I could easily be throwing dirt over Oklahoma City’s coffin way too soon, but history suggests they’re set up for evitable doom as they now the Memphis Grizzlies 3-1. Teams that have been in Oklahoma City’s spot are only 2-32 in their previous series, 1-8 in the conference semifinals. Looking at the potential opponents for Memphis, Golden State and San Antonio, you still have to lean towards Memphis as being the favorites. Would the league be thrilled to see Memphis in the Finals? Probably not, but that’s not the point.
The Memphis Grizzlies being favorites to make a trip the NBA Finals? That’s crazy talk. Yes, a Russell Westbrook injury certainly changed the equation in the Western Conference, but Memphis isn’t necessarily taking advantage of the situation. It’s just a case where Oklahoma City has been exposed as a team that actually needs Westbrook and that they more guys who would be willing to give half the effort or production that Kevin Durant is giving in this series.
Back to the point, Memphis looks primed to make a serious run. It’s not a popular opinion, but I have enjoyed watching them play. Prior to matchups against Memphis, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has always mentioned that the Grizzlies play a “playoff style of basketball.” How does Dallas, or the rest of the league, look at this and do they adapt?
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Kittens and basketball players don’t have a lot in common. I don’t even think I should have to go into that any further. But at some point in my brain I can become so obsessed with an idea that i start to see it everywhere.
Looking back to 2007, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I had become obsessed with Zach Randolph. All the rumors said that the Blazers were planning to move Randolph in a draft-day deal, and I was completely on-board with the notion. The Mavericks weren’t much removed from their loss in the NBA Finals to Miami, and Randolph had just gotten snubbed the year before from an All-Star game appearance despite averaging 20-10 for the season. A friend was acting as caretaker for the kitten of a co-worker and I couldn’t help but call the little orange feline Zach Randolph all week long leading up to the draft. When draft day came, it was the New York Knicks who ended up with Randolph. With only a blue collar added on, kitten Zach Randolph was Knicks uniform appropriate. It made sense, and was probably about as sound a reasoning as Isaiah Thomas used in some of his other decisions as General Manager.
I’m not planning on naming any animals after DeMarcus Cousins, even though the mercurial Sacramento Kings center has been the topic of much Randolphesque trade discussion after numerous on the court and off the court indiscretions. Cousins also recently switched agents to Dan Fegan, who brought the Dallas Mavericks such hits as the Lamar Odom trade (though Fegan also represented Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Shawn Marion on the Mavs’ championship squad), in a move that many believe it a precursor to his exit from Sacramento. ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton examined the Mavericks as one of the potential suitors in a Cousins trade (as an extension of the reported notion that Dallas is among Cousins’ preferred destinations) and lays out a potential deal with the Mavericks parting ways with Collison, Beaubois, and Wright in return for Sacramento’s best player.
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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.
- It’s difficult to predict which Mavericks’ team will show up on any given night this season. The vacillation between an encouraging 2011-2012 Mavericks’ win and poorly played loss is both significant and frequent. Tonight’s game fell in the former category, as the Mavericks played arguably one of their most complete games of the season. No Maverick player’s performance stood out as particularly fantastic, but almost every player provided what was needed, and assumed their role to the fullest. Dirk Nowitzki (10-18 FG, 23 points, 10 rebounds) was in fine form from the onset, Shawn Marion (7-11 FG, 16 points, seven rebounds) scored and defended Rudy Gay (4-12 FG, eight points) with typical ease, and Jason Terry (6-14 FG, 15 points) gave the Mavericks a much needed scoring spark during times of stagnant offensive movement. The Mavericks’ defense gave the team the boost it has all season, frustrating both Marc Gasol (3-13 FG, 10 points) and Zach Randolph (2-6 FG, four points) to no end, but the difference in this game came when the Mavericks finally found an offensive rhythm late in the second and fourth quarters.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (3-7 FG, 8 points, five assists) had a nice little bounce-back game, if an unspectacular one. Rick Carlisle called on Beaubois to finish out the fourth quarter after a strong stretch of play, and Beaubois met the challenge. Carlisle’s decision to keep Beaubois in the game late is further evidence of Carlisle’s trust in Beaubois and situational rotations, as Delonte West (6-7 FG, 14 points, two assists) had scored efficiently during his time on the court. Beaubois was hustling terrifically, passing well, and giving Mike Conley quite a bit trouble defensively, and the result was a sustained Mavericks’ run in the closing minutes.
- Marc Gasol (seven assists) had quite the no-look pass at the top of the key to a cutting teammate. I don’t remember who scored the basket, but I do remember thinking, “Cool pass, Marc Gasol. Cool pass.”
- Ian Mahinmi’s ten rebounds in 24 minutes were absolutely essential to the win. When Mahinmi checked into the game, the Grizzlies second-chance opportunities almost immediately lessened.
- The Grizzlies scored only 34 points in the second half, a poor offensive showing that the efforts of Mahinmi, Beaubois, and Marion were largely responsible for producing.
- Tony Allen was a defensive stalwart in the first half, as he frequently is, and made perimeter ball movement difficult for the Mavericks. Late in the game, Lionel Hollins was faced with making a difficult choice between O.J. Mayo (6-10 FG, 17 points), who was having an excellent offensive night, and Allen, whose defense was paramount to the Grizzlies’ early success. Mayo earned the majority of late minutes, and while he can hardly be blamed for the loss, it’s interesting to ponder how the game would have gone if Allen had remained on the court. (Update: As pointed out in the comments, Tony Allen left the game with a lip injury in the fourth quarter.)
- The Mavericks’ center rotation continues to vary from game to game, as Brendan Haywood (2-4 FG, five points, five rebounds) and Ian Mahinmi earned almost the entirety of minutes. (Brandan Wright did check into the game for two minutes.) It appears fit and matchup will determine who is more likely to get minutes between Wright and Mahinmi going forward. Considering both players are quality backup centers, it’s a nice luxury for the Mavericks to have.
- Beaubois had one of the best saves I’ve seen this season, as he vaulted towards the scoring table late in the fourth quarter and threw the ball back to a waiting Jason Terry. The highlight only vaunted in quality after the play finished with a Shawn Marion dunk.
- The Mavericks shot 50% from the field for the game, but only 26.7% from three. Given how rare it is that the Mavericks will shoot at such a high percentage without a barrage of threes falling, the numerous looks for the Mavericks’ at-the-rim and in the paint (especially in the fourth quarter) only add to the encouraging signs that can be taken from this game.
- Shawn Marion dribbling the ball up the court is always an adventure, isn’t it?
Connor Huchton is a contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm, an editor of Rufus On Fire, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Connor on Twitter: @ConnorHuchton.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.“
-Orison Swett Marden
The debate over the importance of point differential is essentially a debate over the the value of winning close games. On one extreme is the camp that operates under the assumption that close victories are games of skill; better teams execute at a higher level than others, and ultimately it’s a combination of that execution and overall talent that decides who wins games, no matter the margin. The group firmly entrenched on the other side of the dividing line insists that close games are a product of chance; there are so many variables from opening tip to the final buzzer that a slim margin of victory proves little more than which way the ball tended to bounce.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and we saw both the power of skill and the power of chance at work in the Mavs’ improbable victory over the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 9-23 FG, five rebounds, six assists) made just three of his first 15 shots, a big reason why Dallas trailed for a majority of last night’s game. It wasn’t to last, though. Dirk is one of the best clutch performers in the game, and when he smelled blood in the water in the fourth quarter, his instincts kicked in. He chipped in 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime on 6-of-8 shooting, digging himself and the Mavs out of a slump just in time to save the day and grab the win. The 50th win, which as you may have heard, is kind of a big deal.
Dirk doesn’t get a chance to play hero without being given that opportunity, though. If Mike Conley doesn’t leave three points at the free throw line, maybe Memphis never has an opportunity to completely botch their final play of regulation. If Zach Randolph doesn’t come up just short on one of his trips in the lane, we’re looking at a verdict in just 48 minutes. If Marc Gasol doesn’t leave the game early with a shoulder injury, I’m probably writing a much more solemn piece this morning.
Likewise, if the Mavs don’t hit the offensive boards hard in the first quarter while firing blanks, maybe they never have a shot at pulling a win out of nowhere. Part of those rebounds is chance, but just as important is the Mavs’ consistent effort on the glass. Memphis actually leads the league in rebounding rate, but Dallas outpaced them on the boards until late in the game. If we’re preaching the “every play counts” mantra, the Mavs’ performance on the boards — even if they ended up a few shy of the Grizzlies’ total — certainly qualifies as a game-altering play.
Brendan Haywood gets called for a questionable foul call, Dirk hits an incredible fadeaway jumper from the baseline. The ball goes through Erick Dampier’s hands, Jason Terry connects on an impressive pull-up jumper. DeMarre Carroll goes 0-for-2 at the free throw line, Jason Kidd hounds O.J. Mayo into an impossible shot attempt. A team can do so much to help its cause in games such as this, but even the fine works of hardwood greats need the added benefit of a little luck. Sometimes it’s the baseline referee seeing (or not seeing) enough contact to make a call, and sometimes it’s a Rudy Gay three-pointer being off by a matter of centimeters.
For that reason, winning like this on a regular season Wednesday night doesn’t mean all that much. Winning like this on a regular season Wednesday night after proving all season long that late-game execution is a Maverick trademark means a great deal. It’s still troubling that Dallas isn’t capable of dismissing inferior opponents in more dominating fashion. That would be nice to see, but the success the Mavs have had in rallying back from deficits late in games this season has evolved beyond mere happenstance. This isn’t a quaint trend, but the way this team operates. When it comes down to winning time, the Mavs get it done. Some of their success is derived from luck, and it would be foolish to debate that, but I refuse to accept the idea that the late-game execution we’ve seen from the Mavs this season is anything less than a basketball truth.
It obviously doesn’t come into effect every night, and on numerous occasions this season the Mavs have surrendered insurmountable leads to their opponents, likely by keeping their own impressive comeback track record in mind. There’s no problem with Dallas having the ability to come from behind, but knowing that they have that ability…aye, there’s the rub. Dallas will surrender early leads to opponents (not that they did in this one) knowing that they’ve lived through similar circumstances before. Sometimes they come back just like they probably think they will, and other times it bites them in the ass.
This time it didn’t, and bringing up that scenario at all isn’t exactly fair. The Mavs were working on defense and working to get good shots offensively, it just wasn’t their day. Dirk was ice cold, Shawn Marion (one points, 0-6 FG, four rebounds, two turnovers) couldn’t hit anything, the entire team had their fingers sufficiently buttered (18 turnovers for the night, 13 in the first half), and the only reason the Mavs were able to hang in this game at all was due to a series of well-timed runs to keep themselves within striking distance.
Most of the credit for those runs goes to Jason Terry (29 points, six assists, four steals, three turnovers), also known as The Only Maverick Who Could Score For the First Three Quarters. I know JET is known around these parts as a great fourth quarter performer, and he is. Last night, he had just two points on 0-for-5 shooting in the fourth (with an additional four points in overtime to be fair). I don’t say this to point and laugh at Terry or even to point out some flaw, but to indicate just how important his 29 points were or more specifically, the 23 of them that came in the game’s first three quarters.
Most of the credit for those three quarters goes to O.J. Mayo (27 points, 10-16 FG, five rebounds), Zach Randolph (24 points, 8-21 FG, 12 rebounds), and Mike Conley (25 points, six rebounds, five assists, no turnovers). Mayo’s shooting stroke looked damn good, and he was a one-man offense in the third (in terms of his production, not any implied selfishness) when the rest of the Grizz started cooling off a bit. No performance should impress more than Conley’s though, who looked surprisingly dominant against the Mavs guards and actually made layups. If you’ve watched much of Memphis this season, you know how much of a minor miracle that is. Randolph simply did what he does, although Brendan Haywood did a nice job of making Zach’s life difficult. Not every jumper was heavily contested and not every shot from deep in the paint completely smothered, but Haywood did a decent job on a tough cover.
And even though Shawn Marion didn’t have one of his better offensive nights (did he have an offensive night at all?), he did force Rudy Gay (11 points, 5-18 FG, eight rebounds, four turnovers) into some difficult looks. That said, it wasn’t all Shawn; Rudy had plenty of opportunities to hit open jumpers but just couldn’t convert, which you can chalk up to Marion “knocking him off his game” or Gay just having a rough night. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine. All we know is that Gay had plenty of chances to hit but didn’t, and some of that is because of Marion.
That’s really the story of the night. The Grizzlies had plenty of chances to win this game but didn’t, and some of that is because of the Mavericks. Some of that is solid fundamental defense, good rotations, and solid rebounding. Some of it is Memphis giving the Mavs the opportunity to come back, which is both an indictment of their finishing ability and some bad breaks. Having success in the playoffs is going to take a similar mix of skill and luck, and though the latter is as frustrating as it is uncontrollable, the former happens to be a Maverick strength.
Closing thoughts to come.
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears have unearthed the All-Star reserves, with a few surprises.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.”
*A quick programming note. From now on, the four factors values will be precise, empirical calculations rather than estimations. The calculated values are courtesy of HoopData.com‘s more detailed box scores, which will also be linked (when available) as the game box score.
- While this afternoon’s game was night a contest of great statistical achievement on the defensive end (the Mavs’ defensive efficiency on the night was 11.4 points/100 possessions lower than their season average), something must be said about the Mavs’ ability to limit Zach Randolph after his early domination. A tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is not one that’s easy to counter, due to their high/low post interchangeability and the combination of strength and touch. Both players can show a little range and can certainly get things done on the low block, and though Gasol had merely a productive first half, Randolph was off the charts. Zeebo had 19 points in the first quarter and five early in the second, but over the game’s final 33:40, Randolph managed to score just six points. While it only slowed the Grizzlies enough for the Mavs to scrape out a lead, it took away Memphis’ most dominant offensive weapon at the time. That kind of thing completely changes the flow of the game, and the nine point deficit at the time was reversed into a five point positive margin.
- Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds) bounced back from his worst game of the season by playing a very productive 25 minutes. That said, his minutes didn’t necessarily come easy, as Rudy Gay (22 points on 22 shots, 10 rebounds) simply could not be denied. Marion had good defensive positioning time and time again, made a little contact to push Gay away from his shot of choice, and yet Rudy would lean or elevate before finishing possession after possession with a make. What’s a bit odd is that Marion left the game with 3:27 left in the third quarter and never returned, despite throwing down a pair of dunks and creating extra possessions with his hustle.
- A lot of the Mavs’ early defensive sequences ended tragically: Dallas would play 10-20 seconds of pretty incredible defense (nice on-ball pressure, ball denial, perfect rotations) before one of the Grizz would force up a shot, only to see Gasol, Gay, or Randolph pull in an offensive rebound for a clear bucket or a fresh shot clock. Considering that the starting lineup features four solid to great rebounders by position, that’s not a result I would expect on a regular basis. Still, this isn’t the first time the Mavs have been shown up on the boards (the final margin was 49-40 in favor of Memphis, who also won the offensive rebounding battle 20-10), and while I’m not quite ready to call it a recurring problem, it’s something to keep under your pillow.
- Drew Gooden missed the game with back spasms, and as a result, Dirk saw some minutes at center and Kris Humphries was pulled out from beneath the couch. Hump can be such a positive force for this team, but the man is simply the master of the anticlimactic possession. I appreciate his efforts on the boards, but it’s a bit disheartening to watch all of his work end in a blown layup attempt. Keep doing what you do, Hump, but hopefully next time you’ll be doing what you do just a little bit better.
- The Mavs looked completely incapable of defending the rim without Erick Dampier in the game. I don’t know if it’s primarily a shift in coverages or just a perceived shift on part of the opposition, but Rudy Gay danced down the lane for slams whenever Damp took a breather on the bench.
- Promising offensive nights from both Jason Terry (23 points, 7-18 FG, five assists) and Josh Howard (11 points, 4-6 FG). JET took every touch as a personal invitation to attack the rim, and Terry and the Mavs reaped the benefits later as a more confident JET made plays of consequence. In addition, Jason looked to expand his on-court contributions beyond the points column, and his playmaking in the two man game or after penetration opened up new wrinkles of the Maverick offense. All of a sudden Shawn Marion was wide open and in position to score, and Dirk Nowitzki was left all alone at the top of the key or out on the wing. Josh’s totals don’t demand your attention, but his 25 minutes were an exercise in minimalism. He didn’t over-dribble, he didn’t hold the ball too long, and he didn’t think too much after receiving the ball. Howard looked completely in the flow of the game without feeling the need to dominate the ball, and while the Mavs should certainly expect more raw production out of Howard, they can still appreciate his discretion.
- The Mavs shot and scored at a terrific rate, but they simply did not get to the free throw line. Excluding six late FTAs during the game’s final moments, the Mavs attempted just 14 free throws on the game, less than half of the Grizzlies’ 29. That said, it’s not safe to assume that the discrepancy is attributable to the Mavs’ shot selection; against the Grizz, the Mavs shot 22 attempts at the rim (with 15 makes), which is comparable to their season average of 24.6 attempts (with 14.7 makes).
- The Mavericks took care of the ball. 9.9 is a pretty ridiculous turnover rate (As a reminder, TOR is equal to the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in a turnover. Atlanta is the most careful team in the league, and their average is 20.3.), and it’s a testament to the Mavs’ efficient offense that they were able to finish with such a number in spite of Dirk’s abnormal four turnovers.
- Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 10-16 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was as wonderful as you’d expect, even if he was a bit more turnover-prone than usual. But for those of you looking for a storyline, this game wasn’t about what Dirk did, but what he didn’t have to do. Seven Mavericks scored in double figures, and Dirk didn’t score a point over the game’s final 15 minutes. Terry, Howard, and company were ready and willing to take over, and they closed the game beautifully.
- Only two teams in the Western Conference have yet to lose ten games. One of them is Los Angeles (23-5), reigning champions and resident “team-to-beat.” The other is Dallas (21-9).
Shot location data courtesy of HoopData.com.