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Posted by Joon Kim on May 3, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Screen Shot 2012-05-03 at 2.10.25 AM

Joon Kim is the author of NBA Breakdown, and its subsidiaries, Spurs Motion Offense and The Triangle Offense — a tree of sites dedicated to analyzing the NBA’s structural elements. He’ll be contributing periodically to The Two Man Game with video-based breakdowns, illustrating particular aspects of the Mavericks’ performance. You can follow Joon on Twitter: @JoonKim00.

Our minds are obsessed with recent history. The last memories we form about an event can dominate how we later relive those experiences: a good first date can be ruined by a bad kiss, or a relaxing vacation can be undone by a stressful return home.  With basketball it’s no different; regular season MVPs who falter in the postseason are labeled as chokers, and superstars who struggle but manage to hit clutch shots are remembered as heroes.

If we focus only on the end, the Mavericks seemingly created the looks necessary to win both games. Last year those shots came up heads, this year they’ve hit a stretch of tails.

However, the Mavericks shouldn’t return home regretting how they played at the end of their most recent game. The game was truly lost in a brutal 21-4 Thunder run lasting from the end of the first quarter through midway of the second. During that stretch, the Mavs weren’t locked down by a smothering Thunder defense. They were undone from within: over-dribbling, mental lapses, and the willingness to settle for jumpers all culminated in this possession:

In the initial play we see one pass made to Vince Carter, who isolates at the elbow. Carter dribbles at that spot for six seconds, attempting to survey the defense as James Harden cedes the entire baseline. The other Mavericks aren’t much help as none can decide where to spot up.  Carter’s pounding is finally broken up by Harden’s deflection. Now further from the basket at a worse angle, Carter eventually goes baseline, but with no available passing angles, Carter forces a shot behind his head over the contest of Nick Collison. The Mavericks secure the rebound with a new shot clock, but Jason Terry decides to launch a 30-foot contested three-pointer.

All was not lost during this lopsided Thunder run, and there remains a silver lining. The deep hole forced Carlisle to go to a three-guard lineup with Shawn Marion at the four and Dirk Nowitzki at the five.  The flow of the offense returned, but not in typical small ball fashion.  The offense was revived because Kendrick Perkins was forced to guard Dirk Nowitzki:

In the beginning of the clip, we notice the pace and aggression of the Mavs is noticeably higher. Jason Kidd’s misses a layup but the Mavericks gather the rebound. Dirk slides into the post and the ball is swung to Marion who feeds him. As Dirk sets up, Marion cuts and the other Mavs properly space the floor. Perkins gives Dirk just enough airspace to rise up for the jumper.

Again, in this clip, the Mavericks are attacking quickly. Dirk gets to the same spot and Kidd feeds him the ball. Having established the jumper, Dirk pump fakes Perkins, who bites hard. Nowitzki drives by and uses another pump fake to draw an and-one on Serge Ibaka.

Growing frustrated, Perkins commits an off-the-ball foul while attempting to deny Dirk:

The fast pace of the Mavericks finds Perkins uncomfortably matched up against Dirk again.  This time in transition, all the way out to the three point line:

Once again, Dirk uses a pump fake to get by Perkins leading to another and-one. It’s that simple.

The Thunder are a talented group, but they feature a jump-shot heavy half-court attack that can quickly turn south. The difference between being up or down two can be blamed on coin flips alone, but an improbable series win lies more in the Mavs ability to play a complete game than in any particular late-game fortune.

The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Dallas Mavericks 98

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas94.0104.350.032.127.014.4
Oklahoma City105.351.925.322.013.8

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This should hardly come as a surprise given the final margin, but games really don’t get more balanced than this one. Both teams saw their superstars swell in the spotlight, escaping heroically from the mire of their earlier struggles. The top-notch defenders present didn’t disappoint; Serge Ibaka and Shawn Marion both came up with tremendous play after tremendous play, and the craftier defenders on both teams — Jason Kidd and James Harden — managed to get deflections and key defensive action from off the ball. The rebounding profiles of both teams came to a curious middle. The Mavericks somehow managed to get to the line more often than the Thunder — an incredible feat considering that OKC ranks tops in the league in free throw rate — but also turned the ball over more often than their opponents — an equally incredible feat considering that OKC also ranks last in the league in turnover rate. The elite team and the inconsistent team played their way to a standstill, and Kevin Durant broke the silence with a terrific shot in the face of perfectly played defense.
    .
    One could theoretically chalk up a Maverick loss to any number of factors (oddly fragile late-game performance, Dirk Nowitzki’s uncharacteristic turnovers, OKC’s fantastic denial of Jason Terry, a random Ibaka three-pointer, etc.), but I’m not sure I see the point in that kind of exercise. Rick Carlisle and his staff will look to make changes based on Dallas’ many distinct shortcomings, but none of those individual flaws provided a reason for loss so much as the slightest opportunity for one. The Mavs played well. They got real, consistent value from a wide net of contributors, largely forced the Thunder into difficult shots, and managed to negate some of their opponent’s greatest strengths. But someone had to lose this game, and the fact that it ended in a coin flip made the result no less cruel, and such assignments of blame no less arbitrary.
    .
    That final moment was the only time the game’s dynamic took any decisive shift whatsoever, and even then, only a ticking clock was able to provide the impetus for such a change. Otherwise, these two teams would have traded blows and well-executed sets and spectacular shots into eternity, with no victor save any lucky enough to be a part of the process. Those of us on this side of the fourth wall certainly were, and with any luck, will continue to be so fortunate.
    .
    But all individual games must end, just as this series will eventually succumb to its own lamentable finality. In the meantime, the stage has been set for a fantastic arrangement of call and return — supposing that the Mavericks manage to maintain even a remotely similar form in the games to come. Let’s hope that isn’t such a naive assumption in hindsight, and that those engaged by the possibility for highly entertaining basketball aren’t made to be fools. We know what the Mavs are capable of, and sadly, we’ve come to know how little the Mavs are sometimes capable of. This matchup seems to bring out the best in them and the best in a beautiful game, but if this bittersweet day and this nearly canceled season haven’t taught us to take nothing for granted, I’m not sure what in this sport possibly could.
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    I honestly have no idea what’s coming, nor the slightest clue of how to conclusively use the information we have to even take a shot in the dark. Yet if nothing else, we have this night of near-makes and infinite possibility. The Thunder and Mavs won’t play again until Monday, and in that lapse we have the invaluable and immaculate gift of tomorrow. For now — even if not for a second more — there are no disappointments. There is only the promise of greater basketball to come, without worry for letdown or regression.
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    So rest up. Tomorrow’s a big day.

The Difference: Golden State Warriors 111, Dallas Mavericks 87

Posted by James Herbert on March 11, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Box score — Play-by-Play Shot Chart — Game Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • There aren’t a lot of positives to take from a loss like this, except for the fact that it’s probably not all that representative of anything. The reality: the Mavs are now the third team this season to lose all three games of a back-to-back-to-back. At 23-20, they’ve dropped eight of ten and would occupy the West’s final playoff spot if the season ended today. Fortunately, the season doesn’t end today. This brutal stretch of nine games in 12 nights is over and I’m closer to the Mark Cuban “these losses are meaningless” school of thought than the “Dallas is a disaster” stance that clean-shaven Sam Mitchell took on NBA TV Friday night. Brendan Haywood will be back soon, Delonte West after that, and we’ll look for incremental improvements over the next month or so.
  • Oh, Jason Kidd will be back soon, too. He was a late scratch. No need to play the soon-to-be 39-year-old on three straight nights. This meant we were treated to a starting backcourt of Jason Terry and Dominique Jones, with Rodrigue Beaubois and Vince Carter theoretically adding scoring punch off the bench. For JET, it was his first start since last January. For Jones, it was the first of his career. Also, this was Terry’s 1000th career regular season game.
  • For the second night in a row, Dallas looked old and slow and fell behind early to a non-playoff team. The Warriors scored the first six points of the game and Rick Carlisle took his first timeout with 6:31 left in the first, down 11-5. The Mavs’ legs were dragging from the opening tip, while the Warriors, who hadn’t played since Wednesday, were full of energy, even if it wasn’t always channeled correctly. The Mavs started the first quarter shooting 2-13 and finished it 6-22.
  • That energy I talked about? Much of it came from Ekpe Udoh, who was running and jumping and contesting shots all over the place. Early in the first, he challenged a Dirk Nowitzki jumper, then blocked Ian Mahinmi’s follow attempt. He blocked a Nowitzki shot a few possessions later. He should become a Serge Ibaka-like league-wide fan favorite as soon as the Warriors are relevant.
  • The first quarter wasn’t all one-sided and it wasn’t just the Mavericks being sloppy — both teams had six turnovers in the opening frame. After that timeout with 6:31 left, Rodrigue Beaubois and Lamar Odom checked in. Both immediately hit threes and tied the game at 11. But in the last 3:31, Golden State went on a 13-2 run. For the rest of the game, Dallas was playing catch-up.

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The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 2, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-Play – Shot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas100.086.038.129.820.013.6
Oklahoma City95.043.840.730.614.3

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Not many teams on this side of the Orlando Magic have managed to put together the kind of inescapably horrendous shooting performance that sank Dallas on Thursday. The Mavs shot just 8-for-38 in the second half, with the occasional trip to the free throw line providing the only non-JET source of reliable scoring. It would be incredibly convenient if there just one element to blame for Dallas’ offensive implosion — disrupted ball movement, a lack of effort, a mere bad shooting night, or the tilt of a team missing its star. Unfortunately, the best explanation is “all of the above.” This was a true team effort, with every possible variable ganging up on the Mavs for a perfect storm of offensive impotency. (To put things in perspective: Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Rodrigue Beaubois combined to shoot 28 percent from the field. Ouch.)
  • A testament to how bad things have become for Nowitzki (eight points, 2-15 FG, eight rebounds): The Thunder aggressively trapped the ball handler on pick-and-rolls involving Dirk. Nowitzki is certainly trying his best to revert back to the player we all know he can be, but the impossible fadeaway jumpers are finally starting to live up to their billing. That bouncing ball has no mercy for Dirk whatsoever, and it simply refuses to cooperate with Nowitzki’s efforts to provide his scoring talents to the Mavs’ championship defense. He’s still making some smart passes, working hard on defense, and clawing for rebounds, but Nowitzki isn’t suited to be a glorified hustle player. This is one of the greatest offensive players the NBA has ever seen, and if anyone out there has any idea how to help him find his way home, I’m sure Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle would be all ears.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 100, Oklahoma City Thunder 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 2, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas87.0114.951.921.327.513.8
Oklahoma City100.043.526.028.614.9

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This game was a prime demonstration of Vince Carter (14 points on nine shots, three assists) as a post-up option. It’s not about the buckets scored, but the opportunities created; Dallas ran their offense through Carter on the block in the second and third quarters, and VC was able to respond by drawing fouls, getting to the rim, and attracting plenty of defensive attention. Carter was such a convincing post threat that the Thunder left Dirk Nowitzki wide open in the opposite corner in order to blitz him down low. That kind of rotation barely seems possible, but mismatches like the ones Carter was able to create often force opponents into drastic measures.
  • Nowitzki (26 points, 10-16 FG, 1-5 3FG, six rebounds) may not have matched last year’s playoff performance in magnitude, but Monday night was a return to normalcy. The last time these teams met, Dirk looked rushed and uncomfortable. He hesitated before shooting open jumpers, and didn’t put much effort into establishing position at “his spots” on the floor. This performance was “vintage” Nowitzki, if they do indeed make months-old vintages. His footwork, ball fakes, and spins were all in playoff form, and though Dallas didn’t lean on Nowitzki’s offense as heavily as they did in the postseason, he was every bit as efficient as the Mavs could have expected him to be. I hope you enjoyed the first of what will undoubtedly be many brilliant showings for Nowitzki this season.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 112, Oklahoma City Thunder 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 24, 2011 under Recaps | 10 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas104107.748.142.012.512.5
Oklahoma City101.047.821.141.724.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • If you’re one for hyperbole, then you just witnessed the greatest playoff comeback in Dallas Mavericks history. If you’re not, well, you still witnessed the greatest playoff comeback in Dallas Mavericks history. To say this was an all-timer is no exaggeration, as the ridiculous 17-2 run the Mavs used to create a competitive game where there ought be none was shot on pre-aged celluloid, ready to be used in a hundred NBA commercials and playoff specials and retrospectives. This was a performance of immediate historic importance, and Dirk Nowitzki’s spins and fakes will become inseparable from the spine of playoff lore. The Mavs continue on their long, steady march through this season’s playoffs and toward their ultimate goal, but just four games into the Western Conference Finals, they’ve already reached immortality.
  • Nowitzki (40 points, 12-20 FG, five rebounds, three assists) was obviously the mover, the shaker, the game-taker, the back-breaker, but the box score was populated by the influence of the often overlooked. Dallas doesn’t win without combined — and I do mean combined, as their play was often in tandem — defensive efforts of Jason Kidd (17 points, 5-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals) and Shawn Marion (seven points, 1-5 FG, four rebounds, four steals). They swarmed and switched against Kevin Durant (29 points, 9-22 FG, 15 rebounds, four assists) and Russell Westbrook (19 points, 7-22 FG, eight rebounds, eight assists), and Marion’s game-saving block on Durant at the end of regulation and his tandem stop with Kidd against KD in overtime were only the tip of the iceberg. These two played exquisite floor D the entire night; they doubled at the right times, contested shots, deflected anything that went over the top, helped in transition, and created a dynamic front for a scrambling defense that threw Oklahoma City for a loop. Kidd’s 17 points were huge, but it’s the four steals apiece from Kidd and Marion that really set their performances apart.
  • On the Thunder side, the Mavs’ aggressive defense on Durant and Westbrook opened up plenty of scoring opportunities for Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison. They were able to convert layups, dunks, and open jumpers during the bulk of Game 4 — as evidenced by their 42 combined points — but when OKC’s offense wilted late (as it so often does), those three couldn’t offer the solace of a made J or a strong cut. Everything the Thunder had built turned to dust, ground into an unrecognizable ash by way of the unnecessarily arduous reality of OKC’s endgame offense. There’s no question that Sfealosha, Ibaka, and Collison were instrumental in the victory that almost was for the Thunder, but their contributions were notably absent during one of the biggest playoff meltdowns in modern NBA history.
  • Dallas used a 10-2 run to close the second quarter, a 7-0 run to close the third quarter, a 17-2 run to close the fourth quarter, and a 7-0 run to close overtime. “Always Be Glengarry Glen Rossing,” as they say.
  • The Thunder more than tripled the Mavs in offensive rebounding rate, but that advantage can be — and was — negated with the right combination of elements. Still, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that offensive rebounding, a product of positioning and effort, nearly brought this series to a 2-2 tie. The opportunity to take a 3-1 lead is substantial, but the Mavs’ inability to box out through a majority of Game 4 very nearly gave the Thunder the most commanding win of the series. OKC was so close to sprinting away, and Dallas so close to all of the self-analysis that come following losses of lethargy.
  • In further efforts to comprehend the fourth quarter shift aside from simply praising Nowitzki’s phenomenal shot-making: the Thunder committed a number of costly, foolish backcourt fouls that allowed the Mavs scoring opportunities with a stopped clock. That’s real currency in a comeback attempt, and perhaps the greatest proof that Dallas couldn’t have won this game without Oklahoma City’s help. It took makes and miracles and defensive execution, but the Mavs were only put in a position to remain competitive by way of the Thunder’s miscues. Kevin Durant took some horrible shots down the stretch. Russell Westbrook has a million voices in his head, all with the assured confidence of sages, telling him to drivepassshootkickgyregymblepickrolldribble; he’s playing like a man preoccupied with silencing critics, without the confidence in his game to assert his own voice and his own will. Scott Brooks is throwing out some odd lineups and doodling aimlessly on a clipboard. The Thunder’s problems are perhaps a bit richer and more complex than these sentences will have you believe, but they stem from the team’s stars and coach, and trickle down accordingly.
  • I’d be remiss to not reflect a bit on Jason Terry’s odd night. JET’s lows were perilous; his first half was uncharacteristically Magoo, and he nearly blew the potential for a comeback by attempting to draw a foul on a late-game fast break rather than actually attempt a legitimate shot. Yet in spite of all of the weird passes and near-turnovers, Terry was invaluable as a scorer and opportunistic defender. His 16 points spanning the second and third quarters helped keep the team afloat when the Thunder lead could have exploded, and JET scored as many points in overtime as OKC did as a team. There was plenty worth criticizing in Terry’s Game 4 performance, but this is why you stick with him, even when he starts slow. Dallas needs that scoring, and JET is far more capable of playing through his own poor play than most give him credit. He’ll have off nights and will be exploited defensively at times, but for better and worse the Mavericks need Jason Terry.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 121, Oklahoma City Thunder 112

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 18, 2011 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box Score Play-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas91.0133.059.646.625.013.2
Oklahoma City123.152.151.430.614.3

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Perfection, thy name is Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s Game 1 showing was dominant and poetic, an awkward exercise of mismatch exploitation that can be matched by none. His skill is something to behold in itself, but it was Nowitzki’s versatility that set him apart on Tuesday night; Dirk worked against Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Buckminster Fuller, Frankenstein’s monster, Joe Montegna, and Rube Goldberg. He varied his approach depending on the coverage — pump faked bigs, backed down guards, shot over the geodesic dome — but the results were always the same. 48 points on 15 shots isn’t a level of efficiency that can be comprehended by the human mind. It’s a transcendent performance, one which we can’t fully grasp by looking at a stat sheet or even watching the game film. Somewhere under the layers and layers of that video is an otherworldly white noise, an aura surrounding Nowitzki that we’re unable to precisely detect but is impossible to ignore. It’s just there, and while puny simpletons like you and I can’t come to a complete understanding of what happened in a game like this one, we’re perceptive enough to know that something special is going on that, frankly, goes beyond our existential pay-grade.
  • This series was branded as a shootout, and lived up to its billing in Game 1. Kevin Durant (40 points, 10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG, 18-19 FT, eight rebounds, five assists, three turnovers) may not have matched Nowitzki shot-for-shot, but he came as close as his own limits (and the Dallas defense, for whatever it was worth) allowed. His was a remarkable performance as well, but feats of basketball strength are forever boosted and obscured by the power of context. On any other night, Durant’s incredible production would have been the story, and the ordaining of a young star in the biggest game of his life would have grabbed national headlines. Those in the know don’t need a strong performance in this series to know that Durant is great, but performances like this one certainly don’t hurt his repute. Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson defended Durant for most of Game 1, but Jason Kidd — primarily through switches on 1-3 pick-and-rolls — got his chance, too. It didn’t matter. Durant was fantastic from all over the floor, and though Tyson Chandler did an excellent job of contesting his attempts in the paint, KD was awarded with enough free throws to keep the Thunder competitive in the face of a Nowitzki onslaught feat. J.J. Barea. Yet Durant’s problem is exactly that which I addressed in the preview; while he holds distinct advantages over Marion and Stevenson, he lacks the means to attack as consistently as Nowitzki. That won’t stop him from putting up huge point totals with efficient percentages, but if the dynamic of this series really is to be centered around Dirk vs. Durant, then the slight limitations of the application of Durant’s offensive game could prove costly.
  • The Mavs’ collective defense against Russell Westbrook went precisely according to the expected plan, with one small change: Stevenson started on Westbrook, and Dallas employed even more zone than one might have thought. Both of those elements worked out swimmingly; while Stevenson wasn’t notably great on the defensive end, he did his job and executed the game plan, while the match-up zone seemed to create some serious problems for Westbrook. The problem isn’t that Westbrook isn’t a “true point guard,” merely that he is particularly vulnerable to defensive coverage that grants him any shot he wants while defending the rim. The results speak for themselves, and though Westbrook is due for a big game at some point during this series (his talent alone should allow for that much), I don’t see how he combats this defensive strategy aside from making more jumpers. Chandler gives Westbrook a lot of problems inside, and while the young Thunder guard was able to compensate for those problems by drawing fouls and getting to the line (he attempted 18 free throws), it’s hard to object with any particular aspect of the Mavs’ defensive execution in this regard.
  • If it hasn’t already become pretty clear, this game turned into a bit of a free throw fest. Dallas’ 46.6 free throw rate is a bit ridiculous, but Oklahoma City’s 51.4 mark is flat-out bonkers. The whistles were quick on both ends of the court (beginning with a bizarre double-technical on Chandler and Kendrick Perkins just a minute and a half into the game), and played a significant role in the efficiency of both Durant and Nowitzki, as well as whatever semblance of efficiency Westbrook was able to muster. I’d expect OKC to continue shooting free throws at a high rate, but it’s no such certainty for Dallas.
  • The fundamental obstructions to the Dirk vs. Durant narrative were a pair of reserve guards. J.J. Barea (21 points, 8-12 FG) was again insanely effective as an initiator of the pick-and-roll, and Jason Terry (24 points, 8-16 FG, 4-8 3FG) continues his run of the gauntlet in an effort to restore his postseason reputation. Both produced as necessary, though the performance of the former may not have the same sustainability as Dirk’s; Barea looked unstoppable running the pick-and-roll with Dirk from the top of the key, but the Thunder are a better defensive team than they showed in Game 1. They may not have an answer for Nowitzki, but they can certainly tweak their approach to contain Barea, as even a single body between J.J. and the rim would limit the impact of that particular sequence. Of all of the areas of adjustment for the Thunder, I’d expect this to be the most significant.
  • Several observers on Twitter wisely pointed out the disconnect between the feel of the game and the scoring margin, and it’s something to consider. Nowitzki was amazing, Barea astounding, and the interior defense excellent, and yet the Thunder were within seven points with just a few minutes remaining. Dallas is good, but this is going to be a fiercely competitive series, regardless of how many games it goes on.
  • On the bright side for the Mavs: Shawn Marion’s performance has plenty of room for immediate improvement. His finishing totals and percentages were pretty decent, but Marion fumbled away many a scoring opportunity in Game 1, with some resulting in turnovers and others mere missed opportunities. If he’s a bit crisper on the catch and off the dribble in Game 2, his slashing and curling around the rim gives Dallas another dynamic offensive contributor.
  • James Harden’s 12 points and four assists weren’t back-breaking, but he did create some problems for the Mavs with his work in the pick-and-roll. I still see this as a directly addressable problem, and though Harden made some terrific passes after getting into the lane, Dallas can do better to prevent that initial penetration. Rest assured: the Mavs are well aware of the problems that Harden can create, and will look to make explicit changes in their execution to account for him.
  • Again: Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, even with both teams’ defenses taken into account. If the Thunder are to win, they’ll need either a sudden drop in the Mavs’ shooting from all over the floor, or a significant advantage on the offensive glass, in the turnover column, or in free throw attempts. They secured modest advantages in two of those areas on Monday, and it still wasn’t enough — Dallas won with a 9.9 efficiency differential.

A Reckoning

Posted by Ian Levy on May 17, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

“Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.” – Tom Robbins

The Mavericks and Thunder have arrived in the Western Conference Finals by way of very different trajectories – the Mavs having swept the defending champion Lakers, the Thunder fighting off their future rivals, the Grizzlies. Game 1 tonight will be the beginning of a, hopefully, spirited series between the youngest and oldest teams in league (weighted by minutes played). Besides the dichotomy between youthful exuberance and aged wisdom, here are a few other items to watch for:

  • The Mavericks outscored the Thunder by 5.46 points per 100 possessions in their three regular season matchups. However, in the 24 minutes Jeff Green wasn’t on the floor the Thunder outscored the Mavericks by 24.86 points per 100 possessions. I have it on good authority that Green will not be playing for the Thunder in this series, and no I won’t be revealing my sources. Taking away Green and Nenad Kristic, replacing them with Kendrick Perkins and a bigger dose of Serge Ibaka means there will be some configurations the Mavericks haven’t seen in person. The Mavericks also have gone through some changes of their own, losing Caron Butler and finding a place for Peja Stojokavic. In short these are two very different teams than the ones that last met in the regular season.
  • Rob pointed out in his series preview yesterday, that the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of 131.37 against the Thunder this season with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. To be fair to the Thunder, a lot of that offense came at the expense of Jeff Green. Against the frontcourt tandem of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of just 105.26. Expect the Thunder to try a few different defenders on Nowitzki.
  • Oklahoma City led the league in FT/FGA and FT% this season. The average NBA team scored 18.6 points per game at the free throw line. The Thunder scored 24.1. During the regular season, the Mavericks did as good a job as anyone at keeping the Thunder off the free throw line. They held the Thunder to 17.7 points per game at the free throw line and a FT/FGA ratio of 0.215, that’s below the league average and well below their league-leading mark of 0.299. If the Mavericks can continue to keep the Thunder off the foul line they’ll have neutralized one of their biggest weapons.
  • The Mavericks have rebounded really well against the Thunder this season. Across their three games they’ve grabbed 26.2% of their own misses, and 76.6% on the defensive glass. The 76.6 DRB% would have been the second best mark in the league had they maintained it across the entire season. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are coming off a thorough stomping of one of the best front-courts in the league. Their ability to maintain intensity and focus will be key for the Mavericks.
  • The lineup of Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler has been one of the Mavericks’ most frequently used and most successful lineups. This lineup was particularly effective against the Thunder during the regular season, scoring 28 points on 15 possessions in just under 8 minutes of play. That’s an Offensive Rating of 186.67. They also held the Thunder to 13 points on 15 possessions over the same time span, a Defensive Rating of 86.67. Matchups will be important all over the floor. If the Mavericks can be successful with largely the same rotation they’ve been using in the playoffs, it should help them maintain continuity with their blistering offensive execution.

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.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Oklahoma City Thunder Official Western Conference Finals Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 16, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 22 Comments to Read

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I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.

Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.

*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.

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The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.

As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.

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Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.

Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.

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Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.

**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.

In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.

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If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.

That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.

The Difference: Dallas beats Oklahoma City

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 24, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

The Difference is a new feature here at The Two Man Game, in which I’ll provide a bit of instant analysis on games shortly after they occur rather than the following morning. The longer, more detailed recaps will be up as soon as they’re available, but consider these morsels your post-game snack to hold you over until then.

For this feature, I’ll offer one bullet point for each point in the margin of victory. That makes this first installment fairly simple, but fun will be had when the blowouts come. Let’s not have another 50-point win though, eh?

  • Combined 6-of-23 shooting for Jason Terry and Jason Kidd? No big. That field goal percentage deficit ain’t no thang when the Mavs completely dominate their opponent in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding rate. These are not the Mavs we’re used to or even the Mavs that will be around for the season, but it’s still nice to have them drop by for a game every now and again.
  • Tyson Chandler (17 points, 5-9 FG, 18 rebounds): unlikely offensive weapon, skilled defender, rebounding fiend, ruler of men, master of Oklahoma City bigs. If Chandler were the leader of an underground, post-apocalyptic cult, I’d follow him. As far as basketball is concerned, though, he’s only sublime. I guess that will have to do.
  • Turnovers were the cause of the Mavs’ early troubles, but they rounded out their performance nicely by carefully protecting their possessions over the game’s final three quarters. Besides, Dallas couldn’t miss 18 threes if they were turning the ball over so often, now could they?
  • Russell Westbrook had 13 points on 13 shots. Is that good defense? Partially, sure, but Dallas can in no way claim full credit for keeping Westbrook in check. For whatever reason he just wasn’t as assertive as he could have — or should have — been.
  • Caron Butler can’t exactly redeem himself in a single night, but he started on the right path with a simple 6-of-13, 15-point performance. That’s the thing with Butler: he doesn’t have to wow anyone. All he has to do is not induce groans with his shot selection. All he has to do is not head fake his way into a migraine. This kind of moderate scoring and fairly efficient line will do nicely.
  • The Mavs’ transition defense still needs work. It’s not hugely bothersome given the limited number of transition possessions in the average game, but there’s not really a valid excuse for uncontested drives through the middle of a Maverick cluster.
  • I’m typically an advocate of starting Serge Ibaka in Jeff Green’s place, for reasons of fit and talent. Green had a solid outing, even if his defensive efforts were a bit futile. Someone has to guard Dirk Nowitzki, and Green had a tough night defending Nowitzki without fouling. That said, Green had a successful offensive evening from all over the court, as his versatile style tilted toward the scoring column for a night.
  • Jason Kidd had a throwback shooting performance, as he shot 2-of-9 from beyond the arc and 3-of-12 overall. Kidd has plenty of tough shooting nights filled with near-misses, but he put up more than a few knuckleballs in this one.