You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
So much of this brilliant offensive outing was built on the strength of the Mavs’ multi-angle drive-and-kick game. Initial penetration would draw defensive attention and lead to a kick to the corner, which would lead to a close-out and more dribble penetration and an ensuing kick-out from the wing, which would lead to an open three-pointer above the break. That cycle of dribble action may make it seem like the Mavs were getting nowhere, but having so may consecutive opportunities to put pressure on the opposing defense is hugely beneficial. Hence the scoreboard.
Which isn’t to say that the Mavs didn’t work the ball in other, less direct ways. Dallas’ ball movement was as crisp around the perimeter as it was from the inside out; despite the fact that everyone seemed to be connecting on their three-point attempts, the Mavs willingly rotated the ball around the perimeter to fully scramble the Suns’ defense and manufacture wide open attempts. They could have settled — in a sense — for good shots rather than great ones, but the ball never stuck to a single hot hand.
The basketball gods gave the Mavericks a gift: On the second night of a back-to-back — and following a hard-fought overtime game against the San Antonio Spurs — Dallas was given a crack at the struggling Phoenix Suns. Even better: They were given a crack at the struggling Phoenix Suns sans the one player that the Suns can never afford to lose. Again, hence the scoreboard.
“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”
-Arnold H. Glasgow
The Mavs’ second straight win was an exercise in call and response. The Clippers actually managed impressive stretches in every quarter, powered primarily by the brilliance of Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, and, oddly enough, Sebastian Telfair. But each Clipper run was countered by a timely and even more impressive Maverick run. Dallas played with the poise and composure of a playoff team, and unlike the 2008-’09 Mavs, this group didn’t allow a little adversity to transform into the business end of a blowout.
Take a walk with me:
The Clippers were down 5-8 at the 8:51 mark of the first quarter, and the Mavs looked to be establishing a little bit of offensive momentum. But as the Clips’ defensive intensity increased, the Mavs’ offense came to a steady crawl behind a slew of missed jumpers. Chris Kaman responded with a few jumpers of his own (though of the made variety), and Gordon and Davis each contributed a bucket apiece during an 11-2 Clipper run. Rick Carlisle immediately called a timeout. Though the effects of that timeout weren’t immediately apparent, the Mavs responded to Carlisle’s strategery by rattling off eight straight points through a Marion nine-footer, a Damp layup, and four free throws. L.A. clearly had the Big Mo on their side, but a well-timed Carlisle timeout keyed a great defensive run (the results of the Clips’ offensive possessions: shot clock violation, missed layup, offensive foul, missed jumper, missed shot, missed jumper, turnover) and a more assertive offense.
The Clippers were down 32-38 at the 6:20 mark of the second quarter, and the Mavs looked to be establishing a little bit of offensive momentum. DeAndre Jordan tagged in Marcus Camby who gave L.A. some life with six points and an assist during a 12-2 Clipper run. That was enough to give the Clips a 44-40 advantage, which is beyond close and starting to get uncomfortable. But just in time, the Mavs’ somewhat stagnant offense came alive with some excellent ball movement, and a late 9-2 Mavs run kept things from getting out of control. Over that stretch, the Mavs made four field goals: three were assisted, two were layups, one was a Shawn Marion slam. Easy buckets are a beautiful thing.
The Clippers were up 59-57 at the 7:41 mark of the third quarter, and they were still rolling from a late second quarter surge that brought the game within striking distance. Then, not unlike the win a night ago, the Mavs absolutely took over the third quarter. Every Maverick on the floor (Kidd, Terry, Marion, Dirk, Damp) scored in a complete team effort, and the result was a beautiful 17-3 run that would eventually decide the game. The Mavs were not very good offensively in the fourth, but they were able to edge out a victory based on the successes of this run.
The Clippers were down 71-80 at the 10:47 mark of the fourth quarter, and the Mavs appeared to have the game in tow. Sebastian Telfair had other plans, as he was responsible for nine points in a critical 11-2 Clipper run that brought the game to an even 82-all. Both offenses lacked rhythm and coordination, but the Mavs were able to score some easy points with buckets around the rim, and then relied on the heavy lifters to supply a dagger or two. The result was a sloppy but effective 11-3 closeout, locking up the game for good and throwing away the key.
Nowitzki (24 points on 9-19 FG, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and an uncharacteristic 5 turnovers) looked to be much more comfortable shooting the ball, even if his overall line was a different shade of Dirk. It’s surely worth noting, though, that the Clippers’ bigs are far less equipped to defend Dirk than that of the Lakers or even the Wizards. But it’s about the baby steps, and Dirk showed a bit more of his usual shooting touch to accompany his forays into the paint and trips to the free throw line.
Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier were the Mavs’ finishers, and they performed excellently. Some lobs and interior feeds still reeked of a feeling out process, but Dallas showed a sudden willingness to toss lobs in the direction of Erick Dampier off of the pick and roll. The Kidd-Dampier combo could be a fun new weapon in the half-court game, as Damp made the Clippers pay for not respecting his rolls to the basket. Shawn Marion finished well on the move in all kinds of situations, even if L.A.’s bigs were ready to combat him at the rim. The result wasn’t always a dunk or even a make, but I already admire Marion’s aggressive movement off the ball and refusal to surrender opportunities to shot blockers. Shawn’s shot was packed a few times as a result, but his activity around the basket on both ends helped him total 16 points and 11 rebounds to go with a steal and two blocks.
Kidd, JET, and Barea did an excellent job of finding the right guys at the right times, and they were the only reason why the offense was in gear for key stretches. Kidd finished with 10 assists, JET with 6, and Barea with 4, which isn’t too shabby for a three guard rotation.
Still, the bizarre offense could give some a reason for worry. The Mavs managed just 13 points in a messy fourth quarter, and if their opponent had been anyone other than the equally messy Clippers, that could have been a problem. The Mavs came out with a win thanks to their ability to respond when it counted, but it’d be nice to nurse a cozy lead rather than jump into a slug fest.
Of course the defense played a huge role in making the Clippers falter, a fact which shouldn’t go unrecognized. The Mavs played good D inside and out, and though their performance wasn’t flawless, it was impressive nonetheless.
Even though you wouldn’t know if it from the box score, Baron Davis (9 points on 4-10 FG, 6 assists, 4 turnovers) can still wreck havoc against the Mavs’ defense.
The Clippers roared back into the game at the end of the second quarter, but their four point lead was quickly erased in the closing seconds when Sebastian Telfair fouled Jason Terry while shooting a 3-pointer. Telfair objected, and was rewarded for what I’m sure was a perfectly cordial objection with a technical foul. Four made free throws later, both teams walked into the locker room with a tie.
Drew Gooden missed the game with a strained rib muscle on his right side. Kris Humphries played effectively in his absence, even if Kaman managed to bully him inside for points.
JET was twice called for an offensive foul for pushing off with his off-hand while driving in for a layup.
J.J. Barea seems to be a much improved jumpshooter, which is a beautiful thing for a guy who already had touch and range.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night, in a bit of a curveball, goes to Erick Dampier. Damp (12 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 0 turnovers) protected the rim, rebounded well, and turned himself into a bonafide offensive contributor with his ability to find dimples in the Clips’ defensive coverage and abuse the pick and roll.
What a game, what a game, what a game. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the ‘Race for 8′ transform into a ‘Race to Avoid 8′, and, by definition, a race to avoid the Lakers. The Utah Jazz, who sit just one full game behind the Mavs, were nursing a huge lead against the Clippers, and with two minutes and thirty seconds remaining, the Mavs were down five points to the Timberwolves. Heavy stuff.
But from that point on, the Mavs committed few mistakes. They got exactly the offensive looks they wanted, and capitalized on most of them. They locked down defensively, and ceded a single basket due to unfortunate circumstance alone. Two and a half minutes, a 9-2 run, and nearly flawless execution. In the biggest moments of this game and possibly of the season, the Mavs did not disappoint. Shot after shot, stop after stop, all culminating in a defensive stop by Dirk/Erick Dampier and a huge go-ahead bucket by Jason Terry with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Break it down, now:
Damp cuts down the lane, taking his defender with him and generally causing some confusion with a possible screen for Terry. Instead, Dirk sets a pick for Terry at the elbow, stalling Telfair enough for JET to catch the inbounds pass from Kidd. Terry takes the perfect bounce pass from Kidd on the wing, pump fakes to shed the flying Telfair, and fades slightly on the open 18-footer. I can’t tell you how important that inbounds pass was: if Kidd doesn’t throw the perfectly timed bounce pass, JET pulls up without space or doesn’t have the time to pump fake. You’re looking at a much more difficult shot than the shooting drill look Terry got on the baseline.
But how did things even get to that point? Simply looking at the finale and celebrating the victory is to ignore the misery that was the Mavs’ offense in the second and third quarters, and the defensive woes that stretched throughout. Dirk managed to salvage the third into a semi-productive quarter, but the Mavs missed fourteen straight field goals over nine and a half minutes spanning the second and third quarters. The execution was sloppy, and more than a few quality looks around the rim caught a bad bounce. For once, the Mavs weren’t just lackadaisically settling for jumpers on the perimeter; they were making concentrated efforts to get inside, but just couldn’t finish when they got there. Meanwhile, the Wolves milked mismatches for all they were worth, and took full advantage when they caught the Mavs with their pants down (which happened fairly regularly).
Dirk (34 points, 2-3 3FG, 9 rebounds) was sensational. For what it’s worth, Brian Cardinal was a more formidable opponent for Dirk than any other defender…but Dirk still used Brian like I’ve been using disgusting, snotty, flu-infected tissues, and got almost every look he wanted,. The Wolves eventually shifted to a more aggressive defensive strategy, but Dirk wisely picked his spots, passed out of double teams when needed, and shot over the top when he had the advantage. Dirk used the spin to get plenty of looks in the paint throughout the game, and pump faked his way to 17 free throw attempts. On top of everything, Dirk hit a spinning layup with 41 seconds left to tie the game and put everything in a position to get interesting.
Poor Sebastian Telfair. The game’s final plays were a microcosm of his career. He shot an ill-advised, premature three pointer, banker, hinging his team’s chances on his subpar jumper. He drove inside using his superior quickness, but turned the vall over when Dirk swatted the ball out of his hands. And then, despite having all the physical tools to stay with Jason Terry, he gave JET a quality look at a game-winner which found its way through the net.
It was nice to see Terry (22 points, 10-15 FG) bounce back after watching him struggle in the last two games against New Orleans. I think he hit a big shot somewhere in there.
J.J. Barea (13 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) got the start in place of Josh Howard, and he played beautifully. Nobody could stay in front of him, and Barea mixed in aggressive scoring drives with well-timed passes. Throw in his play on the defensive end, and you’ve got a solid night from a substitute starter.
Mike Miller (18 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) and Craig Smith (24 points, 8 rebounds) each exploited the Mavs’ defense in their own way, and it wasn’t pretty. Miller gave everyone who tried to defend him trouble, with Kidd’s steal on him in the clutch much more the exception than the rule. Antoine Wright had trouble stopping him, Jason Terry didn’t have the size to contest or the defensive skill to hang with him, and Kidd didn’t guard Miller enough to get a good read. Craig Smith continued the line of Minnesota pivots to terrorize the Mavs. Al Jefferson passed the torch to Kevin Love in the last contest, and Craig Smith took up the task this time around. I’m not sure I understand exactly why Craig Smith was able to take advantage of Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass, and I’m pessimistic that considering the possibilities would do anything other than make my head hurt. He’s undersized, a poor rebounder, and completely reliant on buckets around the basket, and yet the Mavs surrendered 24 points to him without much resistance. The defense wasn’t too bad otherwise, but this dull spot may be enough to put a significant damper on the evening.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Terry. Breaking out of a mini-slump always deserves some consideration, but the JET sealed the deal by keying the fourth quarter offense with 11 points on 5-7 shooting and hitting the big one.