“Y’all just mad. Because today, you suckers got served.”
-David, You Got Served
They most certainly did.
It’s a refreshing feeling to be on this end of a savage beatdown. I don’t have to explain away an embarassment, or throw a breakdown under the microscope. I think I like it.
The Mavs could have allowed the Suns to create a bit too much significance out of the final five games of the season. Hell, they could have at least let Phoenix make a game out this singular contest, dubbed by Grant Hill as the team’s ‘World Cup.’ But for whatever reason, the Mavs weren’t in a generous mood. They stabbed the Suns right in the heart, twisted it, and twisted it some more. This wasn’t a demonstration of killer instinct, but rather, a will to annihilate. It wasn’t just a destruction of the Suns’ playoff chances, it was a complete eradication of hope and confidence. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the puddle of disappointment that lays where the mighty Suns once stood. The Mavs didn’t start Phoenix’s downfall, but they have likely dealt the finishing blow and inked the death certificate.
The Mavs’ weapon of choice in the duel between man and turnstyle was the three-pointer. The Mavs shot a ridiculous 15-25 from three (compared to the Suns’ 6-21). It was a product of a hotter-than-hot shooting night from three, but also spectacular shot selection and a complete failure on the Suns’ part to put a hand in anybody’s face. Dallas wasn’t particularly great in their contests defensively, but Phoenix certainly helped their cause with an off-night (the Suns’ starters shot a combined 1-8 from deep). This isn’t exactly the type of scoring output we can expect night-in and night-out from the Mavs. They just don’t have that kind of shooting consistency from beyond the arc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, and giggle with delight whenever a Maverick moneyball rips through the net.
One of the reasons why the Mavs suddenly displayed unbelieveable shooting efficiency was Jason Kidd, who had already notched 16 assists by halftime. Kidd’s court sense was uncanny; he was finding shooters all over the court and opening things up for easy baskets inside. On top of that, this game was perhaps the first on the season that Kidd’s post-up game was completely dominant. Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa didn’t stand a chance against Kidd backing them down in the lane, and on four straight offensive possesssions in the first quarter, Kidd created ten points (two buckets of his own, two threes on dishes to Terry in the corner). The Suns’ inability to counter Kidd’s work in the post caused them to shift to a zone, which cleared the skies for the long-range attack. Kidd was brilliant, and his offensive significance in this game cannot be understated. 19 points (6-8 FG), 20 assists, just 2 turnovers, +29 overall. Cue applause.
Shaquille O’Neal is supposed to be the Suns’ safety net. When the shots stop falling, Shaq is supposed to allow them to pound it inside and carry the load on his back. That he was not on Sunday. 14 points (6-9 FG) and 7 rebounds isn’t a bad night by any means, but it was certainly a forgettable one that was miserably timed. Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and Brandon Bass fought valiantly in the paint, both to secure position and deny Shaq shots altogether. Shaq could have been a huge thorn in the Mavs’ side, and could have severely damaged the Mavs’ lead. Instead, Dallas ran him off the floor, made him a defensive liability, and limited his offensive impact. Allowing 116 points rarely seems like defensive success, but the Mavs’ ability to make Shaq a non-factor is definitely a self-standing victory.
Dirk was creeping around, quietly dealing body blows to the Suns all game long to the tune of 28 points (on 10 of 12 shooting!) in just 29 minutes. His midrange work was impeccable as always, but he had great movement off the ball as well, and finished well around the basket. Offensive games don’t get much better from Dirk, and yet most of the viewing audience was none the wiser.
It’s worth noting that J.J. Barea got the start over Antoine Wright at shooting guard, and did not disappoint. Having another ball handler on the floor during the game’s crucial early stretches (a hot start against the Suns can do wonders for a team’s confidence going into the final three quarters) helped tremendously, and J.J.’s aggressiveness offensively was incredibly valuable. Barea’s partner in crime, Brandon Bass,was tremendous. He had 18 points, 4 rebounds, and was +29 on a night where most of his minutes came lined up against Shaq. He was trying to tear down the rim as usual, and Shaq looked lost as Bass whizzed by him and slammed down alley-oops behind him.
Honestly, I could go down the roster and single out almost every Maverick for praise. Josh Howard had another nice offensive night, with 24 points and 4 rebounds, but was equally instrumental defensively. Jason Terry seemed automatic on his way to 18 points, including 4-6 on 3FG. James Singleton, Ryan Hollins, Antoine Wright, and Erick Dampier all gave tremendous effort and impacted the game in their usual ways, only with exaggerated results. From top to bottom, the Suns got creamed.
Sometimes it’s easier to just go by the numbers:
81 points in one half of basketball. 140 points total.
Lowest quarter output: a measly 26.
82 points scored on 34 team assists, and 48 points off of Kidd’s 20 assists.
Sunday was a good day. Playoffs, here we come.
Oh, and this:
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, surprise, surprise, Jason Kidd. He put on his shorts one leg at a time, and then dominated everyone who guarded him, spearheaded the Mavs’ offense, put up epic numbers, and overtook Magic for the 3rd spot among all-time assist leaders. Well done, sir.
“I’M WALKIN’ ON SUNSHINE, WHOA-OH, AND DON’T IT FEEL GOOD? YEAH.”
-Katrina, Katrina and the Waves
Last night was, in the opinion of this humble writer, the most important Mavs win all season. Bar none. Yeah.
Yet I’m in a very dark place knowing that a motivated, rested Blazers team is lurking in the shadows this evening, ready to ruin everything. But let’s get to that later, eh?
The Mavs and the Suns couldn’t stop each other last night, as evidenced by the Mavs’ 53.4% shooting and the Suns’ 55.2% shooting. But the Mavs got the big plays when it mattered, weren’t shy about letting Dirk dominate in the second half, and took advantage of nearly every free throw attempt (18-20 as a team from the line). This was far from a great defensive effort by the Mavs, but as a team they showed more poise and guts down the stretch than we’ve seen from them all season. Everyone came up big, and the Mavs overcame the absence of Josh Howard to put away a desperate team with its back against the wall.
Dirk was an artist. He made all of us forget about his 4-13 first half with a monstrous second (he finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks). He defined high post brilliance with his arsenal of shot fakes and spins, and Matt Barnes was stranded by his coach and his teammates as the Mavs milked the iso for everything it was worth. If the look was there, he took it. If the look wasn’t there, he took it. He took everything that Matt Barnes had ever held dear in his life, set it on fire, and swished the J. There are nights where a player is unstoppable, and there are nights where Dirk is something else entirely. Those are great nights to be a Mavs fan.
When the double teams finally came, Dirk dished it off to an open Kidd, who hit two consecutive threes to ice the game. Beautiful. Kidd was 4-8 from deep and really hit the boards hard, seemingly converting every long rebound into a fast break or a seamless progression into the half-court offense. Though, it should be mentioned that as good as Kidd was, he struggled defensively…again. Putting Kidd on Steve Nash was clearly not a desirable option; Jason Terry and J.J. Barea both provided better alternatives.
The Mavs went to the three-guard lineup to start the game (only with Wright instead of Terry), and it paid off. Devean George has his moments, but in general I prefer Barea’s penetration and mentality, even if he does present his own unique defensive problems and has a tendancy to overdo things. His effort in Phoenix gave me all the evidence I need, as his early point-per-minute rate eventually culminated in a 16 point night with 4 assists as garnish, and a nice scoop of +14 to top it all off. Barea agitated Nash on the defensive end by crowding him, and gave the Mavs exactly what they needed against a Suns squad that just couldn’t match their firepower.
Jason Terry was more than back, exemplifying everything that I love so much about his game. His defense wasn’t always there, but the effort was, and his performance on that end was much easier to swallow when balanced by a 25 point performance on 18 shots with just 1 turnover. He shot just 3-10 from three-point range, but he seemed damn near unguardable for a good portion of the game, and he’s gaining confidence with that injured left hand by the minute.
The Suns couldn’t guard Dirk, they couldn’t guard JET, and they couldn’t guard…Brandon Bass. Bass was active and involved in the offense, hitting his face-up looks and playing the offensive glass. If and when Bass develops a true back-to-the-basket game that doesn’t involve only taking jump shots, I will jump for joy and possibly buy a Bass jersey. In the meantime, I’ll still be really excited, hope the Mavs resign him in the offseason, and maybe still buy that jersey.
Ryan Hollins gave the Mavs an unexpected shot in the arm when Erick Dampier picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. I expected James Singleton or Brandon Bass to try their hand at guarding Shaq, but Carlisle thought differently. Good thing, too, because the Mavs turned in a +18 performance with Hollins sprinting like a seven-foot gazelle with rocket boots down the middle of the floor, keeping the defense focused on the paint and even scoring six of his own. His defense on Shaq was far from perfect (by my count, Shaq scored six on him on rudimentary post seal moves), but he was active in denying O’Neal the ball on a night where no one else could stop him (Shaq finished 9-10, but 10 is the important number there) and made the Suns pay for not being able to keep up with him. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why Ryan Hollins can be an asset for the Mavs. He’s not as strong as Erick Dampier nor as disciplined defensively, but he gives the team a completely different dimension that they’ve never had before. Scoff at it all you like, but that’s something.
The Suns were basically cheated out of a possession after a Maverick bucket, when the Phoenix timekeepers reset the shot clock to just 15 seconds rather than 24. Very odd.
In the second quarter, Dirk attempted the world’s ugliest running hook shot. I appreciate the effort, big guy, but when you talked about how that shot is different in practices than in games, you weren’t kidding.
Congrats to Shaq, who climbed to 6th on the career scoring list with a bizarre double-clutch layup on a Dampier foul.
The Suns broadcast team made a note that Lou Amundson is the Phoenix equivalent of James Singleton. Thoughts?
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night should go to Dirk, who was all kinds of spectacular. But since he gets it pretty much every other game, I’m going to show some love to Ryan Hollins instead. Hollins keyed a stretch in the third quarter that included a 9-0 run and a 6-0 run to give Dallas the lead for good. The way he not only minimalized the loss of Erick Dampier due to foul trouble but actually capitalized was surprising in the best possible way. 6 points and 4 rebounds doesn’t exactly grab you, but this guy changed the fricking game. Mad props, yo.