Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.”
- As much as I’d like to congratulate the Mavs for mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this is not a win that deserves celebration. The Thunder were a team with something to play for, and play they did. Dallas had a real chance to spoil (or at least delay) Oklahoma City’s playoff celebrations, but to call what they did defensively “execution” wouldn’t exactly be accurate. It shouldn’t take an 18-point deficit and 41 minutes to suddenly instill a playoff team with a sense of urgency, yet that really seems to be a reality with these Mavs. It’s been the story throughout most of the season, regardless of who it was hitting the floor in a Maverick uniform.
- Jason Kidd chimed in with a harsh reality for a wannabe contender: “It’s not that we don’t have talent. We’re one of the deepest teams in this league. I think we all need to take this nice little break we have and figure out who we want to be, and that’s sad to say with only five games left.”
- The most effective center for the Mavs was Eddie Najera (11 points), and that’s a problem. Erick Dampier (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) was fairly meh, but Brendan Haywood (nine points, three rebounds) was the big disappointment as he struggled defensively and managed to fumble the ball away three times despite limited touches. When the Mavs traded for Najera, they were expecting a veteran, an end-of-the-rotation guy, and a solid energy player. When the Mavs traded for Haywood, they were expecting a “franchise center,” sayeth Mark Cuban. It’s not good when the former outperforms the latter, especially when the former manages to play 13 and a half minutes without grabbing a single rebound.
- Seeing Dallas play well only during crunch time is something of a cruel tease. In many cases, they manage to pull out a win after only really playing a quarter or half a quarter of good basketball. That’s impressive, sure, but it only serves as a constant reminder of how good this team could be if they executed more consistently, and makes one wonder how many of these close games would be walk-off wins. This team has had time to gel, and now it’s time to perform.
- Jason Terry, undoubtedly frustrated, making sure that the guys at the head of the Maverick bench get their due: “Our play is sporadic. Sometimes we play good D, sometimes we don’t. It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable.”
- Caron Butler and Jason Terry combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Beautiful.
- On the frustrating side of things, the Mavs actually played pretty good defense on Kevin Durant. If they did one thing well defensively tonight, it was that; the Durantula scored 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, though he also had five assists, five steals, and five rebounds. And the Thunder win by five. It was fated to be. Shawn Marion was matched up with KD early, and that responsibility shifted to Caron Butler after Marion left the game with a strained left oblique. Butler did a decent enough job and his teammates were able to pressure Durant well when he had the ball in his hands. The only problem is that the Mavs didn’t rotate well to compensate.
- That left guys like Nick Collison (17 points), Eric Maynor (14 points, four assists), and James Harden (11 points, three assists, three turnovers) wide open. The problem wasn’t Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green, even though they combined for 62 points; the real trouble was that Dallas gave uncontested threes and open layups to the Thunder’s role players. There’s typically going to be some price to pay when traps and double-teams figure prominently into a team’s defensive strategy, but giving up 17 to Nick Collison? Letting OKC, a team 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, go completely hog-wild and drop 121 points? That stench isn’t trouble a-brewin’, but trouble fully and thoroughly brewed and only now starting to really stink.
- Then again, plenty of it wasn’t overaggressive defense, just bad defense. With 7:26 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs down by 16, Collison drove right down the center for an easy layup…against a zone defense. Not good, guys.
- Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10-19 FG, 13 rebounds, five turnovers) actually had a pretty terrific scoring night, and it’s a shame that it will be completely obscured by the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. Despite OKC having two good defensive options for Dirk in Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green, he performs well against them for some reason (excluding tonight’s game, Nowitzki has averaged 30.3 points per game on 53.5 % shooting against the Thunder). Dirk was a huge reason why the fourth quarter comeback was so successful, and he hit some huge shots. Or really, what would have been huge shots had Dallas’ late-game efforts not been all for naught.
- Dallas also wasted a great scoring night from Jason Kidd (24 points, 10-15 FG, six assists), who was the sole reason the game wasn’t completely unwinnable by the end of the third quarter. Kidd had 13 points in the third, half of the Mavs’ total for the frame.
- The Mavs actually out-shot the Thunder, both in terms of effective field goal percentage (56.2% to 54.9%) and raw field goal percentage (53.1% to 51.9%), and outrebounded them (39-34), yet still lost. I’m not positive that this is the case, but it could have something to do with forgetting to play defense in the first half and surrendering 67 points over the first 24 minutes.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, two turnovers) got the first minutes as the back-up point, but J.J. Barea (10 points) ultimately outperformed him when he provided a spark for Dallas in the fourth.
- Nick Collison, via Twitter (@nickcollison4), regarding Oklahoma City’s playoff-clinching win: “Got 1 “congrats” text from my wife and one from her dad. Just realized I accidentally replied “thank you baby, love u” to her dad. Awkward”
Photo by Larry W. Smith/NBAE via Getty Images).
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
With this season’s Mavs, there is no switch for Rick Carlisle to flip. They need not token motivational speeches, or external motivation, or emotional incident. There’s simply an internal trigger that brings everything into focus. There’s a gentle whisper in the ear of the team leaders with a simple message: It’s winning time.
A Serge Ibaka dunk put the Thunder up 75-71 with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and over the subsequent seven minutes (in which the Mavs went on a 21-5 run), the Mavs were a whirling dervish of defensive stops and heady offensive play. The sloppy execution by OKC was a perfect contrast to Dallas’ patience with the basketball. As the Mavs looked to seal the win and wrap it in a bow, they refused to give into the temptation of contested jumpers or solo heroism, and as a result, they reaped the benefits of open jumpers and, well, solo heroism. Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-17 FG, 11 rebounds) had already established his offensive rhythm, but the Mavs continued to execute their game plan. Sometimes that involved getting the ball into Dirk, but even those possessions were carefully executed and fed the ball to Nowitzki at his favorite spots on the floor. The spacing was excellent, and when OKC’s pressure proved to be too much, Dirk was quick to kick the ball to an open teammate around the basket or at the 3-point line.
On defense, the Mavs managed to exploit the limits of the Thunder offense. As I made note of prior to yesterday’s game, Russell Westbrook (16 points, 6-19 FG, six rebounds, five assists) is a terrific talent, but if it’s the point guard’s job to manage the offense on critical possessions and under difficult circumstances, Westbrook failed. He worked so hard to get into the paint, and it’s hard to rip a guy when he’s putting forth that kind of effort. But last night was an excellent case study in the differences between a veteran offense with a point guard in the truest sense, and a young, developing team still in search of its offensive mojo. Westbrook didn’t have a bad game and the loss hardly falls on his shoulders, but if the Thunder had a different breed of point guard, does the blanketed Kevin Durant get more open looks? Does he get the ball in space, on the move, or from the spots on the floor in which he likes to operate? It’s hard to say conclusively given the stellar defensive effort by the Mavs, but the end result is a bit telling.
The Thunder certainly didn’t give up, and the manner in which they attacked the basket late in the game is commendable. But the Maverick D was ready and waiting, helping and covering to counter screens and giving OKC’s shooters all the room in the world and dared them to shoot. It was the same philosophy that allowed the Mavs’ zone defense to be so effective in the second and third quarters, and a logical plan of attack against a team that ranks 23rd in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
The crowning achievement of the Mavs’ defense was their shackling of Kevin Durant (12 points, 4-18 FG, four turnovers). It started on the ball with Shawn Marion and Josh Howard, who limited Durant’s touches through ball denial and crowding. When KD finally got his hands on the ball, he faced pressure on his shot from Marion and Howard, pressure on the dribble from Jason Kidd, and pressure on his drives from Erick Dampier and Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs were able to take away everything that makes Durant so brilliant, and those looking for a keynote performance from the Maverick D need look no further than their work against Durant and the Thunder.
Oh and by the by, Dirk Nowitzki looked pretty much unguardable. He had a few turnovers, but Ibaka and Green, for all their best efforts, were more or less hopeless.
- James Harden (12 points, six rebounds, three turnovers) and Jeff Green (15 points, 7-11 FG, 11 rebounds) were the OKC offense, and I mean that in ways both good and bad. Green was especially remarkable with his range and his touch around the basket, but the fact that the Thunder offense was left to lean so heavily on Harden and Green (who combined to score just 27 points) is a bit problematic. OKC’s offense isn’t very good to begin with, and without big contributions from Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, they’re going to have a hard time winning games.
- The Mavs were able to weather another minimal scoring performance from Jason Terry (seven points, 2-12 FG, five assists). He ran down the shot clock needlessly and even committed a double-dribble violation while trying to break down his man at the top of the key. Not exactly what you’d like to see out of your team’s second best scorer, regardless of who is matched up against him.
- Rick Carlisle is definitely tightening up the rotation, as only three Mavs (Howard, Gooden, Terry) managed to get off the bench. More to come on that topic later.
- 15 points and three turnovers for Josh Howard, whose offensive efforts were productive, if not pretty. I can’t say I’m too proud of Josh’s shot selection, but again, he came up big. 15 points in a 14-point win? I wouldn’t say that every bucket was crucial, but finding scoring relief with Dirk on the bench is paramount right now.
- Jason Kidd was Jason Kidd. That is all.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, he’s pretty good, right? Good enough to drop 35 on 18 shots, good enough to impact the game defensively, and good enough to take over the Maverick offense and make all the right plays. Nowitzki is as good as it gets in the NBA right now, and the Dirk we saw last night had virtually no weaknesses in his game.