Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Before we all get too riled up about last night’s events, let’s go over one thing, first: the Lakers played pretty poor defense. Good on the Mavs to capitalize, but the story of last night wasn’t Dallas overcoming a titan, but claiming victory over a powerhouse that was a bit off their game. The Mavs deserve credit for their defense in the third quarter, but it’s best not to get carried away with praise for their overall defensive execution, either. Both teams shot and scored well, and the Mavs shot and scored more. A valiant and much-needed win, but no one should be giddy over allowing 120.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas won against an excellent team, and that’s fantastic. But the defense needs to be better.
- And it will be. As Dirk Nowitzki continues to work himself back into game shape and be more and more comfortable on that wobbly knee, his defense will improve. When Tyson Chandler is playing a full game with a clean bill of health (he battled flu-like symptoms last night, and sat out for a portion of the second quarter), the back-line rotations will be crisper. When the team (sans Caron) is back into a rhythm, the elite defense will resurface. These are the kinds of lulls that happen to every team in the regular season, only the Mavs’ recent injuries have acted as a catalyst for their defensive troubles.
- Jasons Kidd and Terry combined for 43 points (on 17-of-27 shooting, and 9-of-14 from three, no less) and 17 assists (with just one turnover). L.A. seemed content to leave Kidd open from three, and for the first time in a millennium, he drained his open looks. Terry was more forceful; he curled away from Derek Fisher, sprung for threes in transition, and triggered his trademarked pull-up game. Sustainability always comes to mind when anyone but Dirk springs for a huge scoring night, and this is hardly the kind of production to which Mavs fans should grow accustomed. That said, it was exceptionally well-timed and hopefully acts as a precursor to a progression toward the mean for Kidd and Terry both.
- Rick Carlisle elected to have Shawn Marion reprise his role coming off the bench, which left an opening in the starting lineup on the wing. He had tried Terry in that slot in the past, with mixed results. J.J. Barea isn’t an option because he needs to run the point for the second unit. Dominique Jones should be in the running, but Carlisle apparently wasn’t too pleased with his play in the wake of Caron Butler’s injury, and has relegated him to mop-up duty. So naturally, the newest Maverick — Sasha Pavlovic, on the last day of his 10-day contract — was thrown into the starting lineup. Crazier, still: it worked. Pavlovic looks good. He defends well, and last night he mad five of his seven shots from the field to finish with 11 points. He doesn’t have any explosive potential, but Pavlovic is a steady, low-usage vet that the Mavs would be wise to keep around.
- As heavily as Carlisle has leaned on Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi this season, he clearly isn’t ready to give either burn against such a productive front line. DNP-CDs for both of the bench bigs.
- Though, as I mentioned before, I think the Mavs deserve credit for their third-quarter run, the substantial turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without Shannon Brown (two points, 1-4 FG, one turnover) and Luke Walton (zero points, 0-5 FG, one turnover). Both players kept the ball away from more capable scorers, and took shots that the Dallas defense was more than willing to give them.
- Shawn Marion (22 points, 10-13 FG, four rebounds) played a fantastic game, but he was more reliant on the Lakers’ lax defense than anyone. Marion exploited the Lakers’ interior D with cuts and post-ups off of switches, and while he should still be able to do the same on most nights against typical opponents, a finely tuned defense can take away those looks far more easily than Terry’s pull-up game or Kidd’s three-pointers. Marion’s presence is still important; defense will be forced to account for him when he dives into the lane or sets up on the block against a smaller opponent. This kind of box score production isn’t Marion’s regular, but his intangible impact can be just as profound on a nightly basis.
- A bit of an oddity: both teams shot so well from the field (62.5 eFG% and 58 eFG% for the Mavs and Lakers respectively) that neither got to the line all that much. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. doesn’t attempt a lion’s share off free throws (they’re a below average team in free throw rate). Still, they get the free throw line about three times as often as they did last night. Defense, officiating, whatever the cause — a bit strange.
- Kidd, Pavlovic, and DeShawn Stevenson (as well as Jason Terry on some zone possessions) all did an admirable job on Kobe Bryant, but it doesn’t matter. He shoots over you, he drives around you, and he finds his teammates. Then he finishes the night with 21 points on 18 shots along with 10 assists, and probably has nightmares about those eight shots he missed and his few giveaways. You don’t need me to tell you, but the man is damn good at what he does.
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“They’re certainly not the protagonists.”
Each Maverick game this season has been but another installment in the team’s plotline. There are ups and downs, triumphs and failures, and hopefully, a terrific climax following the rising action late in the playoffs.
But tonight didn’t feel like a Maverick game. Dallas was merely the backdrop of the latest Laker adventure, with the Mavs thrown out of the spotlight in favor of the night’s true protagonists. They showed resolve. They showed savvy. They fought nobly in the face of adversity, displayed teamwork and fellowship, and prevailed. The Mavs were simply the extras in the background while the celebration ensued, a footnote in the epic being written to log the exploits of the reigning champs.
From the very beginning, it seemed as if Dallas was fighting an uphill battle. The Lakers found plenty of early success by jumping on the back of Andrew Bynum (22 points, 8-11 FG, 11 rebounds). Erick Dampier’s (five points, four rebounds, two turnovers) return was supposed to provide a defensive counter to Bynum’s inside presence, but to no avail. Damp couldn’t slow down Bynum, much less stop him, and the interior D went from bad to worse when Dampier picked up two early fouls. Drew Gooden (eight points, five rebounds) is an able big against second units and small lineups, but against a gifted conventional center like Bynum, he could offer little in the way of resistance. The center rotation couldn’t even balance their poor defense with a bit of offense, leaving the rest of the Mavs to counter Bynum’s efficient night.
The defensive problems hardly stopped there. Ron Artest (16 points, 5-5 FG, 11 rebounds) was a bull inside, exploiting Josh Howard in the post with decisive moves and superior size. But perhaps the biggest slap of all came with the Mavs inability to get stops against the Lakers’ reserves; how is that a team of starters for a would-be contender fails to gain ground against a lineup of Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, and Andrew Bynum? That’s one starter (albeit on this night, a terribly effective one) with two rotation players and two deep reserves, and yet stops were a rarity and easy buckets were nowhere to be found. That is not the kind of team that the Mavs are supposed to struggle against, and though the Lakers’ margin of victory is relatively small, that stretch is surely representative of a larger deficit. The Mavs are struggling.
Kobe Bryant (10 points, two rebounds, one assist) was a virtual non-factor in the first half, as back spasms rendered him an observer on the court. The ball stayed out of his hands, and the Mavs failed to attack him when in the half-court offense. Bryant was matched up Marion, and while Shawn does not have an expansive offensive repertoire, would posting up Bryant be too much to ask? It’s hard for players with hurt backs to guard mobile opponents, but it’s also difficult for them to establish a base, bump, and contest down low. That should have been the Mavs’ primary directive early in the game, but Marion was hardly a factor in Dallas’ first quarter offense.
By the second half, Kobe seemed to be more comfortable. Maybe it was the considerable rest (he didn’t play at all in the second quarter, giving him thirteen minutes of rest in addition to halftime) afforded him by the Laker bench, or perhaps a change in approach by L.A.’s training staff. Or perhaps a recovery of some supernatural nature, a divine right given to the heroes of our story so that they may rise above. Bryant didn’t do much of the heavy lifting, but he managed to suck the air out of American Airlines Center with a go-ahead jumper with 29 seconds remaining. Dirk had just hit the biggest shot of the night to tie the game 95-all, but we should have known that the Mavs were simply setting the stage for their opponents’ victory. Josh Howard later had a chance to send the game to overtime on an open three-pointer, but leather hit nothing but rim. And instead of thinking that the Mavs fell short, all I could think was that the Lakers held on. From the opening tip on, this was their game. It was their story, and they played like it.
- Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 11-22 FG, 16 rebounds, two assists) and Jason Kidd (11 points, 3-8 3FG, seven rebounds, 11 assists) were sensational. But Kidd’s timely threes and Dirk’s heroics couldn’t overcome the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. It was one of those nights where Dirk reminds you of just how fantastic of a player he is, and fittingly so, because Nowitzki notched his 20,000th career point. He’s 38th on the all-time scoring list, and while it’s easy to say that the Dallas Mavericks have never seen another player or scorer like him, I’d venture as far as to say that the NBA hasn’t, either. Dirk is a truly unique talent, a revolutionary, a franchise savior, and one of the best to ever play the game.
- Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, three assists) didn’t offer much support, and the offense stalled because of it. Terry is so crucial to the offensive game plan, and when he’s not providing a scoring punch from the bench (especially on a night where Josh Howard moved into the starting lineup), he doesn’t offer much at all. That’s painful considering just how close the Mavs were to a victory, and when considering that the Lakers’ bench outscored the Mavs’ bench by ten points (31-21).
- Lamar Odom did exactly what the situation called for – he drove to the basket (nine attempts at the rim), set up his teammates (four assists) and hit his open jumpshots (four of five from 16-23 feet). With Kobe stepping into a minor offensive role, somebody needed to use up shots. To Lamar’s credit, he certainly wasn’t passive, and although his 9-20 shooting and three turnovers aren’t terrific in regard to efficiency, it was exactly what the Lakers needed on this night.
- Early in the game, the Mavs made the decision to put Josh Howard on Ron Artest and Shawn Marion on Kobe Bryant. I don’t meant to beat a dead horse here, but the way that Artest was bullying Josh inside made me wonder if Marion couldn’t do a little better job of standing his ground. Shawn is bigger than Josh and a more adept defender in the post, and putting Josh on Kobe would create more transition situations where Kobe is forced to guard Josh. Even if you don’t buy into the idea of Marion being able to punish Kobe in the post, Howard could at least provide offensive pressure on an ailing Bryant.
- Two crucial plays that Rick Carlisle highlighted in his press conference took place at the end of the second and third quarters. To close the second, Ron Artest had a look at a running three-pointer, but Dirk Nowitzki mistimed his jump and ended up fouling with .2 seconds on the clock. Ron sank all three free throws, and what could have been a one-point deficit at halftime was four. Then, to close the third, the Mavs gave up an uncontested three to Jordan Farmar, pushing a two-point deficit to five. Both were pretty glaring mental mistakes, worsened by the fact that the clock was working against the Lakers in those situations, and yet they still found ways to get points.