When the season was young and dreams began to surface over what the tandem of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood could accomplish, there was a tangible excitement. From the hopes of seeing them average 20 points and 20 rebounds a night as a pair, to eventual matchups with the Lakers or other playoff opponents, Dallas Mavericks hopes were high.
Over the course of the regular season, those hopes in their entirety may have not been realized, primarily due to the inconsistent play of Haywood. (The losing of the starting job, the horrible on-court start, the one-game suspension, the pouting …)
Meanwhile, honestly, is there any doubt that Chandler has legitimately earned his way to the peak of the best-center-to-ever-don-a-Mavs-jersey discussion? Debate may remain as to whether he sits atop that list (James Donaldson?), but few would deny his entry into the conversation … unless longevity in Dallas becomes a primary criterion.
Yet, for all of these passing thoughts and for all they may or may not have done as a pair in the regular season, we now stand in the field where their merit will be defined. It's the playoffs that will label their worth as a duo.
For every moment we saw something we loved and every instance that made us wince in frustration, all is erased once the postseason begins. With this in mind, how have Chandler and Haywood performed against the Blazers through five games, where one or the other has been on the court for all but three minutes of the series?
We'll begin with Tyson Chandler, who reminded us all of exactly who we've come to believe he is in Game 5, when he was once again the sun the rest of the Mavs' solar system of emotion revolves around. In a contest that could not be lost, he unleashed his aggression and imposed his will on the court … making sure it wouldn't be Dirk Nowitzki and a collection of whispering ghosts.
Nowitzki & The Dirkettes
Others undeniably stepped up beside them, but we're focusing on the centers here ...
Without doubt the 14-point, 20-rebound (including a franchise-playoff record 13 at the offensive end) night is fresh in our minds, as is the near constant foul trouble from the previous four games. But, let's take a peek into what Chandler has done in the series as a whole … thanks in large part to NBA com's new toy: StatsCube.
If LaMarcus Aldridge is in the game, he becomes the primary responsibility for either Chandler or Haywood, and the toll of facing this pair has begun to mount. Aldridge has seen his scoring numbers steadily decrease with each passing game. After putting up 27 points in the opening game, he has gone on to score 24, 20, 18 and 12 respectively.
Per 36 minutes in the regular season, Aldridge averaged 19.8 points on 50-percent shooting and 7.9 rebounds
In the playoffs when Chandler is in the game those numbers drop to 15.5 points and 6.1 rebounds, with a very slight slip in shooting percentage to 49 percent.
In the regular season, Portland averaged 12.1 offensive rebounds per game With Chandler on the court, they have dipped to 6.9 per 48 minutes in this series, and have seen their team plus/minus slip from plus-1.5 per game to minus-4.1 (stretching to per 48 minutes when Chandler is on the court to level the comparison)
Though his offensive numbers haven't been overly impressive at six points per game, or matched what he contributed in the regular season, Chandler's influence at that end lingers on as defenders consistently remains close, something the Spurs felt little need to do with the Dallas centers a year ago in Round 1.
Fouls have limited Tyson's overall impact by curbing his aggression or directly cutting into his minutes, but it's hard to deny what he's continued to bring to the court … and what the mere threat he carries also yields.
Brendan Haywood was a source of frustration for many Dallas fans during the regular season. His often erratic play cued up words such as "apathetic" or "disinterested" one moment, while the next may have reminded us of the talent that led to his contract, and to the instant praise he received last season upon his arrival in Dallas.
Though his stats have seen little shift, a slight decrease in points and marginal increase in rebounds in similar minutes, and his atrocious free-throw shooting has remained (3-of-15 for 20 percent in the series), Big Wood has become a consistent defensive force against the Blazers.
Note Aldridge's numbers with Haywood in the game: 17.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, with his shooting percentage dips to 44 percent. Another revealing stat, Aldridge has a plus/minus of minus-11.8 per 36 minutes with Haywood on the court (compared to minus-6.4 for the series).
Perhaps more impressive than his effect on Aldridge is how the Blazers play as a whole with Haywood on the floor. As a team their shooting percentage drops to 40.9 percent, down from 45.6 for the series, and their plus/minus is an impressive (for Dallas) minus-8.4 compared to minus-4 8 total … this despite a slip in the Mavs offensive production with Haywood on the court.
It's in the numbers and it often grabs the eye. Haywood has been all we could ask of him at the defensive end. This has allowed Dallas to see no decline in their defense regardless of which center is in, even seeing a statistical improvement when Chandler heads to the bench.
Maybe their averages of nine points on 57.7-percent shooting, 15.4 rebounds, including 8.4 offensive boards and 1.6 blocks as a pair in this series isn't quite the lofty 20-20 hopes we entered the season with, but their influence over the outcome has been clear.
Both deserve a handful of praise and, as Game 5 teased, it's not unreasonable to believe their potential has yet to be reached. We'll get the chance for another taste in Game 6 when the Mavs travel to Portland, where they are 0-4 this season, and the defense and toughness this duo has provided thus far will be a prerequisite to success.
It's in the Mavs best interest to have Chandler avoid foul trouble, particularly early calls that drain his ability to be aggressive and provide his standard method of play, but there's a comfort to be found in the play of Haywood behind him.
It may not be 20-20, but don't discount their presence solely based on that … we doubt Portland is.