FISH: Dirk Video, All-Access To Mavs-Celtics

The Mavs shifted strategic gears on Monday against the Celtics, and all adjustments contributed to the 89-87 win. But Rick Carlisle, the man with his hand on the gear-shifter, offered a different and deferential perspective on things. "Xs and Os come and go,'' he said, "but the toughness and the togetherness are the things that are going to define this season."

That's a good place to begin ... DB.com's All-Access Pass to a night at the AAC:

Toughness and Togetherness: Dallas' togetherness has never been an issue. "This franchise has always had good guys,'' Carlisle said of the locker-room makeup. "That's a credit to Mark (Cuban) and Donnie (Nelson).

That was true even before last February when his teammates supported Josh Howard. And it was true after the deadline when J-Ho was gone and new guys Butler, Haywood and Stevenson rolled into town.

Togetherness? Dirk and Kidd and company take care of that.

But toughness? The kind of toughness needed to wrestle with an elite Eastern club like Boston, with its championship pedigree and its 6-1 record entering Monday? These Mavs haven't shown much of that in this early season, especially with their 1-2 record at the AAC.

But Carlisle and the Mavs slapped together a toughness sandwich.

The Sandwich: Dallas began the game by inserting rarely-used defensive muscle DeShawn Stevenson into the starting lineup. And they ended the game pitching a 7-0 shutout at Boston, which failed to score in the final 1:58.

On the game's last possession, with 1.5 seconds remaining, Dallas overplayed perimeter weapons Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Boston was left having to emergency-lob the inbounds pass to Kevin Garnett at the arc, and when he threw up his desperation air-ball, he found a pair of 7-footers – Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler – in his face.

Chandler and Shawn Marion were big-time defenders all night. DeShawn played 14 minutes, stayed a step ahead of Ray Allen (helping to limit him to 11 points), and even scored six himself on a pair of 3's.

I asked Stevenson whether he was amused by those who fail to remember that a couple of years ago, before his back injury, he was guarding guys like Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and LeBron and Wade on a nightly basis.

"Well, I remember,'' he laughed. "It wasn't that long ago. It's still my job, when I'm asked.''

Carlisle asked him two days ago. Told Stevenson to be ready for the Celtics. Told him he might even start.

"That meant no clowning around for me,'' Stevenson said. "I couldn't goof around and be loose and everything. I had to focus. I was serious!''

Dirk's postgame interview on FS Southwest: Talk, UberMan, talk.

A FS Southwest programming note: On Wednesday night for Mavs-at-Grizzlies, I'll join Ro Blackman in studio to analyze the game pre- and post. Join us!

Nowitzki's Sports Clips: His locks were freshly mowed down to a buzzcut, but there was no Sampson Effect here. The UberMan was his usual brilliant self as the foundation of the offense – in fact, he was something more. He used a series of bullish drives (more adds to his toolbox?) to take it right to Kevin Garnett. Dirk's game-winning one-legged Euro lean-back baseline jumper with 17.4 seconds left to play came against Big Baby, but that was on a switch.

Dirk was KG's man. Dirk scored 25. If KG trash-talked him about "Hogan's Heroes'' or Marlene Dietrich or Hasselhoff or something, Nowitzki must not have listened.

"Ivory Johnson'': Still have your concerns that Carlisle is an inflexible stuffed shirt?

Be unconcerned. (For one night, anyway.)

One of the hidden gems here was Carlisle's decision to go away from Dallas' offensive sets – you know, that "predictability'' thing again.

Instead, especially in the fourth quarter, the Mavs went with what the coach likes to call "flow.'' Kidd, his off-the-charts BBIQ, in charge of everything … Basketball is Jazz, as Dirk and Holger would say.

Consider the Dirk game-winning shot.

"Originally,'' Nowitzki explained, "the plan was to come to the high post and get a catch there and make a move. But KG really played it well. He sat on the high post. So all I could do was run to the ball somewhere, and I knew Kidd was going to find me.''

Flow.

Consider Jet's 3.

"They just lock into you so much,'' Carlisle said, "so we just wanted to play out the flow and we had to trust each other, pass, make plays, find shots … the play where Jet hit the 3 was a huge (non-designed) play.''

Flow.

Quote O' The Night: "Dirk wasn't gonna settle for less. You see he cut his hair. He's back to his MVP status. That (making game-winning shots) is what he was doing when he won the MVP.'' – Jason Terry.

Rangers in the house: Before the game, Mavs GM Donnie Nelson huddled with Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg. (See? No Cuban-related hard feelings over that Rangers bidding war!) Later, Greenberg took a seat alongside GM Jon Daniels while Michael Young and a bunch of other members of the AL champs hung out in a suite.

No, I did not sight any Cowboys. They don't dare show their faces right now.

"Heart-and-soul'' guy Chandler: Rick's a couple of days late on this; I've already proclaimed the Mavs' defense, when it is playing well, a Tyson Chandler Defense.

But I'll let Rick have his say after TC, in his first season in Dallas, demonstrated again how he has become the foundation of the Dallas defense. He experienced his best game as a Mav, with 12 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and a steal in a season-high 33 minutes. One minutes into the second half, he grabbed a rebound to get his double-double. In the final 1:58, when Boston couldn't score, he seemed to deflect or alter almost every shot.

OK, Rick, your turn.

"This guy is becoming one of our heart and soul guys,'' said Carlisle. "He really brings a sprit, a toughness and an energy and you know, he was huge tonight.''

The slowed fast break: We know that Dallas is lacking when it comes to half-court offense, that the fast-break and the secondary break are mainstays of the offense.

So it's kind of stunning to go back through my notes to discover that never in the second half did Dallas score a fast-break bucket.

A JJB sighting: Too many turnovers and too much trying to do too much … But a trip to the line, a teardrop over KG, a momentum-stealing 3 to beat a buzzer, all for 11 points.

So we're off JJB's back today.

Weird Stat O' The Night: Boston attempted 91 field goals (largely due to their 14 offensive rebounds). How do the Celtics not win with 91 FG attempts? Especially when the Mavs attempted a paltry 66 shots?

Efficiency, I guess?

No three-game streak: I know you don't even want to think about this. It's more fun to celebrate yet another Trollinger-defying one-point win. But Dallas is 4-2 … and 2-2 at home … but is one point away from having lost three straight games at home.

Does this sort of thing work as a positive?

"I'd much rather have a game like this where you grind it out,'' Chandler said of this close game, "because it builds character.''

Well, yeah. Like Wonder Bread builds strong bones 12 ways, or whatever the hell that slogan was … it SOUNDS good. But honestly … having to outscore Boston 7-0 in the final two minutes of a game … having to stage a 15-7 run to close the final 5:44 of the game … that might increase character but it also increases white hair, nervous tics and stubby fingernails.

Jet and Dirk: I guess this is the way it's gonna be, for better or for worse, maybe even after Roddy B comes back. … Dallas is going to take its chances with The UberMan and Jason Terry as the closers.

They were stiffs on Saturday against Denver, when the two of them combined for one fourth-quarter point. But this time, Jet teamed with Dirk to score all of the Mavs' points during that 15-7 run. Jet hit the 3 that tied it at 87-all. Jet was good for 17 points. Jet survived while being covered by the electric Rajon Rondo.

Oh, and Jet came off the bench. Just like we thought he should've been all along.

The reason Dallas' bench is shaky? It doesn't have Jason Terry to rely on. It's got people adjusting down to roles while Terry himself adjusts up … We never liked it. What was it we said, "It creates as many holes in the rotation as it fills''?

We stand by that, and like to see Jet coming off the bench for the first time this season. The perennial NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate made way for Stevenson, the strategy serving two purposes:

One, Terry gave the Dallas bench – which has been abysmal – some offensive pop.

Two, Stevenson gave Dallas 14 minutes of predictably inspired defense.
Note to the Mavs coaches who are always looking for a "spark'' to avoid slow starts to games: The spark doesn't have to be on offense.

Boston's streak: You don't see this too often. So enjoy it.

The Celtics had their five-game winning streak snapped. They lost in Dallas for the first time since March of 2007; the first time since they'd assembled their Big Three. It made all the accent-less Celtics fans at the AAC – hey, how can there be that many 25-year-old transplants from New England to North Texas?! Wow! – very sad.

Kidd not shooting when he's not at the arc: The Mavs won this game with old-guard guard Jason Kidd doing it one way while young-turk Rajon Rondo almost won by doing it another.

The Kidd Way: 10 assists, two steals and three rebounds … but zero points … in large part because even when faced with a possible layup, as was the case in the final two minutes, Kidd wants to dish. He did so to TC inside and committed a turnover. He did so on an inside-out to Jet and that's how Dallas got the thing tied at 87.

So … Kidd has permission to do it his way.

"He's one of a kind,'' Carlisle said.

But Rondo's way is fun, too. Rondo's line of 11 points, six rebounds, five steals and 15 assists is ruined only by the fact that he missed a late 3 … and was so wide-open that it's as if Dallas assumed he'd miss it.

Dallas' fourth-quarter foibles: Dallas shot 50 percent and held Boston to 41.8.That's a win, with none of the Celtics outside of Pierce and his 24 points able to get off. Still, when Dallas trailed 87-82 with 1:58 to go, there were reasons to, well, make assumptions.
Some of those assumptions were born of this year's Mavs being so wobbly in fourth quarters. In one game, Dallas committed nine turnovers in a fourth quarter, in another, eight turnovers. And clutch scoring? Despite the presence of Dirk, get a load of this: Before Monday, in the Mavs three wins, they'd averaged 20 points per fourth quarter. Bad enough. In the two losses they'd averaged a ridiculous 14 points in the fourth.

That held about true here; Dallas scored just 19 against the Celtics in the final period. (And I'll be damed if they didn't have six more turnovers!) But the Mavs held Boston to 18 points.

"What really won us the game down the stretch tonight,'' Dirk said, "is that our defense showed a lot of will. We were down five or six late and we came together in the final timeout and said, ‘This is our game, let's go out and get it.' The defensive effort down the stretch was great and we had a 7-0 run to end the game. If we can keep playing hard on defense we'll be in every game."

Where's Tuff Juice?: Caron Butler started but spent the entire fourth quarter on the bench. Due, Carlisle said, to back spasms. And not due, it was suggested, to Tuff Juice's 5-of-13 shooting.

OK. Back spasms.

The Final Word: Nowitzki hustled to his Twitter feed after the game to take some credit for the win, nothing that with his new "buzzcut, the Dallas Mavs are 1-0. Just saying …''


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