nuts. He didn’t and the Mavericks thrived from the strength of their minor, precise adjustments.
  • Strictly as an observer, I haven’t decided whether there was more narrative power in the actual outcome of Game 6 or in an alternate reality where Dirk Nowitzki finished the series as dominant as ever. Both are suitable finales, but there would have been a clearly established satisfaction in seeing Nowitzki grab the Larry O’Brien trophy by its personified throat. That wasn’t quite the way it turned out, but is that a fair conclusion to the tale of Nowitzki’s historically incapable supporting cast, or an anticlimactic finish for the man who always did it all?
  • Tyson Chandler scored five points and grabbed eight rebounds in Game 6, and I still wouldn’t have been opposed to him being named the Finals MVP. Nowitzki was an offensive juggernaut in the Finals, but Chandler was the primary deterrent against a formidable Heat offense. He wasn’t an anchor, but a pillar; Dallas unveiled a beautifully crafted defensive structure in the Finals, and though Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion really brought it together, Chandler was the critical support that allowed the entire thing to exist in the first place. (Plus, offensive rebounding was pegged as a definitive Heat strength going into the Finals, and yet the Mavs won the offensive rebounding rate battle in three of the six games. That’s essentially all Chandler.)
  • For the record, my mom, soothsayer that she is, predicted that the Mavs would win the title this season. Then again, she’s said the same thing every season since 2000, so I guess hat makes her 100% right this year, and about 9% right overall. Still, even grasping at straws deserves a tip of the hat, so long as she gets the straw.
  • J.J. Barea (15 points, 7-12 FG, five assists) was unbelievable. It seems like it’s been ages since I was forced to defend Barea’s presence by outlining his unique strengths within the context of this team, but in reality, Barea was painted as a scapegoat as recently as a few months ago. He’s come a long way in terms of focus and efficiency, mind you, but the strength of his game is the same: Barea’s handle, speed, and creativity give him an inlet to the basket that few players are able to access. Barea has made clear his intent to stay with the team that unearthed him, but strange things can happen in free agency. If Barea ends up on another team’s roster, Dallas will be the worse for it.
  • There’s always room for more in Maverick Nation, and in principle, I’m not opposed to accepting refugee fans from other teams that have been bounced in the playoffs. Still, I won’t miss the bile. I won’t miss the abject hatred. I won’t miss the inescapable stink clouding what was a brilliant series with a fantastic ending. Fans are free to love or hate whoever they’d like, but the way they conduct themselves can always disgust me, even if their agency doesn’t.
  • DeShawn Stevenson dropped nine points, as did Eddie House. Brian Cardinal had three, and Ian Mahinmi four. In the closing game of the NBA Finals. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
  • Oh, there’s this cat named Jason Terry — he’s turned the pull-up jumper in transition into an art form, and was the dynamic offensive star Dallas badly needed to finish out the series. Terry (27 points, 11-16 FG, 3-7 3FG) has been maligned as any Maverick over the years, and to an extent he’s deserved the criticism. His defense used to be quite poor. In the past, Terry’s offensive contributions could be teched against too easily, leaving Nowitzki to carry the entirety of the scoring burden on his own. But this year’s offense wasn’t Nowitzki-and-JET-dependent so much as it utilized both as investments in the system. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and previously, Caron Butler, rounded out the offense and balanced the floor. No player benefited more from Dallas’ offensive flow than Terry, who was able to finally benefit from the creation of others. Just having Kidd set up Terry was never enough; the entire offense had an oddly stable codependency, in which Kidd needed Nowitzki, Terry, a more involved Marion, and Chandler to really do what he does best, and each of those players needed one another in order to create the perfect swing to their offense.
  • LeBron James didn’t perform as he could have or should have, and yet somehow, I don’t think anyone in Dallas really minds all that much. James has been story 1A in the postseason’s aftermath, but frankly, I was more taken by how Dallas held Dwyane Wade to 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting (with five turnovers) in Game 6. Wade’s injury likely played a part in his underwhelming line, but the Mavs used some quick doubles to chase him out of his comfort zones. Wade in the post had been the most consistently effective weapon for either team all series long, and yet the Mavs were able to completely neutralize it in Game 6 while keeping the rest of Wade’s game in check and keeping LeBron James producing on a reasonable level.
  • Do you believe it yet?

A Beautiful Construction

Posted by Ian Levy on under Commentary | 5 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-15 at 2.30.32 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Even with two days to process the end of the NBA Finals, I’m still in amazement. I’m amazed at what happened and how it happened. Most of all, I’m amazed at the composure displayed by the Mavericks’ throughout the series. At no point did they allow the circumstances to change what they intended to do or how they intended to do it. Inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup was not a rash decision or a frantic pushing of buttons. It was a calculated move that changed nothing except when certain player combinations were utilized. In a moment of weakness, I told my wife before Game 6 that I thought Dirk Nowitzki would need to score 40 for the Mavericks to win. Even after all I had watched the Mavericks accomplish this season, by constantly moving the ball until an open shot materialized, I still felt that at some point said formula would fizzle out, that it wouldn’t be enough to push them to their ultimate goal. The Mavericks were able to win, because for several stretches, Dirk Nowitzki was clearly the best player on the floor, and accomplished it without dominating the ball. I kept waiting for the “Dirk needs to touch the ball on every possession” offense, but it never happened. The Mavericks’ attack never wavered from their template, and they consistently got the job done.

Equal to my amazement at what the Mavericks were able to accomplish, has been my frustration at how the series is being described by many in the media. I was particularly infuriated by a post-game discussion between Magic Johnson and Mike Wilbon; both described the Mavericks’ victory as 10 players beating 3. Even as a Mavericks’ fan, I find that characterization incredibly offensive. In the most literal sense, this was a case of 11 beating 10, the actual number of players used by each team. To describe the Heat as a three-man team is unbelievably demeaning to the efforts of their entire roster. It’s true that their team is constructed so that the majority of their offensive production will come from LeBron, Wade and Bosh. It’s true that the Mavericks received greater contributions from a larger variety of players. But there is more — much more — to the Miami Heat than just those three players. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem both had strong performances across the Finals. The Mavericks victory was an example of one team beating another. Every player, on both teams, had a hand in pushing their team to the NBA Finals.

The thing I think is most important to understand, is that this is true, independent of the outcome. Even if Miami had won the series, it still would have been a case of one team beating another, not a case of three star players overwhelming a patchwork arrangement of very good players. The Heat and the Mavericks were each built in different ways, but they are both teams, with five players on the floor at a time and seven reserves on the bench. The Mavericks’ victory is a victory for their players, organization and fans, not a victory for a template of roster assembly. They won because, for six games, they were the better team; not that their methods or motivations were more pure or virtuous.

Before the Finals started I wrote that this series represented a chance at redemption for several Mavericks players, ones who had no personal involvement with the letdown in 2006. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic each achieved a goal they’ve been chasing for years. I hope that this championship was made sweeter for each by the way the playoffs unfolded and the title was earned. A championship on a player’s resume is often viewed as tainted if it was won in mercenary style by an aging veteran. Kidd, Marion and Stojakovic each earned their jewelry; they didn’t sign with a team only to provide vocal support from the end of the bench. They may have had to change teams (in some cases several times) to win their first championship, but they didn’t tag along or catch a ride on anyone’s coattails. The Mavericks simply aren’t in the Finals, let along raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, without the contributions of those three.

Most of my contributions to The Two Man Game this seen have been statistical in focus and flavor. I’ll leave you with a few statistical nuggets to chew on over the summer.

  • DeShawn Stevenson was absolutely lights out in the Finals, making 13 of 23, or 56.6% of his three-pointers. Who could have possible seen that coming? Oh, that’s right. I did.
  • Brendan Haywood’s injury opened up a hole in the Mavericks’ frontcourt rotation — a hole that was filled admirably by Brian Cardinal. He gave Dallas 30.3 minutes in the series, over which they outscored the Heat 71-68.
  • Tyson Chandler has received plenty of well-deserved praise for his efforts in the Finals. His performance, particularly on the offensive glass, was remarkable. When he was out of the game Dallas rebounded just 18.6% of their own misses. When Chandler was on the floor that number jumped to 27.0%.
  • One of John Hollinger’s Finals recaps mentioned that one of the reasons the Mavericks pursued Rick Carlisle was that statistical studies showed he had a tendency to give the most minutes to the most effective lineups. Seems like an obvious idea, perhaps one someone should have shared with Jim O’Brien. I wanted to see if that held true for the Finals. The easiest way to do this was to a run a correlation between the Net Rating for each unit and the number of minutes they played together. However, this creates some sample size problems for units that only played together briefly. To weight the totals I just multiplied the Net Rating for each unit by the minutes played, then ran a correlation between that total and the minutes played. The Mavericks had a 0.692 correlation between the effectiveness of the unit and their minutes played. For the Heat it was a -0.177. Saying Carlisle managed his rotations well is a huge understatement.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to write about the Dallas Mavericks this season at The Two Man Game. I’m a Pacers’ fan at heart, and adopting the Mavericks with Rob’s invitation to start contributing here, felt strangely unnatural. However, watching a team on a nightly basis gives you an appreciation and attachment that can be gained no other way. I’m thrilled for the Mavericks organization. They earned everything they’ve accomplished this season, and it was a joy to watch. I’m also thrilled for Mavericks’ fans, a group of which I am proud to be a part of.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 112, Miami Heat 103

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 10, 2011 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-10 at 11.10.59 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas86.0130.265.930.412.912.8
Miami119.858.630.029.018.6

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • One more. That’s all that stands between Dallas and the prize the Dallas Mavericks were never supposed to win, between Dirk Nowitzki and the validation that players like him supposedly didn’t have in them to secure. The Mavs’ insane shooting performance was an outlier, but one that has changed the series and can never be reversed. One could yap all day about sustainability, but nothing in that chatter can reverse what has been stone, or push Dallas from the brink of the title. There’s still so much left to be accomplished — stealing another game in Miami will be no easy feat — but Dallas’ versatility should give them reason for optimism. This was the first game in the Finals when the Mavericks actually shot well, and though plenty of that shooting was against good defensive coverage, there is value in the fact that two wins were earned without consistently competent offense. The Mavs can’t again afford the defensive breakdowns they suffered in Game 5, but they likely won’t have to. Dallas will tweak and adjust. Rick Carlisle will have them ready to roll, and iron out the wrinkles. They haven’t won their championship yet, but they’ll be ready to close in Miami, and the defense will undoubtedly execute at the level we’ve come to expect.
  • The Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense will have to improve. Miami finally started hitting the roll man in the fourth quarter — either directly or through a preliminary pass to the other big — and Dallas really struggled to contest that action with such heavy pressure being committed to Miami’s ball-handlers. The Mavs have the right idea in walling off Dwyane Wade and LeBron James as they come around screens, but that kind of coverage naturally leaves the roll man open as a release. Dallas has been great about covering that roll man and the other big simultaneously, but that pick-and-roll action broke through for Miami in a big way down the stretch. Dirk Nowitzki, who has quietly had a tremendous defensive series, really struggled in that regard. Tyson Chandler does a fantastic job of hedging Wade and James away from drives, but Nowitzki has to be able to cover the back line when he does so.
  • J.J. Barea continued the playoff run of his life, albeit after a few hiccups. Say what you will about his height, but when Barea is able to tuck behind screens and connect on his threes, he’s an insanely tough cover. Once that shot starts to go, the middle of the floor tends to open up even more for Barea, and in Game 5 he was able to penetrate and create great looks time and time again. Barea very nearly usurped Jason Terry’s sacred role as a closer, but was pulled, and Terry went on to hit several big shots down the stretch. I guess J.J. will have to settle for merely being the unstoppable force that pushed the Mavs to the brink of the NBA title with his ability to create off the dribble, his fantastic shooting, and his smart decision making.
  • Dwyane Wade is injured, but on that matter I share an opinion with Jason Terry; when Wade is on the floor, he’s a threat. Period. He may be ailing, but he’s still plenty capable of torching the Mavs, and he scored 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter to prove it. I’m sure that whatever Wade is experiencing with his hip isn’t pleasant, but basketball fans should know the terrors that Wade can bring for opposing teams. The Heat have their backs against the wall, Wade will have time for treatment and recovery, and Dwyane Wade is still Dwyane Wade. His offensive performance in this game was nothing to scoff at, and Game 6 will only bring more drives, more shots, and more defense to contend with.
  • Brendan Haywood was again inactive, and Tyson Chandler again managed to stay on the floor and function as one of the Mavs’ best players. Chandler only scored two points in the second half, but he finished with 11 overall, a product of his aggressive rolls to the rim and ability to make himself into a big, accessible target. Chandler’s teammates fully understand just how much of an offensive weapon he can be, and though Miami attacked Dallas’ pick-and-roll action effectively in the second half, I shouldn’t need to preach the value of that forced adjustment. Chandler’s success opened up more room for Nowitzki, Barea, and Terry, and conveniently exemplified Chandler’s underrated offensive impact. The fact that Dallas consistently performs better offensively with Chandler on the floor is no coincidence; he may not be a threat to go to work from the low block, but Chandler creates legitimate opportunities just by setting hard screens and rolling to the rim.
  • Much has been (and will forever be) made of LeBron James’ alleged disappearance in this series, but I thought he had a rather decent performance in Game 5. The Finals just aren’t a stage conducive to decent performances, and with a player of James’ standout caliber, we expect better. It’s not absurd to expect James to be the best player on the floor, and from that perspective — the one he’s created by being the best in most every other setting but this one — James has surely disappointed. Still, let’s not lump James’ Game 5 performance with Game 4; he was hardly transcendent on Thursday night, but he was much more focused offensively than in his infamous Game 4 letdown.
  • On a related note: James was right in his post-game assessment of the Heat’s performance. Miami played well enough to win this game, they just didn’t have a means to counter Dallas’ incredible shooting. The Heat’s defense was unquestionably their weaker link; though LeBron’s numbers may not be as gaudy as we like, it was the defensive breakdowns that led to Chandler dunks, wide open three-pointers, Barea drives, and some oddly open opportunities for Nowitzki. The Mavs’ accuracy — even in the face of good defensive pressure — may have put them over the top, but it was those breakdowns in coverage that led to shots around the rim that really doomed the Heat.
  • Almost 18 combined minutes for Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal, but Dallas survived. Neither of those players is a preferred member of the regular rotation, but the circumstances of the series have dictated that they play. So they play. Mahinmi does his best to function as a substitute Haywood, and Cardinal takes his open shots and tries to get in a position to draw charges. Neither was tremendously successful in Game 5, but they also didn’t kill the Mavs — an underrated value for any situational player. Mahinmi and Cardinal can’t be expected to produce like regulars because they flat-out aren’t regulars; they don’t have the skill nor the experience at this stage to produce as Haywood or Stojakovic potentially could, but they’re the most sensible options with Haywood ruled out and Peja burned out.
  • By the way, Dirk Nowitzki had 29 points on 18 shots. Just thought I’d sneak that in there.

Circumnavigation

Posted by Ian Levy on June 9, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-09 at 9.38.31 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The fact that the Mavericks were able to win two of these first four games is, frankly, remarkable. They’ve posted an Offensive Rating of 100.8 against the Heat compared to their scorching 112.5 mark for the playoffs as a whole. Dirk Nowitzki has shot 50% from the field and the three-point line in the playoffs, but just 43% and 46% against the Heat. Quite literally, the Mavericks saved their season in the last 12 minutes of Game 4. Basketball-Reference’s Win Probability projections gave the Heat a 78.3% chance of winning the entire series after the first three quarters of Game Four. Twelve minutes later their probability projection had dropped to 55.0%.

The Mavericks have basically outplayed the Heat for two stretches – the final 7:14 of Game 2 where they outscored the Heat by 17, and the final 10:11 of Game 4, where they outscored the Heat by 12. Over those 17 and a half minutes they’ve outscored the Heat by 29 points, the rest of the series they’ve been outscored by 24 points. Clearly something different has happened during those two stretches, allowing the Mavericks to thoroughly change the course of the action.

One major culprit would appear to be turnovers. Over those 17 and a half minutes, I counted 30 offensive possessions for the Mavericks, with just two turnovers. That’s a turnover rate (TOR) of 6.7%. Across the rest of the series the Mavericks have turned the ball over 52 times on 309 offensive possessions, for a TOR of 16.8% — an absurdly high percentage of possessions ending in turnovers. No team in the league had a TOR above 15.1% this season, and. only 23 teams in the last two decades have finished a season with a TOR above 16.0%.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Heat have scored 57 points on 48 transition possessions against the Mavericks, or 1.19 points per possession, compared to 0.87 points per possession on all other possession types. Although there have been moments of efficiency, the Heat’s half-court offense has been largely held in check by the Mavericks’ defense. Those transition opportunities, created by a slew of turnovers, have often been the catalyst for Heat runs. During the first four games, the Heat have had four separate runs where they outscored the Mavericks by at least nine points. I approximated the average pace during those Heat runs and arrived at a figure of 90.9. That’s considerably faster than the 85.1 average pace for the entire series. The pace factor for those 17 and a half minutes that the Mavericks dominated in the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 4 was a deliberate 82.7. The Mavs’ turnovers have sped up the pace, led to Heat transition opportunities, put their defense at a distinct disadvantage, and contributed to some of their larger deficits in the series.

We saw similar dynamic in the Western Conference Finals. I won’t guess at which is the chicken and which the egg, but in these playoffs, a slower pace has been tied to efficient offense and overall success for the Mavericks. The Heat are not the Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors - they don’t push the pace just for the sake of pushing the pace. They are more than comfortable in the half-court, and are only looking to run when they have a clear advantage. Those advantages manifest with Mavericks’ turnovers. The idea that transition defense can impair the sorcery of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is ludicrous. If the Mavericks want to keep the Heat playing at a speed which limits their offensive effectiveness they need to simply protect the ball.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 86, Miami Heat 83

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 8, 2011 under Recaps | 10 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-06-08 at 11.20.15 AM

Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas82.0104.942.532.929.313.4
Miami101.244.022.734.115.9

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Rick Carlisle tweaked his rotation, and the three Mavs involved — J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-9 FG, four assists), DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-7 3FG), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-12 FG, four rebounds) — each had their best games of the series as a result. Not only has Carlisle done a great job of balancing a micro-managing style with the release of control (when he lets the Mavs “just play basketball,” or execute their “flow game,”), but he’s pressed the right buttons in every damn series thus far. Starting Barea as a means to eliminate Peja Stojakovic from the rotation while still keeping Brian Cardinal’s minutes down was actually rather inspired, and though Barea hadn’t really played well in the first three games of the Finals, he was able to accomplish some good things in Game 4 — even as he shot just 3-of-9 from the field. If Carlisle was given the option for Barea to get the same looks and same penetration again in Game 5, I think he’d take it in a heartbeat; Barea worked to create quality shots, but makes just weren’t in the cards this time. Stevenson played an effective game, too, so long as we forget about his horrible, bone-headed foul on Chris Bosh. His 11 points and ability to space the floor were invaluable considering Dirk Nowitzki’s limitations, and Stevenson was an active participant in the zone defense that shut Miami down in the fourth quarter. And then we come to Marion, who had his third game in the series with 16 or more points, and accomplished that much in just 26 minutes — by far his lowest minute total for the Finals. Dallas had leaned too heavily on Marion in the first three games of the series, and while 26 minutes will hardly be the norm from here on out, we should expect more reasonable levels of playing time than the 41+ minutes Marion played in Games 2 and 3.
  • Dallas continued in their remarkable defense against LeBron James (eight points, 3-11 FG, nine rebounds, seven assists, four turnovers), but what of Dwyane Wade ()? There’s only so much one can do to curtail scorers in isolation, especially those with the handle, speed, and vision that Wade almost unfairly possesses. He can get himself out of trouble so quickly that overt doubling presents serious problems, and yet the Mavs’ man defense can only do so much to contain him. I don’t feel like Marion, Stevenson, and Kidd did a poor job against Wade in Game 4; in many cases they played him well, and Tyson Chandler was there with the help. Wade is just too damn good at what he does, and he torched the Mavs to the tune of 32 points on 20 shots. Wade very nearly deflected some of the ill will aimed at LeBron for his horribly underwhelming performance, but a loss is a loss, and when the Heat are downed it’s often James that’s left to answer for it. I’d be very interested to see how the shift in the narrative had Wade made a single free throw or made a few more buckets, but Dallas winning with clutch execution while Wade shorts a freebie comes with its own narrative power.
  • Tyson Chandler (13 points, 16 rebounds, nine offensive boards) was a monster, and while plenty will praise him for his relentlessness, I’ve come to praise him for his restraint. Dallas has only remained competitive in this series because of Chandler, and more specifically, because Chandler has avoided foul trouble. The offensive rebounds and put-backs are fantastic, but they’re products of Chandler being on the floor in the first place, something which should in no way be assumed. Carlisle will play Chandler if he can, but foul trouble placed an artificial limit on Chandler’s minutes all season long, and was expected to play a role in one playoff series or another. It hasn’t. Whether defending LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum, or Pau Gasol — or somehow protecting the rim from the likes of Wade and James while guarding Bosh — Chandler has kept his fouls down and stayed in the game. Chandler played 43 minutes of fully charged basketball on Tuesday night, and though his motor deserves unending praise, I’m more impressed than ever with Chandler’s ability to cut down on those tempting cheap fouls that got him in trouble so often.

The Difference: Miami Heat 88, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 6, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-06-06 at 11.26.43 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas83.0103.645.731.430.816.9
Miami106.048.715.423.112.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Don’t call it a miraculous comeback. All Dallas did was play, and though they spotted Miami points here and there, it’s not as if they were horrid — even at their worst. The difference between the bumbling Mavs and those blazing the comeback trail was actually fairly thin; hitting the defensive glass and taking care of the ball was all it took for Dallas to give themselves a chance in this game, and so it will be for the remainder of the series. Miami is a great team, but they’re not the only great team in this year’s NBA Finals. Provided that Dallas stays away from their bad habits, we should be heading for at least a few more amazing, highly competitive games with singular displays of greatness and brilliant collective execution. The micro and macro battles between Dallas’ offense and Miami’s defense have been absolutely phenomenal, but the other end of the court deserves its due; the Mavs have played some terrific team defense in their efforts to limit LeBron James, and though Dwyane Wade hasn’t been hindered in the same way (as evidenced by the fact that he had a monster game on Sunday night), slowing the MVP enough to create a balanced series is a significant accomplishment. Dallas — specifically Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki (yes, Dirk Nowitzki) — has played some incredible defense to halt Miami’s high pick-and-rolls in the same way that the Heat defense has halted theirs, and though that side of the court doesn’t come with the same loaded result of an elite offense facing off against an elite defense, both teams have created a reasonable facsimile. Maybe Dallas isn’t elite on D and perhaps Miami’s limitations prevent them from being a truly elite offensive team, but both teams have played at such a high level in this series that those designations are meaningless. All we have is the here and the now, and both Dallas and Miami are playing terrific basketball in an incredible series.
  • Figuring out why the Mavericks lost this game requires an analysis that exceeds the limitations of a single bullet point, so with the acknowledgment that my task here is somewhat futile, I’ll offer a bite-sized element that nonetheless factored prominently into the outcome of Game 3: Dirk’s defensive rebounding. Nowitzki’s extraordinary shot-making, Wade’s magnificence, and Chris Bosh’s heroics will take center stage, but this game wouldn’t have been what it was if not for Nowitzki making a deliberate, concentrated effort to clean the defensive glass beginning mid-way through the second quarter. The Heat were still able to grab their share of offensive boards, but thanks to Nowitzki’s efforts to secure contested rebounds — and Chandler’s relentless drive to collect offensive boards — the Mavs were able to win the rebounding rate battle. It’s one of the influences on the game that will be undoubtedly overlooked because it doesn’t support the cause of the victor or explain the shortcomings of the loser, but Nowitzki’s rebounding work was one of many reasons why Game 3 was so enjoyable and competitive.

Regression to the Mean

Posted by Ian Levy on June 5, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Shame on me.

I left the establishment where I was watching Game 2, just after Dwyane Wade hit a three pointer to put the Heat up by 15 with 7:13 left in the 4th Quarter. I had to follow one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history on the radio as I drove home. Although I didn’t get to see it live, there’s something to be said for great sports moments on the radio. Receiving auditory input only somehow seems to heighten the tension…Yeah, I’m not buying it either. I’m an idiot. If you’re too disgusted to keep reading, I completely understand.

Depending on the media outlet, the Mavericks’ Game 2 victory was either an epic comeback, or an epic collapse. I really do appreciate those who are covering it accurately as both. The Mavericks’ scored the points they needed to close the gap, the Heat couldn’t extend or even protect their lead. The Mavericks raised their game on both sides of the ball, a feat that happily coincided with the Heat easing off the throttle. Most of the attention on the Heat following Game 2 has been focused on their failure to score down the stretch; an offense that had been steaming ahead smoothly, suddenly came off the rails. Here are the results of each offensive possession by the Heat over the last 7:13:

  • Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
  • Mario Chalmers misses 25-foot three point jumper
  • LeBron James misses driving layup
  • Chris Bosh misses 21-foot jumper
  • LeBron James makes 2 free throws
  • LeBron James misses 16-foot jumper
  • Chris Bosh out of bounds lost ball turnover
  • Udonis Haslem misses 15-foot jumper
  • LeBron James misses 26-foot three point jumper
    Dwyane Wade offensive rebound
    LeBron James misses 25-foot three point jumper
    Udonis Haslem offensive rebound
    Udonis Haslem bad pass (Jason Terry steals)
  • Dwyane Wade misses 24-foot three point jumper
  • Mario Chalmers makes 24-foot three point jumper (LeBron James assists)
  • Dwyane Wade misses 28-foot three point jumper

Obviously, anyone complaining about the Heat’s shot selection and lack of interior attempts over that stretch has a point. By my count, there were two turnovers, two free throws, a layup attempt, three long two-point attempts, and seven three-point attempts. The last two three-point attempts can probably be excused as one was a wide-open game tying try and the other a heave at the buzzer, but even when taking away those two attempts, the Mavericks’ defense deserves credit and the Heat offense deserves criticism for their respective performances over that spread.

However, while I can’t condone the Heat’s shot selection, I can — in part — understand it. Up to that point, the Heat were shooting 40.4% on three-pointers for the series. Wade and LeBron,who were responsible for five of those six missed three-pointers, had shot spectacularly well from beyond the arc. James had made six of his 10 three-point attempts for the series, and Wade had made four of eight. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 55.6% shooting on three-pointers from a pair that combined to shoot 32.0% during the regular season.

The Heat should take some heat for their shot selection, but they were missing shots that had been going in for the previous 88 minutes of Finals game time. Part of rooting on Wade and LeBron is living with some ill-advised jumpshots. If you’ll pardon a second pun dropped in this single paragraph: they are the kings of the heat check. They make outlandish shots better than just about anyone, but they’re still rely heavily on outlandish shots and sometimes they don’t go in. Luckily for the Mavericks, Wade and LeBron chose an inopportune time to regress to the mean.

A few other points which seem to have been glossed over in the national discussion:

  • I’m giving myself half a pat on the back today. I went out on a limb in my series preview, saying DeShawn Stevenson should play much better and had an opportunity to have a large impact in the series. The large impact hasn’t quite materialized but Stevenson has been very effective, playing tough defense, grabbing 5 rebounds in just over 36 minutes, and knocking down five of eight threes.
  • As great as Nowitzki’s scoring bursts were down the stretch, he helped put his team in position to steal a win by killing himself on the glass. In Game 1 the Heat had an Offensive Rebound Rate of 34.8%. In Game 2, Dallas held the Heat to an ORR of 16.7%. Much of that credit goes to Nowitzki, who grabbed 9 defensive rebounds in the second half.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 95, Miami Heat 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 3, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0108.052.022.731.420.5
Miami105.753.522.216.713.6

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • It’s hard to fully encapsulate an incredible comeback with a single bullet point — or even two, or seven, for that matter — but these Dallas Mavericks apparently love to see me try. Of all that impresses me about this Mavs team, high on the list is how natural they make feats of extraordinary strength appear. They don’t have the kind of athletic talent that makes highlight reel dunks look easy, but the way they move the ball and find shooters is not normal. Dallas has a truly exemplary offense, and yet you’d never know it as Jason Kidd makes a relatively routine pass to the corner at just the right time, or Tyson Chandler sets a barely legal screen to free up Dirk Nowitzki with enough room to launch an off-balance jumper. Nothing in their equation is ordinary, and yet it’s all instinctive, all reactive, all a product of a team filled with intelligent ball players doing merely what they know to do. Seven minutes is a long time to contend with an offense like that, even for a elite defense. The Heat D is fast and flexible, but nonetheless subject to the mandates of the offense. When Dirk touched the ball, Miami was largely forced to double. When the ball swung this way or that, the Heat were forced to shift to compensate. All of this is a fundamental part of the offense-defense dynamic, but when the freewheeling Mavs dictated everything with their crisp passing and perfect spacing, the Heat can only do so much. That said, they could have gotten one more shot or one more bucket to significantly impact the result of this game. That might make the Mavs’ remarkable comeback win feel serendipitous, but in truth it was simply a process of in-game natural selection. One team adapted over the final few minutes and the other did not, and the power of that sudden evolution was apparently far more potent than a mere 15-point advantage.
  • Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry will get credit for making big plays and huge baskets in the fourth quarter, but Shawn Marion (20 points, 8-13 FG, eight rebounds, three offensive boards, three assists) and Tyson Chandler (13 points, 4-6 FG, seven rebounds, four offensive boards) were the MVPs of this game. For most of the night, Nowitzki and Terry shot incredibly poorly from the field; both finished just shy of .500 shooting for the night, but only after their respective sprints down the stretch of the fourth quarter. Dallas was able to remain competitive — even in spite of a breathtaking performance from Dwyane Wade (36 points, 13-20 FG, six assists, five rebounds) — because Marion weaved through the Heat defense straight to the rim time and time again, and because Chandler worked relentlessly to find the ball or have it find him. These two were the true anchors of the Mavs’ offense, and their combined 33 points on 20 shots doesn’t even do justice to their impact…in part because of the stellar accomplishments of both players on the defensive end. Dallas only came back in such spectacular fashion because they played the pick-and-roll with LeBron as the ball-handler so aggressively, and that doesn’t happen without Tyson Chandler — who was pressuring like mad, despite having five fouls at the time and Brendan Haywood unavailable with a strained right hip flexor — shutting down LeBron’s options. It’s not as if they were only successful defensively at the end of the game; Marion played James to a virtual tie in the box score, and though Marion pulled off a highly efficient offensive night, the key was meeting James in the middle ground. 20 points, eight rebounds, and four assists is still excellent production, but it’s the kind you live with (or even laud) when coming from the best basketball player on the planet. Throw in five turnovers and that’s about as good of a defensive performance as one could hope for against James. That wasn’t all Marion’s doing, but he certainly played his role, and played 41 minutes as a result. That playing time says it all; Marion simply could not be pulled on Thursday night.

Corner Economics

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 2, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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If the Mavs’ zone was indeed busted in Game 1, it was Mario Chalmers who busted it. Dallas didn’t seem to have all that much respect for Chalmers’ offensive ability; whether by design or oversight, ‘Rio found himself wide open in the corners, a cue which led Chalmers to drain a pair of back-breaking three-pointers in the second quarter. Both makes were significant in terms of the game’s momentum, but more simply, they were incredibly efficient opportunities granted to a formidable opponent that needs no favors.

To make matters worse, Miami’s success with the corner three went beyond Chalmers. LeBron James, too, found plenty of open space by spotting up in the weak side corner, as did Mike Miller. The result of those three players’ efforts was 5-of-10 shooting on corner threes in Game 1 alone, a completely unacceptable mark for a team that typically does a stellar job of limiting opponents in one of the most efficient zones on the floor.

According to NBA.com’s StatsCube, the Blazers made just eight corner threes in six first-round games against the Mavs on 28 percent shooting. The Lakers made two corner threes in four games on 12 percent shooting. In the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder made just four corner threes in five games on 33 percent shooting. Chalmers may have been encouraged to take control of the offense, but I find it exceedingly hard to believe that Rick Carlisle and Dwane Casey would so willingly concede one of the most efficient shots in the game, particularly given the defensive emphasis given to the corners in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

That’s why this post began in the conditional; though Miami was able to work well against the Mavs’ zone in Game 1, I see no reason why that particular defense is ‘busted’ or solved. It was bested for a single night, as the Heat took advantage of some poor defensive execution.

“We were playing zone and we didn’t buckle down,” DeShawn Stevenson said. “Those are some adjustments that have to come. We’ll look at tape and find that out. We can’t give those guys shots like that because the corner three’s the easiest shot in the NBA.”

“Our zone’s been good all year. They got some shots that we didn’t want them to get, but our zone is good.”

The zone still created a strong defensive front that denied penetration, and still forced the Heat to settle for some tough shots. It also allowed for corner threes and offensive rebounds, but not purely because of the system’s limitations. The zone isn’t a magic solution that can be employed irrelevant of execution; as is the case with any man-to-man or hybrid defense, precise execution is key. The Mavs were on-point in some regards, but they got careless on the periphery of their zone and paid the price. The problems didn’t occur because Dallas ran a zone, but because they didn’t execute it properly.

“They’re good at attacking the paint,” Brendan Haywood said, “and when teams attack the paint and the ball rotates, sometimes the corner three is what you get. Tonight we gave it up to LeBron, Mike Miller — Chalmers hit a couple. Those things happen, but I feel they can be corrected.”

Part of the perceptual problem is the weird stigma of the zone defense that still endures to this day. Every defensive system has its weaknesses, but the zone’s areas of vulnerability are treated as a death sentence. Every offensive board allowed is an indictment. Every made three is a supposed instigator for change. Many expect a shift back to man-to-man D at the first sign of trouble, even when the zone is successfully walling off the paint and swarming opponents who make interior catches. Defensive breakdowns are simply part of the game, and though the zone is often seen as gimmicky or somehow inferior, it’s merely subject to the same costs that come with defensive letdowns of any kind.