The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 5, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-05-05 at 11.15.33 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0105.448.130.425.012.7
Oklahoma City112.058.026.717.613.4

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

  • You know what they say: If you’re going to lose a winnable series in four games, at least go out in an exhibition for one of the game’s most fantastically understated players, supplying the wood for his buzzsaw in what one can ultimately assume will be a daunting display of razor-focused finesse and craftsmanship. James Harden (29 points, 11-16 FG, 3-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists) gets a raw deal because the public’s attention span can only extend to two star teammates at a time, but he’s far too good to be relegated as some distant third, and far too lethal to be ignored, even for a second. Dallas tried a number of coverages from a variety of directions in the fourth quarter, but none of it mattered — Harden attacked from the same point on the floor at the same angle, repeatedly bludgeoning the Mavericks with his own unique grace. And, as an important extension: credit upon credit to Scott Brooks, who afforded Harden the opportunities he needed without the slightest interference. Harden keyed the offense and out-dueled Dirk Nowitzki, all because his teammates agreed to spot up from the perimeter, because his coach saw an opening and exploited it, and because he’s a ridiculously difficult pick-and-roll cover.

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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

Screen shot 2011-05-24 at 11.45.48 AM

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

Screen shot 2011-05-18 at 11.28.19 AM

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder 96, Dallas Mavericks 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 3, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

“EPIC FAIL.”
-Anon

SOMEBODY KILL ME PLEASE.

Games like these make me hate writing recaps.  Losses are always hard, but can’t the Mavs at least get a little more creative in the way that they lose?  Oh, a quick point guard burned Jason Kidd.  Oh, one of our significant players didn’t play due to injury.  Oh, the defense was atrocious and the offense couldn’t keep up.  Oh, we lost another game to a subpar team, and another game to a team missing multiple significant players (I guess that might be a new one — to my knowledge, the Mavs haven’t done both of those in the same game).

As much as we’d like to believe that the Mavs are playing better, everything is still exactly the same.  The Mavs are still a team that’s unable to put together consistent effort on either end of the court, and it costs them games against contenders and basement-dwellers alike.  If you grant them even the slightest benefit of the doubt, they’ll relax and blow it.  It’s aggravating, and I’m sick and tired.

The worst part: as good as Russell Westbrook was (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists), he didn’t kill the Mavs.  He shot 6-18 and had 6 turnovers.  The real murderers?  Nenad Krstic (26 points, 10-16 FG), Thabo Sefolosha (15 points, 6-11 FG), and Kyle M.F. Weaver (18 points, 7-13 FG).  Let that sink in for a minute.  I’ll wait.  Also: Malik Rose had 7 points.  Nothing more need be said.

It’s a pity because Dirk was pretty spectacular, especially as the Mavs tried to claw their way back into this game in the fourth.  He finished with 28 points on 21 shots, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists — a team high in assists, a high among starters in rebounds, and more points than the four other starters combined.  Jason Terry (20 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals) seemed to be the only one willing to share the offensive load, and he was already showing glimpses of the old JET despite appearing in just his 2nd game since his return from injury.  He was curling off screens well, and even popped a signature JET pull-up transition three.  Unfortunately all was for naught, and the Mavs regressed a few months in Josh Howard’s absence.  Should we be surprised that the scoring finally tapered off when Howard went out of the game due to a sore left ankle?  The Mavs’ offense played out exactly as it did during Howard’s extended absence: Dirk trying to do everything, Terry doing his best to help, and the rest of the team blowing it.

That’s all I’ve got for you.  The Mavs are still up to their teasing ways, flirting with legitimacy before the inevitable meltdown.  I’m still holding onto playoff hope, but right now I just want to go chew on some tin foil.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Shut up.

Rumor Mongering: Tick-Tock, Trade Machiners

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 19, 2009 under Rumors | 2 Comments to Read

About half an hour until the deadline, and not much out of Mavs-land.  Considering the Mavs most expendable trade asset (Jerry Stackhouse’s contract) can actually be used over the summer (the Mavs have until August to turn down the non-guaranteed portion of his deal), I don’t think they’ll be panicking.  Hell, the Blazers aren’t panicking, and that’s with Raef Lafrentz’s mammoth expiring contract.  Here’s the latest chatter from around the interwebs:

  • Mark Cuban, via Eddie Sefko’s piece this morning: “‘I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more that’s going to be done,’ owner Mark Cuban said. ‘Everybody’s looking to do the same thing, save money and to save cap room [for the future]. It’s hard to do both.’”
  • Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: “‘It feels like Dallas has 100 different scenarios juggling in the air,’ one Western Conference executive said Thursday.”
  • Eddie Sefko, DMN Mavs Blog: “You never know when a rebound will fall in your lap. And the Mavericks are still working the trade grapevine to see if anything crazy happens in the last hour. Doesn’t seem likely, but you never know with this bunch.”
  • Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com:  “‘How many trade offers have you had?’ Donnie [Nelson] was asked on Wednesday night. ‘Today? Seventy-five. Maybe 100. A lot,’ he responded. ‘I just got five in the 45 minutes I’ve been talking to you guys.’”

Here are the completed trades of the day:

Fin.  Done.  It’s over.  These are the Mavs you’ll see for the rest of the season, folks — for better or worse.