"I think except for Dirk,'' said Mavs center Brendan Haywood after the Bulls won in Dallas for just the second time since 1998, "a lot of guys stuggled tonight.''
Nowitzki was typically brilliant, with a season-high 36 points on 15-of-26 shooting. He'd made just two 3-pointers all season long, but on this night, he was so in tune with fulfilling what his team needed that he made 3-of-5. He grabbed eight rebounds, and a good thing he did, as even with those contributions, Dallas was out-boarded by a ridiculous 59-34.
The Mavs can pretend that they engaged in a "defensive war'' here. And they did contain – in relative terms – the terrific Derrick Rose. The Bulls young point guard seemed occasionally befuddled by Dallas' zone defense, and he made just eight shots. But Rose still ended up with 22 points, and while Dirk got so little from his supporting cast Caron Butler was the only other Mav in double-figure scoring with 12), Rose's mates pitched in from all angles.
Kyle Korver came off the bench to score 14. Joakim Noah repeatedly out-hustled the Mavs to available balls and ended up with 10 points and 17 rebounds. And Taj Gibson came from nowhere to contribute 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Do that rebounding math: Noah and Gibson combined for 35 rebounds … one more than the entire Mavs team.
Tonight, I'm concerned about our rebounding,'' said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, addressing that problem and an over-reliance on Dirk in one breath. "There are going to be nights where Dirk is going to have a huge night; he's that great of a player. But 20 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points (for an opponent) is just tempting fate too much. It's as simple as that.''
Truly, though, it was Chicago – now with a 7-4 record that matches Dallas' – that arrived at a defensive solution. After three quarters, Dirk had 30. The Dirkettes had a total of 29.
Nowitzki made a bucket with 10:15 left in the game to put the Mavs up 65-58. If the Mavericks are the team they believe themselves to be … the team they talk about being … they seal the deal from there against a Bulls team with no history of success in Big D.
Instead, Chicago began double-teaming Dirk, forcing somebody else to help.
And what help arrived? Butler was 3-of-10. Jason Terry was 3-of-15. JJ Barea was an abysmal 0-of-7.
Not counting Nowitzki, the Mavs made just eight buckets in the first half. And if you think that's bad … they made only seven buckets in the second half, for a grand non-Dirk total of 15-of-49 shooting.
Meanwhile, the Bulls exploited the Mavs' much-ballyhooed defense by scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter. … and again, playing around with the silliness of some of these numbers: That 32 points in one quarter is just three fewer than Dallas scored in the entire first half.
Hey, you can't win all the games determined by five points or fewer (as Carlisle's Mavs teams had done 38 of 50 times) when you score just 13 points in the first quarter, you know?
So once again, the Mavs force themselves to balance out a home loss that shouldn't have been by winning a road game. The Mavs (now just 4-3 at home) are at Atlanta on Saturday … hoping to be more fluid than cement, hoping to be sharper than a butter knife, hoping somebody on the roster beyond Dirk Nowitzki gets off the plane ready to play.