A Beautiful Construction

Posted by Ian Levy on June 15, 2011 under Commentary | 5 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.

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.

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.

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.

Dallas Mavericks 98, Miami Heat 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 2, 2009 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by AP Photo/Tim Sharp.

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It’s truly spectacular, no other words.
-Stephen Robinson

You want vindication, Mavs fans?  There’s your vindication.  We can talk Warriors and catharsis all day long, but what brings more emotional closure than beating Dwyane Wade at his own game?  The Mavs and the Heat traded big shot for big shot for what seemed like days, but this time around, Dallas got the edge of a beneficial whistle and a nice shiny dagger.  Trophy-less revenge never seemed so sweet.

I’d be lying to you if I said that I just knew it would end up that way.  Even with the Mavs clutching a small lead, the big Wade shot seemed inevitable.  But a strange thing happened, and I’d like to think that this is at least one area improvement since the original letdown of ’06: it never game.  Jason Kidd denied, denied, denied, and when Wade did get the ball, the double-team came immediately and Kidd went into an all-out frenzy to swipe the ball away.  The result?  Dwyane Wade’s last real shot attempt (excluding his last second heave from the three-point line) went up with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, and his last actual points with nearly 6.  Somehow the Mavs denied one of the best players in basketball from getting a shot up for five straight minutes, and in the process yanked the crutch out from under Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem.  Instead, the late game heroics came from Wade’s 2003 draftmate Josh Howard, and his Olympic teammate Jason Kidd.  Wade has only gotten better since 2006, but on this one night in April you never would have guessed it.

It’s only fair that we start with Josh Howard (20 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks).  Josh’s first quarter explosion is par for the course, but seemingly from the opening tip you could tell that he was playing with a different energy.  It was an extension of his play against Minnesota; a cornucopia of runners, post-ups, and floaters, with his favorite step-back jumper sprinkled in with discretion.  If two games qualifies as a legit trend, then Josh has done what I previously thought impossible: he’s reinvented his game, and reverted back to what earned him a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans all those years ago.  This isn’t new era Josh, the weapon that had forgotten how he carved out a place among the elite for the Mavs and doomed them to failure.  This was throwback Josh, but with all the perks (better jumper, craftier around the basket) of the new model.  His trademark first quarter was dynamite, but his second half performance was equally stunning.  He didn’t mimic his point-per-minute pace, but he gathered huge rebounds, made huge defensive plays on the weakside, and spaced the floor for the offense to open up.  It was equal parts delicious and nutricious, and 29 minutes of effort and excellence were exemplified by Howard’s drawn charge on Mario Chalmers with two seconds left and the Mavs up just one.

How great was Jason Kidd in this game?  His denial defense over the last half quarter was superb, but he played solid D on Wade throughout.  Antoine Wright shared the defensive billing at times, but the reason Wade was held to a pedestrian 23 points (9-20 FG), 6 assists, 4 turnovers, and just 6 free throw attempts was because Kidd barely gave him room to breathe.  And somewhere in there, he managed to rack up 11 assists and hit one of the biggest shots in the game, a three pointer that pulled the Mavs within one with just five and a half minutes to go.  Howard may have prevented Chalmers from getting an honest look at a game-winner, but Kidd got a hand on the ball before Wade could throw up a prayer in the corner at endgame.

Brandon Bass was the center of the night (10 points on 4-6 shooting,  8 rebounds, and 1 block in 22 minutes), and he was absolutely superb.  There are nights where Bass gets look after look from the elbow, and that I don’t mind.  He makes that shot at a great clip.  But you know what I love even more?  When every time he touches the ball within eight feet of the basket, he takes a ridiculous leap and tries to throw it down with the ferocity of a pack of tiger-eating sharks, or shark-eating tigers.  The rim was never the same again.  Bass had 8 points and 4 rebounds on perfect shooting in the second half, and led his counterpart, Udonis Haslem, scoreless in the fourth.  He was an unstoppable force inside during crucial stretches of the third and fourth quarters, and the energy he provided on both ends was tremendous.

It’s pretty sick that Dirk had 30 (9-17 FG, 2-5 3FG, 10-10 FT), and he still gets fourth billing.  It was Dirk’s 22nd 30-point game this season, and his explosion was as quiet and likely underappreciated in the game as it is in this recap.  I like to think that I give Dirk more love than most, if for no other reason than non-Mavs fans typically don’t fully understand his game outside of stereotypes and generalizations.  That said, I’m still guilty of discounting his Herculean feats of jumpshooting strength from time to time, and for that I apologize.  Josh was greThe Two Man Game › Edit Post — WordPressat, Kidd was great, and Bass was great, but Dirk was Dirk, and that’s on a different level entirely.

Props to the team as a whole for not letting this game get away from them.  The Heat hung around in the first half with some hot shooting from the perimeter (4-5 on threes in the first frame), and looked to be running away with it when their lead hit double-digits in the second half.  The Mavs’ shots weren’t falling, the turnovers were piling up, and the whistles started turning against them.  It would have been a perfect time to cave and give in to defeat.  Instead, the defensive intensity went up another notch, and the Mavs got out on the break.  The Mavs did plenty of things that I wouldn’t mind seeing on a more regular basis, but that kind of resiliency has to be at the top of that list.

Random thoughts:

  • Erick Dampier looked like he was going to be a factor early, and he was causing Jermaine O’Neal some real trouble.  The Heat brought in O’Neal to clear up the logjam at forward and improve their interior defense, but I have to ask: if O’Neal has trouble guarding Damp, who doesn’t exactly have a premier back-to-the-basket game, how could you possibly expect him to guard the centers that can really cause problems?
  • Chris Quinn is a great match-up for J.J. Barea.  Typically, playing Barea concedes something either at point guard or otherwise, simply because J.J. doesn’t have the size to contend with a lot of players.  But not only can J.J. guard Quinn, but Quinn doesn’t have much of a chance against Barea’s speed.  Happy happy, joy joy.
  • Just in case you were curious how we’ve gone this far without a JET mention, Jason Terry did play basketball on Wednesday night.  He even scored 13 points.  But he shot 5-13, and didn’t quite seem himself.  Just one of those days.
  • Jamaal Magloire had one more dunk in this game than I think he ever did in a Maverick uniform last season.
  • How good would James Singleton be if he could just hit that spot-up three from the corner?
  • A cool stat shared by the Mavs’ broadcast team: the Mavs are tied for the most wins in the league when trailing at the half.  Not bad, comeback kids.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard, for the second straight night.  Nothing more need be said.