Moving Pictures: Team Defense

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 9, 2009 under Video | 29 Comments to Read

Dirk Nowitzki’s incredible one-man fourth quarter comeback against the Utah Jazz will go down as one of the finest performances in franchise history, but Dirk’s brilliance overshadowed another impressive showing by the Mavs’ defense. In the first installment of Moving Pictures, we’ll take a look at some of the key stops Dallas made during their fourth quarter run, the very stops that enabled Dirk and the Mavs to pull off an unlikely victory.


Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 4, 2009 under xOther | 7 Comments to Read

  • Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune: “For all the available options to slowing a player on an (admittedly) unstoppable roll, the Jazz seemingly explored few alternatives, not even mustering a token hard foul. They stuck with Okur and Carlos Boozer on Nowitzki, even with Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap offering other options. Kyrylo Fesenko even matched up against Nowitzki in the first half and seemed to frustrate him with his size and physicality. The Jazz also opted not to double-team Nowitzki upon catching the ball or all-out denying him the ball in the first place. Sloan said he thought the Jazz would leave shooters open by double-teaming and that Nowitzki would get the ball no matter how much denying. …Okur said he could have done more to try to deny Nowitzki the ball and that he was making a concerted effort to pressure Nowitzki at the top of the floor, to avoid giving him open looks at the kind of jumpers he torched the Jazz with last season. …The Jazz additionally could have considered a zone defense, to at least deny Nowitzki those easy drives down the lane. They could have given Nowitzki different looks with different defenders, hanging and draping themselves all over the former NBA MVP. Anything to break his rhythm, including calling timeouts. In contrast to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who called one timeout Tuesday after his team gave up consecutive baskets, Sloan is not predisposed the same way.”
  • Mark Cuban on Dirk’s performance (via Evan Grant): “Best [I've seen] in a regular season [game] by far.”
  • Proposed trade in Jazz-land: Carlos Boozer for a can of tuna.
  • Click here to see the visual representation of Dirk going NOVA.
  • But if you’re more of a reader, Matt Moore explains just how impressive Dirk’s performance was: “[Dirk]’s release point is so high it’s insane to think he’s ever been blocked. It’s like lining up a missile. But tonight, that was just part of it. He was unconscious, which is a key element of going Nova. You have to have that flow where you’re just scoring. Not thinking, not analyzing, not deciding, just getting buckets. And Nowitzki did everything. Random loose ball ends up in his hands for a fading three? Yes. Slide off the off-ball screen and grab the inlet pass off the glass? Indeed. Stop pull-ups with a little bit of fade in the key? Danke. You almost half to feel bad for the Jazz. Almost. 29 points in the fourth quarter, 40 points total, with 5 blocks. And a reminder that when Nowitzki is in that zone, that level, he can take a game that you feel is on lockdown to absolute disaster. Don’t look away. It’ll hurt more if you don’t see it coming.”
  • Rick Carlisle on Dirk’s performance (via Eddie Sefko): “I put it up there with a lot of the stuff [Larry] Bird pulled off. …And some of the all-time greats. It was just phenomenal. And the rest of the guys knew where to get the ball and how to feed off him. It was something to behold.”
  • InsideCorner, D Magazine’s sports blog, is no longer with us. Frown town.
  • But InsideCorner alum Zac Crain did hijack D’s FrontBurner blog to drop the most topical 2006 quote you’re likely to read this season.
  • Mike Fisher puts a spotlight on the difference between the Mavs of this year and yesteryear: “The evidence is clear: Last year’s team shot well enough to win 50. … but used its shooting ability as a crutch, and when its shot failed it, Dallas lost. [With] Team Carlisle 2.0, and the early evidence [is] that the Mavs can push, shove, grind, grit, run, hustle and plow their way to wins even while clanging their shots.”

It’s Pressing: The Aftermath of Dirk’s Takeover

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

It’s Pressing
will be a periodic feature here at The Two Man Game where I shine the spotlight on the night’s post-game press conference. There isn’t always gold to be found, but it’s nice to check in with the major players following a big game like tonight.


Dirk Nowitzki

“It was just an unbelievable come back. We really couldn’t get anything going for three quarters and it was just ugly. There was a lid on the basket. We missed layups, easy shots, put backs and it was just ugly. Defensively we were actually decent, but offensively we just couldn’t get going and then in the fourth quarter we just left it all out there and see what happens and it worked out for us tonight.”

Regarding whether or not his performance qualified as “stupid good”:

“It might, but we kind of went through the same game against Washington at home where we couldn’t get anything going offensively. My mentally in the 4th was to go out there and make things happen. I think what really helped was we got to the bonus real quick in the 4th by being aggressive and driving to the basket and we were shooting free throws the rest of the way and that helped us get back into the game.”

Regarding his late surge of free throw attempts:

“Once you’re down by that much you’ve got to try to use the clock and get back in the game. We made up a lot of ground in the 4th at the line without the clock moving and we drove to the basket, got fouled and stopped the clock. Our defense was solid, even at the end when we made the come back, we contested shots, rebounded and our defense has been really solid the first four games. It’s our offense that has been struggling. We have been shooting in the low 40’s every game and that’s a concern, but defensively we look pretty good.”

Wrapping up:

“We were looking for a spark offensively and I was able to do that tonight. Sometimes it’s Jet off the bench, sometimes it’s Josh jumping off to 20 point first quarters so we just needed a little spark and when I was feeling it they kept feeding me the ball. I got every play down the stretch and I was able to deliver. This was a big win for us. Even if it’s early being 3-1 is better than 2-2.”


Rick Carlisle

“It was a level of frustration throughout the whole team with what was happening offensively. We had a lot of good looks and weren’t getting them to go down. The thing that has changed this year, to this point, is that this is three out of four games, I can’t really say it about the first game, is that when shots weren’t going in, guys were becoming more determined defensively to dig in and find a way to make something happen. That first game of the year, we waited around for something good to happen to us against Washington. The last three games, we’ve been the team to continue to be persistent and make something happen. At some point, the ball is going to start going in the basket for us. But until then, we’ll find a way to win. I give the team credit for that because this wasn’t our personality last year.”

Wrapping Up:

“Twenty-five years in this, I’ve seen a lot of amazing things happen. To be honest, it wasn’t looking great, but we just needed a couple good things to happen offensively for us. And the biggest thing that happened was Dirk got us in the bonus early in the fourth. That started a chain reaction of plays where stops led to good decisions which led to aggressive plays which led to him going to the free throw line time after time after time. During that stretch, when there was some kind of mistake, somebody came up with a loose ball play and made one pass. Somebody handed it to Dirk one time for that three. It was just sheer will. It was led by Kidd and Dirk. And Dirk scored the majority of the points. I can’t overstate the effect that Kidd has on games as a competitor and as a guy that just knows what winning is about and how to facilitate it. We needed it badly. And they needed a game badly. That was clear coming in and they played extremely well. We get out of here alive and it’s good to get the first win at home.”


Jerry Sloan

“Well there wasn’t obviously anything we were able to do with Nowitzki. I’m not sure that maybe we should’ve tried a couple different things. Mehmet [Okur] I think had 1 or 2 fouls when he started guarding him and Boozer had 5. And try to keep [both of] them out there we put Mehmet on him and I don’t think we did a very good job. He was sensational. He made every basket and got to the free throw line, but the most important thing he did was he was able to take the ball to the basket. When were coming down to trying to finish the game we had I think 4 turnovers in the 4th quarter. And you could feel the momentum kind of shift in that situation because they had the spirit and we turned the ball over a couple times we felt sorry for ourselves. I think it made it tougher for us to try and finish the game. But giving up 44 points [in the 4th quarter] is pretty tough.”

Regarding his (lack of) defensive adjustments on Dirk in the fourth:

“We might’ve tried to double him or tried something but they still had some pretty good shooters out there on the floor. And they were into a rhythm where I felt like if we go off and leave Terry or even Jason Kidd – he’s out there on the floor, he hasn’t shot the ball especially well but you know him in that situation is going to be able to make a 3-point shot. So you’re looking at 3′s to have to defend against and you try to keep him off the top of the basket and try to play him. We pushed him to the short-side of the floor one time I think, the rest of the time he went to the long side where he had a lot more to operate and get on top of the basket.”


Carlos Boozer

Regarding defending Dirk down the stretch:

“We did a couple of different things. It just seemed like either he made his shot or he was shooting free throws. I thought we couldn’t be physical with him, couldn’t touch him too much without them calling a foul on us. Obviously he was aggressive, he’s a great player, but I thought we were doing a decent job. But anytime we touched him they called a foul, so, not to much you can do when you can’t be physical with somebody.”

Regarding his foul trouble precluding him from guarding Dirk:

“Yeah, it’s tough. The first two or three plays of the 3rd quarter I picked up 2 quick ones on him [Dirk] and he didn’t even have the ball. That put us in a tough position. Regardless, that’s history now.”

Regarding this being a tough loss:

“It’s tough, because we were up by 15 with 8 minutes to go. The next thing you know it was free throw, free throw, free throw, free throw.”


Mehmet Okur

Regarding his defense on Dirk:

“I don’t know. I just wanted to pressure the ball and he didn’t want to settle for jump shots – he took the ball to the basket and he got to the free throw line and made some tough shots. He’s one of those guys that once they get hot it’s hard to stop.”

“Like I said, I wanted to pressure the ball. I could’ve done a better job on him, maybe deny a little bit. Not let him catch the ball easily like that. I posted him, but he was active tonight.”

Dallas Mavericks 96, Utah Jazz 85

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 12 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox


In watching, writing about, and loving the Dallas Mavericks, I’m frequently treated to the incredible basketball stylings of Dirk Nowitzki. And every once in awhile, he does something so incredible, so breathtaking, that it’s almost indescribable. Unbelievable.

Tonight was one such night. He was truly unbelievable. That word bounces around in my head, back and forth consuming just about everything else. Unbelievable. There is now just a pile of jelly where a perfectly fine brain used to be, an empty blackness where there used to be coherent thought. This guy blows minds, and if you happened to be watching the Mavs-Jazz game amidst a flurry of competitive games and photo finishes elsewhere in the league, you were treated to something special.

I was ready to write the other recap. The one that mentioned how the Mavs were undefeated on the road, but had yet to win at home. The one that mentioned how Dirk and Jason Terry were mysteriously pedestrian with their jumpers. The one that talked about how even though the Mavs did an admirable job trying to defend Deron Williams, he was simply too hot from midrange and the Mavs’ own offense just couldn’t keep pace. That recap was already being pieced together in my mind as the Mavs were down 16 points with 8:17 left on the clock. Maybe it wasn’t right, and maybe it wasn’t fair, but with the way Dallas had been performing on offense, I hardly think you could blame me.

Then, Dirk Nowitzki decided he was going to change everything. He cured cancer, he invented the time machine, he solved world hunger, and he even stopped by to drop 29 fourth quarter points directly onto the heads of the Utah Jazz. That’s good enough to snatch away the franchise record for points in a quarter from Mark Aguirre, and just short of the league record of 33. Dirk’s takeover couldn’t have come at a better time, as 25 of his points came during a key crucial an impossible 36-9 run that stole away a 16-point lead from the Jazz. 25 of that 36 came courtesy of Mr. Nowitzki himself, who went 7 for 8 from the field, 1 of 2 from the 3-point line, and made all 14 of his free throws in an absolutely dominant fourth quarter performance.

It’s a good thing Dirk showed up when he did, because it took such a fantastic offensive performance to counterbalance the rest of the team’s offensive misery. The rest of the Mavs shot just 34.3% from the field, and a frigid 30.2% if you take away Jason Kidd’s 6 of 11 night. That is beyond horrible, and even worse when you consider how good these Mavs are capable of being on offense. That’s supposed to be the end of the floor where Dallas wins games. The old heroes and the new kids are supposed to flow together into an amorphous, flexible, and all-consuming blob of a basketball team. Despite their occasional flashes of brilliance, this season’s Mavs couldn’t be farther from, and the sooner Josh Howard and Jason Terry’s jumper can get back to the team, the better.

That paragraph then begs the question: If the offense didn’t win the game, what did? Well, Dirk Nowitzki did. But, if Dirk only went NOVA for the better part of one quarter, how were the Mavs even within range? Well, that you can credit to the defense that seems to be the trademark of this year’s Mavs.

This marks three games in a row that an opposing team’s offense was completely discombobulated, as Dallas held Utah to three quarters of 20 points or less and 41.5% shooting from the field. Both teams played sloppy basketball, a fact which worked to the Mavs favor. When the shots weren’t falling the Mavs’ way, they threw gum into the game’s works in almost every way possible. As a result, Carlos Boozer was way off for most of the night courtesy of Erick Dampier, Mehmet Okur was hounded by Dirk, and virtually every other Jazz player not named Deron Williams was a non-factor. There were contributors here and there, but early Dallas turnovers inflated the offensive numbers of a good chunk of Utah’s roster. When things really got bogged down in the half-court, the Jazz turned into a two trick pony: Deron Williams went to work with jumpers, or he tried to find Mehmet Okur for a bailout. The former is the central reason why the Jazz were able to brake free in the third quarter, but one man rarely an offense makes…unless that one man is suiting up for the home team. But neither option was of much use during the fourth quarter implosion, when Dirk Nowitzki and a train powered by pure momentum steam rolled the captive Jazz as they lay tied helplessly to the tracks. The Jazz may have lent a hand in tying themselves up, but it was primarily the diabolical schemings of the dastardly Mavs, who played the part of the mustached villains to ruin what could have been a nice outing for Utah.

Just for fun, here’s a breakdown of Utah’s final fourteen possessions, only four of which ended with points of any kind:

Shot TypeMadeAttempted
At the rim13 (2 blocked)
<10 feet01
10-15 feet01
16-23 feet24
Miscellaneous2 steals, 1 other TOXX

The day that solid defense and consistent offense coincide for the Mavs will be a beautiful one, but until then I’m perfectly content to watch this squad gut out ugly win after ugly win.

Closing thoughts:

  • Although the Mavs’ fourth quarter offense was comprised almost entirely by Dirk Nowitzki field goals and free throws, the Mavs could not have won this game without Jason Kidd (19 points, 5-8 from three, 5 rebounds, 6 assists). He was pretty horrible in the first quarter (3 turnovers in that frame alone, with 7 for the game), but made up for it by striking from long range for some huge buckets. No basket in this game was bigger than Kidd’s dagger three with 50 seconds remaining, stretching the lead from 4 to 7.
  • Erick Dampier didn’t near a double-double with just 4 points, but his 12 rebounds and 6 blocks speak volumes about what Damp was able to offer aside from scoring. For what it’s worth, his two buckets did come when the Mavs were desperate for points in the first, so even those were bigger than they seem.
  • Quinton Ross left the game in the first half with a bruised lower back. It doesn’t seem serious, but no official word from the team as of yet.
  • The Mavs’ point totals by quarter: 17, 18, 17, 44. Yeah.
  • Credit to Rick Carlisle and the Mavs on the floor down the stretch for going to Dirk time and time again when it mattered most. Nowitzki has a powerful will, and he clearly had the need to win this game or at least bring the Mavs close. When he gets that look in his eyes and his tongue starts wagging, it’s usually best to get him the ball, spot up on the 3-point line, and stay out of the way.
  • Matt Carroll played, but he did not play well.
  • Want a visual to understand just how dismal the Mavs’ offense was in the first three quarters? Dirk and JET combined for three airballs.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…who am I even kidding? 40 points (12-22 FG, 15-16 FT), 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals 5 blocks, 0 turnovers. You know his name, you know the snarl, and you’ll probably name your first-born son after him.

No Game Is an Island: I Make This Look Good

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 3, 2009 under Previews | 5 Comments to Read

The Utah Jazz visit the Dallas Mavericks
7:30 CST

It didn’t take long for the basketball world to take notice of Dirk Nowitzki’s amazing talents. Seven footers that move, handle the ball, and shoot like Dirk does don’t come along but once in a particular dimension of space/time. He is an anomaly in every sense: a seven-foot jumpshooter, a MVP with reputation for mediocre defense, a European dominating an American game. It was no surprise that Nelson Major (Don) and Minor (Donnie) saw it fit to tailor the Dallas offense to Dirk’s very particular talents; not only was Dirk’s game potent, but it was so unique that many teams knew not what to do against a seven-footer going to work with fades and fakes at the elbow. It’s not much easier to defend Dirk a decade later, and though some players give Nowitzki more trouble than others, he’s still among the league’s biggest match-up nightmares.

All of that said, I completely understood the rush to find the next Dirk. NBA scouts and front office types scoured Europe in search of elite talent, and though the hunt turned in more busts than stars, it did turn out a few gems. Among them was Utah center Mehmet Okur, the other player from Turkey who also happens to be a big man with a sweet shooting stroke.

But aside from that cheap, one sentence characterization, it’s difficult to find ways in which Dirk and Memo’s games intersect. Dirk is, and has been for the better part of this decade, his team’s primary offensive option. His skill set on that side of the ball is unparalleled for big men, and the Mavs’ offensive system runs through those unique talents. Okur is still very talented, but seems very pedestrian when cast in Nowitzki’s shadow. Memo isn’t nearly as skilled in creating space from an on-ball defender, and lacks Dirk’s attention to footwork. For those reasons, Nowitzki is one of the league’s premier offensive threats. The ball goes through him, and if there’s trouble, he kicks it out…to a player like a Memo Okur. Playing with numbers isn’t even fair when it comes to these two, as such the disparity in assisted baskets (or essentially, baskets set up by a teammate) ranges between 10 and 20% in any given season. That’s shot creation at work, holmes, and in the NBA it’s kind of a big deal.

The natural inclination in tonight’s game is to examine the match-up between the fading Jason Kidd and the rising Deron Williams. Or maybe to put a microscope on Utah’s power forwards, with Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap starting the season off on an odd foot. But amidst all that matters today, take a moment to recognize what mattered yesterday. Scouts somewhere saw Mehmet Okur and thought: “This guy could be the next Dirk Nowitzki.” That’s a heavy statement. And even though Okur never quite panned out as another Dirk, he’s still made a fine career for himself as a third or fourth offensive guy who can really stretch out a defense and space the floor. But he isn’t a star, and the weight of those career projections certainly didn’t make him into one.

The Mavs have their very own “next” sitting on the bench as we speak. But before Rodrigue Beaubois becomes a Tony Parker or a Rajon Rondo doppleganger, we’ll have hundreds of opportunities to freak out and then mellow out when it comes to his potential. Beaubois is going to make mistakes, and he’s going to do some things incredibly well. But before you ink up your fountain pen to scribe his name as a 2015 All-Star, keep Okur’s career in mind. Maybe Rodrigue won’t be the next Rondo. That’s fine. For all we know, he could be even better. But at this point all the Mavs have is a young player with a lot to learn and a lot to prove, and though he may have the speed, hops, and instincts to be a star, the weight of our career projections certainly won’t make him into one.