“Comfort was allowed to come to them rare, welcome, unsought: a gift like joy.””
-Ursula K. LeGuin
Jason Terry curled around a screen. He streaked by his teammate and his defender. He rose. He fired. With the gradual click of grinding gears, the Mavericks’ universe balanced itself. With each give goes a take, with each reaction an equal and opposite reaction.
Statistically speaking, Dallas’ defense is the strength on which they’ve built their season, but it’s the improvements in the offense that give just as much reason for hope. Jason Kidd won’t score 16 points every game, but other than that, Dallas didn’t do anything out of character. Dirk Nowitzki faced up and hit over his defenders. Jason Terry found the ball when plays needed to be made, and had a fantastic second half to balance a crummy first one. Other than that, Kidd knocked down spot-up attempts, J.J. Barea got to the rim a few times with mixed results, and Tyson Chandler finished a few inside. There’s nothing to see here, other than Dallas’ offense executing against one of the best defenses in the league, doing nothing apart from what they do on a nightly basis.
The Mavs have been haunted in the past by their predictability, but this is one case in which familiarity offers sure comfort. Opponents should know that Dirk and JET are central to the Mavs’ offense, but Rick Carlisle and his staff have done a great job of freeing up both players in a variety of ways. This year, it’s been Dallas that meticulously picks apart opposing defenses with smart cuts, well-planned picks, and expert shooting. From a taglined perspective, it’s still Nowitzki and Terry, but their ability to get open consistently and execute against defenses like Boston and New Orleans is promising.
Of course, what happens to that offensive balance and flow when Caron Butler is reintroduced to the lineup is still a concern. Wednesday’s rematch with the Hornets could end up being an interesting case study on Caron’s impact, for better or worse.
As I mentioned in The Difference, Dallas’ second-half defense on Chris Paul (or on pick-and-rolls in general) should be commended. It’s not just the decision to put Tyson Chandler on David West, which turned out to be a fantastic strategic call, but the execution against the pick-and-roll by the team defense was top-notch. It was Chandler, it was Barea, it was Terry, Kidd, Nowitzki, Marion…every Maverick on the floor was rotating well, and the chosen concession was to give three-pointers for Willie Green, Peja Stojakovic, and occasionally Trevor Ariza. Those players get a pat on the head for hitting their open shots, but that was an excellent choice considering the alternatives. Paul was corralled, West was smothered. The ball was put in the hands of New Orleans’ lesser talents, and that’s something Dallas can live with, even if Green decided to be an above-average NBA player for a night.
Well-planned, and well-played, Mavs. Now do it all again on Wednesday.
- The Hornets lost, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure they’d prefer to still be undefeated, but New Orleans is a damn good basketball team.
- I could watch Tyson Chandler hedge on pick-and-rolls all day.
- This wasn’t Shawn Marion’s game. His five turnovers were killer, and to make matters worse, he wasn’t all that successful defensively. Marion can easily get lost on a night like this one, in which the opponent has no clear scoring option on the wing. Marion isn’t the type of defender the Mavs want chasing Peja Stojakovic down the baseline. He’s the type of defender you want to blanket a superstar wing scoring in isolation. Matchups like these negate Marion’s strengths, and though he did some good things on the court, the circumstances didn’t exactly help him along.
- Jason Terry deserves much more credit than he received in this recap, but rest assured, more is coming on JET’s performance. The same goes for Dallas’ fourth-quarter defense.
- I’m not sure there’s a more infuriating player to defend in the NBA than Chris Paul. He’s sickeningly good, and that makes the task of D-ing him up a tough one in itself. But factor in the fouls he draws both in the half-court offense and in transition by exaggerating contact, and it’s a miracle that anyone guarding Paul can keep their head. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups are just as crafty with their manipulations of perception, but neither combines CP’s blend of top-level production and infuriating extracurricular activity.
- Jason Terry’s defense really is much improved this season. Not only is he covering better in general, but it seems as though he’s somehow improved his anticipation in the passing lanes. Maybe JET is just more selective with his more blatant steal attempts, but he can really disrupt ball movement on the perimeter.
- Brendan Haywood. Yeesh.
- Dallas has actually run plays designed to get Shawn Marion mid-range jumpers this season, and they’re working. My guess is that they’re sets frequently used by the starting lineup to free up Caron for a jumper at the free throw line extended, and Marion is benefiting from sliding into Butler’s role. Regardless, Marion is making them, and he’s 3-of-3 in such sequences by my highly unofficial count.
- The zone will give up threes, but opponents would be smart to put their most prolific three-point shooter on Dirk Nowitzki’s side of the zone. Dirk got burned a few times in this one by corner shooters, and given his responsibilities to collapse in the lane and his relatively slow recovery speed, I’d say that Nowitzki’s corner (usually the right one) is one of the zone’s more vulnerable points.
- This was just a wildly entertaining game. If you didn’t have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend tracking down the game via League Pass Broadband, etc. The fourth quarter alone was one of the more entertaining frames in any NBA game this season.
- J.J. Barea finished with three shot attempts at the rim, five rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers. I’d say he’s settled in nicely after his early struggles, wouldn’t you?
- DeShawn Stevenson and Brian Cardinal finished with two threes apiece. I don’t buy into the “Cardinal doing the little things” rhetoric on most occasions, but I can definitely understand using him as a stopgap when he’s hitting his open shots.
- Something needs to be said about Dirk Nowitzki’s passing. Dirk hit a game-tying three-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but he gave up a three in transition — a Nowitzki favorite — so that Kidd could get an even better look in the corner. Then, within the final minute, Dirk set up Terry out of the two man game for an open jumper. Nowitzki would love nothing more than to have taken a shot in both situations, but he deferred, and it paid off.