You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The Celtics’ availability issues started out crippling and ended up comical; if it weren’t bad enough that Rajon Rondo (suspended), Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), and Brandon Bass (knee) were nixed from the game at the start, Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) left in the third quarter and did not return. That left the Celtics reeling with all kinds of crazy lineup combinations, and completely incapable of mounting a comeback run using their typical offensive and defensive alignments.
Then again, considering how O’Neal and Wilcox plodded through their pick-and-roll recoveries on Dirk Nowitzki, maybe a delayed absence was for the best from Boston’s perspective. Nowitzki was focused from opening tip and quick to fire, but each of his ball screens secured him an ocean of open space. A make is virtually guaranteed for any competent NBA shooter who is able to catch, square up, and fire off a jumper without even the slightest hint of duress; under those same conditions, a shooter as as accurate and highly utilized as Nowitzki apparently rattles off 26 points in 30 minutes. Without having Garnett around to at least attempt to check Dirk, Boston was fairly helpless.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
No recap of this game would be complete without proper documentation of the bucket (and free throw!) that brought about its conclusion:
The Mavs’ offense on the whole isn’t looking all that impressive, but Dallas’ immediate scoring future is looking brighter based on one simple fact: Dirk Nowitzki (16 points, 7-11 FG, seven rebounds, four assists) has progressed beyond polishing his ability to hit open shots and moved right on to practicing — and making — the impossible ones. This functional game-winner was generated by a wonderful drive, but the fact that Nowitzki was able to convert the layup rather than merely draw a foul is indicative of just how special of a player Dirk is. Nowitzki manufactured a few open looks throughout the game after faking out his defender, but his second half was particularly notable for his run-ins with impossibility.
Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.
It’s been just over three weeks since Corey Brewer signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Brewer is young, athletic and by all accounts, an extremely hard worker. However, the chief attraction for the Mavericks was his reputation as an excellent wing defender. So far he’s had trouble carving out a place for himself in Rick Carlisle’s rotation, averaging just 8.9 minutes per game over seven games. It’s difficult to draw conclusions with such a small sample size, but he hasn’t yet done anything to stand out at the defensive end.
What exactly is his defensive reputation based on? Watching him play we see a long and bouncy sliver of a forward. He competes on every defensive possession; he battles through screens, moves his feet on the perimeter, and displays a knack for using his length to contest shots. Defensive impact is notoriously hard to measure statistically, but is there any numeric evidence that his excellent tools and motor translate to an effect on an opposing team’s offense?
There are plenty of defensive statistics available. The issue is that none are accepted as a completely accurate metric, with opinions varying wildly on the value of each. Today we’re going to take a tour through some of these available statistics, examining Corey Brewer along the way and trying to pin down the quantity and quality of his defensive contributions. Since he’s spent such a short time with the Mavericks, most of the stats we look at will cover his entire season or just his games with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Box Score Statistics
These are the basics that everyone is familiar with: steals, blocks and rebounds. When we look at these stats per 40 minutes we find Brewer averaging 2.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and 4.5 rebounds. Compared to the league average for swingmen, Brewer is sub-par with regards to rebounds and blocks. However, he steals the ball at a rate nearly twice the league average.
Another way to look at these basic statistics is as a percentage of their opportunities. Steal Percentage, Block Percentage and Rebound Percentage (Ed. note: These measures have also been referred to as “rebounding rate,” etc. on this blog. The terms are completely synonymous.) are all statistics available from a variety of sources, including Hoopdata.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Stl% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s offensive possessions on which a player records a steal. Blk% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s shot attempts which are blocked by the player. Reb% is calculated as the percentage of available rebounds which a player grabs. Reb% is available as a total number, but can also be split into Offensive and Defensive Reb%.
Brewer’s total Reb% of 6.2% and his Blk% of 0.8% are both below average. Again, where he really shines is stealing the basketball. This season, Brewer ranks 4th in the league in Stl%, at 3.2%. He trails only Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. Over the past four seasons, Brewer has the 17th best Stl% in the league, at 2.5%. Forcing turnovers is something the Mavericks have struggled with all season. They are currently 24th in the league, with an Opponent’s TOV% of 12.4%, well below the league average of 13.5%. Having Brewer on the floor to wreak havoc in the passing lanes could be a real asset in the playoffs.
On Court/Off Court Statistics
The premise with On Court/Off Court statistics is simple: look at how a team’s defense performs when a player is on the floor and compare that with how it performs when they’re off the floor. Theoretically, the player should be responsible for much of that difference. The problem is that these statistics have a lot of inherent “noise” in them. Since this model is essentially about comparison, trading minutes with a horrible defender can make someone look much better than they are. By the same token, a back-up may look much better than they are because they’re matched up against the opponent’s back-ups.
These statistics are available in a lot of different formats. 82games.com tracks several categories for On Court/Off Court, including Defensive Rating, eFG% allowed, Blk%, Reb%, Turnovers and Free Throw Attempts allowed. BasketballValue.com allows you to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Rating for a player overall, and broken down by the different five-man units the player was a part of.
Looking at these stats for Corey Brewer incorporates a lot of the “noise” we mentioned above. Brewer’s place in the Timberwolves’ rotation varied quite a bit. He started just under half of the 56 games he played with them. In 11 of those games he played fewer than 20 minutes. He played over 30 minutes 9 times. The Timberwolves are also ranked 26th this season in Defensive Rating, meaning Brewer played alongside some less than ideal defensive teammates, in a less than ideal defensive system.
To try and limit the influence of some of those factors in the statistics I isolated some five-man units Brewer was a part of to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Ratings. I started with the 6 units Brewer spent the most minutes playing with. For comparison, I pulled out any units that had the same four teammates but a replacement for Brewer. The table below shows the Defensive Ratings for each of those units.
In three of those lineups the team’s Defensive Rating was better with Brewer on the floor, in the other three it was worse. Inconclusive to say the least. I went over these lineups several times and couldn’t identify any common patterns, such as Wesley Johnson replacing Brewer making the defense significantly better. For the purposes of our discussion, it’s convenient that this case is a perfect illustration of some of the problems with On Court/Off Court statistics.
Individual Defensive Rating is a metric that was introduced by Dean Oliver in his book, Basketball on Paper. It’s based on the same principle as team Defensive Rating: how many points are allowed per 100 possessions. It’s calculated by using play-by-play data to figure out how many points the opposing player creates while the defensive player is on the floor.
Extensions of this data can be unreliable because it often assumes match-ups based on listed position, which is not always the case. Teams like the Mavs have a lot of positional interplay on both offense and defense, so some of the metrics derived from play-by-play data can be a bit problematic.
Brewer’s Individual Defensive Rating has only been below 110 once in his career: this season, where his time in Minnesota and Dallas have worked out too a rating of 109. The league average this season is 107.1. Granted, he’s played on some bad defensive teams in Minnesota, but this statistic theoretically captures just the points created by the opponent he’s guarding. Even when accounting for the defensive deficiencies of his teammates, Brewer does not look impressive by this metric.
Counterpart statisics are just an extension of Individual Defensive Rating. They’re also culled from play-by-play data, and show the eFG%, FTA/48, Reb/48, Ast/48, Pts/48 and PER for the opposing player while the defensive player is on the floor. Being calculated in the same way as Individual Defensive Rating, they can be unreliable for some of the same reasons. 82games displays these statistics broken down by the position that the defender was playing. The table below shows the counterpart statistics for Brewer’s time in Minnesota this season.
Keeping in mind the shortcomings of these stats, we still don’t see much evidence of defensive impact. Brewer seems to be more potent defending shooting guards but still allows fairly healthy production. I would guess that shooting guards are a better matchup for him because his height creates an advantage and his lack of strength is less likely to be exploited. These numbers also reinforce his strength in creating turnovers. However, Brewer sends opposing players to the free throw line at a fairly high rate, which indicates that his aggressiveness may be hurting nearly as much as it helps.
The possession statistics from Synergy Sports Technology are a little different in that they come from video analysis. Each play from each game is reviewed on video and than categorized by the type of possession (post-up, transition, etc.). The fact that the data comes from video analysis solves some of the defensive cross-matching problems that the other play-by-play statistics have. The table below shows Brewer’s defensive possession statistics from his time in Minnesota.
% of Possessions
Points per Possession
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler
Shoddy team defense certainly affects Brewer’s numbers here, but again there is very little to indicate we’re looking at an elite wing defender. He’s solid against the pick-and-roll, does a good job closing out on spot-up shooters, and creates a lot of turnovers. But he’s not in the top 50 in any category, and on several possession types, particularly isolations, is nearly as likely to commit a shooting foul as to force a turnover.
After all looking at all these numbers we end up right about where we started. Our eyes tell us that Brewer’s physical tools and motor make him a terrific defender. The statistics say he generates a lot of steals, but plenty of fouls as well, and for all his tools doesn’t seem to make a huge impact defensively, either individually or at the team level.
Both sides of this equation could change over the next three seasons in Dallas. Perhaps playing alongside better defensive teammates and in a more cohesive system will allow the statistics to catch up with what we see when we watch Brewer play. Or perhaps playing alongside more effective defenders will expose him as spastic in the Hansbroughnian style, not always able to control and channel his effort and energy into positive outcomes. The good news for Mavs fans is that, barring injury, I can’t envision any reasonable scenario where his defense would get worse.
Brewer is a perfect microcosm of the debate between old-school and new-school methods of player evaluation. Fans who gravitate towards observation for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why the numbers don’t fully capture his performance. Fans who gravitate towards statistics for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why our eyes can’t discern his true defensive impact. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, illustrating there’s still a wide gap between what we think we see and what we think we’ve measured.
Zach Lowe wrote a fantastic piece on Tyson Chandler and the Mavs’ defense for The Point Forward (SI’s NBA blog). I’m going to quote it liberally, but follow through and read the piece in its entirety: “[At] the 3:45 mark of the second quarter, when Paul Pierce appeared to have Caron Butler beat on a drive along the left baseline. Chandler, who was guarding KG on the right baseline, took a big slide-step into the paint and deterred the drive without giving Pierce an easy passing lane to KG. Pierce pulled up for a contested mid-range shot and missed. That type of shot — a contested, mid-range shot — has been the basis of Dallas’ stinginess so far. Only five teams are allowing opponents to take more shots from the “floater” region between the rim and 10 feet out, and none are holding teams to a lower percentage on those shots than Dallas (33 percent). Boston was 5-of-18 from that range Monday.”
Could this be why Caron Butler has been so ineffective?
Paul Pierce on Rajon Rondo’s decision to take what could have been a game-winning three in the final seconds of last night’s game (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe): “He’s wide open. He was open two or three seconds before he even took it. We were begging him to shoot it. Hey, we’ll take that, a wide-open look. Rondo, he’s showed he can make those shots, especially under pressure situations. I take it. I told him after the game, I’ll take that shot.”
Two fantastic points from NBA.com’s John Schuhmann: Jason Kidd’s presence may make the 1-3 switch easier on the Mavs than any other team in the league, and Rajon Rondo has attempted just five three-pointers this season, all of which have come with the clock winding down.
A stray thought forgotten from the recap: the Mavs did an excellent job of completely eradicating the threat of Rajon Rondo’s scoring.
Dirk Nowitzki nails the irrelevance of Terry’s starting status (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “His role, starting or not, is not going to change much. We want him to score. We need him to score and we need him to be aggressive.”
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Defense is predicated on calculated risk, and when properly executed, this is what those risks look like. Lots of long two-pointers (Boston shot 31 shots between 16-23 feet and made just 12 of them). Rotations that expose the defense temporarily, but are balanced by a strong presence at the rim. A huge, potentially game-winning shot, put in Rajon Rondo’s hands some 24 feet from the basket. Even the best defense can’t stop everything, but if a team focuses on what’s important and cedes the rest, they can debilitate opposing offenses enough to win games like this one.
The Mavs weren’t flawless in their execution, but we focus primarily on the defense, this is precisely what the Mavs should hope to achieve on a nightly basis. If all goes according to plan, this defensive performance — though fine on its own merits — should be completely unremarkable. This needs to be the regular for Dallas. This needs to be a trademark. This needs to be the schoolwork proudly displayed on the fridge for a day until a new assignment takes its place, rather than some mantle piece riddled with dust. The Mavs have the potential to be this good defensively if they execute properly, and on this night they did just that.
The Mavs also have the potential to rival the league’s elite if they execute properly on offense as well, yet on this night they did anything but. Dallas committed 19 turnovers in a 91-possession game, which might be borderline impressive if it weren’t so maddening. The Mavs can’t expect to win these kinds of games with regularity if their turnover rate is hovering around last night’s mark of 20.9. Dallas’ hot shooting this season has managed to balance out their turnovers, but the shots won’t always fall. This team can’t always hang its hat on high-percentage shot-making, even if they’re working to create more high-percentage looks than ever. The turnovers need to come down, even if it’s hard to peg any specific reasons for the unexpected bump. As I mentioned yesterday, the symptoms are obvious, but if anyone has a proper diagnosis for these sudden turnover concerns, I’m all ears.
Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 9-16 FG, seven rebounds, four turnovers) was relentless in his drives to the rim, Jason Terry (17 points, 5-11 FG, four assists) was patient and fought for open looks in the half-court offense, and Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-5 FG, 13 rebounds, two blocks, zero turnovers) introduced the alley-oop as an item of cultural relevance in the Dallas metro area, and J.J. Barea (12 points, 4-7 FG, three assists, three turnovers) scored just enough, even if he overstepped his bounds a bit.
The Celtics have a number of excuses/justifications if they choose to play those cards. Maybe they were looking ahead to a game against the Miami Heat. Maybe they were physically or mentally exhausted in playing the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless, Dallas was the superior squad last night. They executed more effectively, shot more efficiently, hustled more consistently, and attacked more strategically. The Mavs were ready for this game, and they earned a win. That’s important. That’s what you can take away to keep in your back pocket. Whatever goes on in Boston’s camp is their problem, but Dallas came in with a well-constructed plan and enacted it properly.
Tyson Chandler was fantastic. Nowitzki’s offense was obviously instrumental, but Chandler (Gold Star spoiler alert) was obviously the Mavs’ most effective player. He didn’t create any of his offense on his own, but by relying on his teammates to feed him the ball at the proper moments, Chandler was always in the right spot offensively. He finished each of his opportunities, and demanded that the Celtics’ defense account for him, praise that hasn’t been applicable to a Mavericks’ center, well, ever. On defense, Chandler didn’t re-write the rules of help defense, but he recited them from memory to perfection. He stepped up and challenged any Celtic who dared attack the basket, and even recovered fully to challenge his own man at the basket in some cases. He never stopped. Chandler clearly understands that a defensive possession is only finished after his team secures the rebound, and he worked tirelessly to challenge as many shots and potential shots as possible before concluding each and every possession. Books aren’t written about those who do exactly what they’re supposed to, but for his efforts on this night alone, I vote Chandler worthy of a memoir.
DeShawn Stevenson started in place of Jason Terry, as Rick Carlisle opted to redistribute the Mavs’ strongest scorers. He answered by hitting a pair of three-pointers and chasing Ray Allen around for 14 minutes, and that’s an unquestionable success. I’m not sure it makes a world of difference to have Terry starting or coming off the bench, as both designations can be balanced by his usage in particular lineups. However, if Stevenson can hit reliably from distance and put in that kind of defensive effort nightly, I’d have no problem with him assuming the starting job until Rodrigue Beaubois’ return.
Caron Butler knows that the season has started, right?
The Mavericks have absolutely no respect for Rajon Rondo’s jumper. So much so that J.J. Barea once forgot that Nate Robinson had subbed in for Rondo, and gave up a wide open three-pointer without even pretending to contest.
I’m not sure who this Brendan Haywood is, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the old one come back. Haywood had a nice contested slam and grabbed a few boards, but he had a lot of trouble defending Kevin Garnett, Semih Erden, and Glen Davis. I know the matchup wasn’t favorable; Haywood would have been far more useful had we seen more of either O’Neal, but Jermaine played limited minutes and Shaquille sat this one out. I understand that puts Haywood in an awkward position, but he has to do better. He has to provide better help, he can’t let Erden beat him to rebounds, and he can’t give up points on the low block so easily. There’s no problem being patient with Haywood given what he’s capable of, but if this is par for the season’s course, Mark Cuban is going to have plenty of sleepless nights, holding his wallet close.
Even after all of the barking and strutting, I still love watching Kevin Garnett play. As long as he milks that pump fake and turnaround jumper, it doesn’t much matter to me what he’s said or done. Garnett — the player — is still terrific in my book, even if Dirk gave him serious trouble with his drives. Also: KG is so brutally effective from the high post against the zone. He backs down a shoots jumpers over JET, while having the passing savvy to abuse any double-teamer that comes his way.
If you think this game was in any way decided by officiating, stop. The free throw discrepancy was that large for a reason, and the Mavs’ aggressive third quarter mentality was a big part of that reason.
Hail Jason Terry, who in his infinite wisdom, opted to foul Ray Allen with 1.5 seconds left in the game. The Celtics had collected an offensive rebound after Rajon Rondo’s three-point miss, and the Dallas defense was in slight disarray. The Mavs had a foul to give, and Terry took it while he could. Not only is that a smart move irrelevant of the result, but the fact that Dallas was able to completely smother the ensuing inbound pass and force Garnett into a contested turnaround from the far corner…well, you can’t ask for much more. Pitch-perfect execution in all regards by Dallas down the stretch, and a great judgment call by Terry.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Tyson Chandler. I wouldn’t hang the Mavs’ hat on this iteration of Chandler showing up for every game, but Mavs fans should be thankful he was so effective last night.
Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.
John Hollinger (Insider) posits that the ideal teammate for LeBron James this summer is Chris Bosh. Next in line? Dirk Nowitzki: “The lesson here: Pairing LeBron with a floor-spacing 4 can be really, really effective. We’ll start with Nowitzki, the gold standard in this category. Dallas doesn’t have the cap space to pursue LeBron, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try like the dickens with some combo of Erick Dampier’s non-guaranteed deal, talented prospect Rodrigue Beaubois and any other goodies ($3 million and a future first-rounder, for instance) they can muster. If they pulled it off, Dirk and LeBron would make a fearsome pair. Nowitzki doesn’t rebound like Bosh does but is an even better outside shooter; and, as with Bosh, Nowitzki has both a low Turnover Rate and a high TS%.”
Tim MacMahon wonders if Rodrigue Beaubois can eventually make a Rajon Rondo-like impact. There’s a big difference between the two in terms of their career arcs: the Celtics have always needed Rondo. He was their only option at point guard from his second season onward essentially, and ready or not, he was thrown into the fire. If the Mavs want to see similar developmental patterns, Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson, and Mark Cuban will have to really put the franchise’s faith in Beaubois’ production. Rodrigue will be able to put up points regardless, but if we’re talking about his eventual development into a difference-maker of that magnitude, it’s going to take plenty of franchise support.
Another affirmation of the Mavs as a dark horse candidate for LeBron’s services. Though it’s worth wondering (and this is nothing against SI’s Ian Thompson specifically, who wrote this particular piece) whether we’ve already reached the speculative breaking point. By now, LeBron’s future has been so thoroughly analyzed, that all we may be getting is the recycling of already recycled theories. Then again, given the media anticipation of 2010 free agency, maybe we reached that point a year or two ago.
“Continual improvement is an unending journey.”
The fact that this game shows up as an L in a sea of W’s doesn’t change much; the team that lost to the Celtics last night is very much the same team that rattled off 13 straight wins. This one result was obviously quite different, but this performance was just as imperfect as any during the streak, and just as promising. Dallas couldn’t close against a pretty determined Boston team, but the defense was still impressive and the half-court offense made a nice second half rally. The only trouble in paradise is that it was never really paradise to begin with.
This was a terrific game. Competitive throughout, no team registering any kind of insurmountable lead, and the stars on each side coming out to play. There were stretches where both teams were in a funk: the turnovers, missed shots, and lazy fouls added up like you would never expect from two contending teams. But the Mavs and Celtics were evenly matched even in their futility. That doesn’t translate to 48 minutes of beautiful basketball, but it did translate to 48 minutes of hotly-contested basketball, which may be the next best thing. Or the best thing if you’re a March Madness zealot.
The rumors of the Celtics’ demise were not greatly exaggerated. This Boston squad was dead, pronounced, autopsied, and buried months ago. What we have here is a team of undead soldiers. Kevin Garnett walks again in the Romero mold, lacking the quickness, explosiveness, and general transcendence of his previously human self. But he’s as belligerent a defender as ever, and he hounded Dirk into plenty of tough shots. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are perhaps a bit more self-aware in their second chance at life. Both are pained by the limits of being the walking dead, but they tirelessly carry out the goals of their mortal lives. Rajon Rondo follows the contemporary Danny Boyle model: a relentless, physically intimidating, quick, reactive, and utterly more frightening force. These guys have unearthed themselves and they’re hungry for brains.
On paper, the Mavs match up pretty well with the Celtics. Shawn Marion is a terrific counter for Pierce, Caron Butler and Jason Terry may not be able to stop Allen but they can certainly match him and then some, Dirk and KG are excellent foils, and the combination of Haywood and Dampier can hopefully negate any impact that Kendrick Perkins would have. Not all of that came to fruition last night, but the lineups present some incredible possibilities.
Rasheed Wallace’s “retribution?” Are we seriously talking about this? Come on.
Garnett played Dirk about as well as any defender has all season…and Nowitzki still finished with 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting. I don’t want to show my hand too much, because I plan to drop a video on this sometime in the next day or so, but the key to jump-starting Nowitzki’s production after a slow start was to take him out of the Mavs’ traditional sets. Rick Carlisle showed some real creativity in finding Dirk scoring opportunities against some elite defense, and that’s huge.
That said, KG (eight points, 3-9 FG, nine rebounds, five steals) was essentially a defensive specialist against the Mavs. Dirk defended him well, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The phase of Garnett’s career where he was a dominant scorer has come to a close, and while that puts quite a cap on his league-wide hegemony, it doesn’t entirely negate his influence. He can impact a game as a key defender and a spot scorer, and his work on Dirk could have been what put Boston over the top.
The Mavs centers combined for five points, 10 rebounds, and five turnovers. They were completely invisible aside from a pair of Haywood blocks, most notably a obliteration of a third-quarter Rajon Rondo layup attempt. It was an impressive play, but it doesn’t quite excuse the combined performance of the Mavs’ 5s.
The atmosphere at the AAC has been a bit lacking this season, but it’s nice to see the in-game entertainment folks stepping up their game.
Caron Butler (nine points, 3-14 FG, four rebounds) did not have a good night, but he was working hard. That’s all you can ask. The Celtics are a great defensive team, and while it’d be nice if every Mav could drain every open shot, sometimes it just isn’t in the cards. But we know that Butler is capable of contributing on a consistent basis otherwise, and that type of redeeming factor is what will keep Caron’s status separate from a Josh Howardian designation. Howard’s effort was criticized as much as his decision-making and his maturity level, but Butler was killing himself on the court. His three offensive rebounds tied for the game-high, and he added three steals.
Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-13 FG, six rebounds) is becoming more and more influential. Before, Shawn was a defensive stopper who could score. Then, he was a crutch in a time of need. Now, even with a fully-functional lineup (unless you count the left half of Jason Terry’s face), Marion is easing the burden on the team’s top scorers by providing some much-needed scoring help in the half court. Yes, in the half court. Marion may have started the game with a leak out into transition, but almost all of his damage came by cutting in the half-court game and finding open spots along the baselines. Some of his missed layups are still heartbreaking, but I think you take what you can get when Marion is carrying the scoring load for chunks of the game.
Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) was absolutely terrific in the fourth, as he worked against Jason Kidd in isolation. I can feel Mavericks Nation simmer over the fact that Rodrigue Beaubois couldn’t get off the bench until the closing seconds, and I feel you. Roddy is the most physically gifted perimeter defender the Mavs have, and his physique is practically tailor-made for a guy like Rondo. That doesn’t mean you cold call him in the middle of the fourth quarter when Kidd (11 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and (18 points, 8-16 FG, three steals) Terry are still playing well. Theoretically it makes sense, but contextually it didn’t.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
“The unpredictability inherent in human affairs is due largely to the fact that the by-products of a human process are more fateful than the product.“
It’s getting to the point where the Maverick offense is almost impossible to predict. The Mavs were unable to get the ball in the basket for long stretches against the Toronto Raptors, who despite their improved play of late, are dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. In the first half last night, the Mavs were scoring relatively well, but were turning the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate.
Then in the second half? A deluge. 58 points (which is notable considering the there were only 90 total possessions) dropped on the head of one of the league’s top defenses (currently ranked 3rd). The less surprising part was that Dirk Nowitzki (34 points, 14-22 FG, seven rebounds, three assists) was the primary bread-winner, scoring 22 of his 37 points in the second half on 9-15 shooting. He was 6 of 7 in the third quarter, when the Mavs scored 34 points on an insane 16 of 20.
Dirk was mismatched against the likes of Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, but he abused any defender Doc Rivers assigned to him. But honestly, as brilliant as Dirk was in getting open off of picks and the like, Boston’s defense had a complete breakdown. I’d imagine that Nowitzki takes up a pretty substantial part of the scouting report, and yet he was frequently wide open for mid-range jumpers. He is the undisputed best player in a Maverick uniform, and yet the Celtics were leaving him open to double in the post or sending two defenders to rotate due to miscommunication. Even great defensive teams are due for some mental errors once in awhile, but the second half (and the third quarter, in particular) was just mistake after mistake after mistake.
What’s scary is how good the Mavs could have been offensively if Jason Terry (eight points, 3-12 FG) and Josh Howard (three points, 1-5 FG, three rebounds, four assists) had been in any kind of rhythm. JET didn’t score a single point within 15 feet of the basket (0-4 from that range), as he was denied at the rim and forced into tough jumpers after prematurely killing his dribble. Terry caught the ball looking to score, but simply failed to convert. But he kept his turnovers down, played some decent defense, and deferred at the appropriate moments. Josh, to his credit, kept his shot attempts down. But his play continues to frustrate. His recent play should already have him on thin ice, and every missed layup and long, contested jumpshot is another step closer to the freezing water beneath his feet.
But Dirk wasn’t carrying the offense alone. Erick Dampier (11 points, seven rebounds, four turnovers, two blocks), Drew Gooden (10 points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks), Jason Kidd (13 points, 5-7 FG, 3-3 3FG, 17 assists, three turnovers), and Shawn Marion (16 points, 7-9 FG, eight rebounds, two blocks) provided ample scoring support. Damp’s performance was especially notable for just how explosive of a scorer he was; all 11 of Damp’s points came in the third frame, where he also grabbed five rebounds and went a perfect 5-5 from the field. He was also surprisingly versatile, dropping a free throw line jumper and what I only know to describe as a runner (maybe a walker?) along with a few layups and some post work. That’s the closest thing you’ll ever see to an Erick Dampier offensive clinic, and it was against a pretty solid defender in Kendrick Perkins.
Gooden had a similar role in the first half, but in my mind Drew’s offensive contributions are far eclipsed by those on the defensive end. I’ll be blunt: Drew Gooden is not a strong defender. The rhetoric that he often “floats” on that end of the court is certainly true, and his concept of defensive spacing is certainly not in line with Coach Carlisle’s. But last night was a pleasant surprise, as Gooden combined excellent anticipation, great hands, and a high activity level to put together one of his best defensive performances of the season.
The shocking thing about Kidd and Marion’s performances was that there was really nothing spectacular about them. Kidd simply made the right plays, again and again, and his teammates finished inside. He displayed that incredible efficiency from the three-point line, which has become a staple of his time in Dallas. He played tough defense (even when switched onto bigger threats like Paul Pierce), pressured shooters, and initiated the offense. His numbers are absolutely stellar, but Jason Kidd only did what Jason Kidd does.
Shawn Marion’s outing was similar, with one notable exception: he finished. Marion’s time in Dallas has already seen him miss plenty of layups and several dunks, but Shawn maximized his opportunities last night. He was excellent in transition, but even more impressive with what he was able to do in half-court sets. Plus, his defense on Paul Pierce was admirable, even though it wasn’t totally effective. That happens when your primary objective on the court is to contain the league’s best players night in and night out. And though Pierce still scored 24 points while shooting over 50% from the field, Marion is putting in the effort to deny, bump, and challenge, and on the whole it’s working.
It was certainly an impressive win for the Mavs, but they hardly turned a corner. We’ve seen this team put up the occasional dominant offensive outing, and in truth, this was only half of one. It came against a quality opponent and a quality defense, but don’t misconstrue the Mavs’ third quarter brilliance for some sort of grand revelation. This team still only goes as far as Dirk can take them, and until Josh Howard and Jason Terry become more efficient and effective parts of the offense, Dallas will continue to struggle on that end of the court.
Rajon Rondo (seven points, 12 assists, two steals) is tremendously improved as a shooter. He was 3 of 5 from 16-23 feet last night, and he’s managed to virtually eliminate one of the holes in his game. That shot doesn’t need to be his bread-and-butter, but being able to hit from that range consistently can really complicate things for the defense.
Oh, and Rondo’s okay at passing, too. A lot of the Mavs’ defensive trobles came from collapsing too hard on Rondo’s lane penetration, which gave players like Kendrick Perkins (14 points, 12 rebounds, three turnovers, two blocks) all kinds of easy buckets. Not that Perk wasn’t a beast in his own right. The Celtics routinely sent him to work on the low block, and his array of turnaround jumpers was a clear homage to teammate Kevin Garnett.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 37 points on 22 shots…isn’t that good enough for you?