All-Access: Mavs Survive 'The Grey'
FOREWARD: The Dallas Mavericks had not been swept in a season series with the Minnesota Timberwolves since the 1995-96 season. In their third and final meeting this season, after the Wolves took the first two by an average of 16 points, Jason Kidd returned from his six-game absence and helped ensure the sweep was not be.
Did the Mavs conduct a players-only meeting to reinforce the notion that they are too good to be swept by ... well, by anybody? That's our understanding.
And they are correct.
Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high (and new personal season high) 33 points, and after hitting only 3-of-12 shots in the first three quarters Jason Terry led the Mavs with nine fourth-quarter points as Dallas put away Minnesota with a deceiving 104-97 victory … deceiving because this game wasn't nearly as close as that margin would indicate.
"We really wanted this win,'' Dirk said. "I thought we did a bad job of closing it out. It was a lot closer than we wanted in the end. But we got a big win.''
The Mavs talked among themselves about goals for this one ... and then let their performance do most of the rest of the talking.
HE'S BACK: Jason Kidd missed the last six games with a strained calf, but returned with a hint of rust and a revived reservoir of energy. His final stat-line shows signs of both: eight points, 10 assists, eight turnovers, five rebounds, two steals and one block.
The turnovers are bad, and must come down, but they never seemed to bite the Mavs. Rather than careless passes on the perimeter leading to easy breaks and/or dunks, they were almost entirely of the "reaching for the spectacular" variety, heading out of bounds after the miss. We're not defending eight turnovers, but they didn't hurt the Mavs and what he brought more than cancelled out those negatives.
Kidd joked that he shared so many balls with spectators that it was like "Fan Appreciation Night.''
But really, what did he bring … beyond the positives of his numbers?
At times, we've tried to highlight the subtleties of Kidd's game, to direct the eye to how he can help a team beyond his individual stats. His wise hands can redirect an offense that's suddenly veered astray. His presence can calm the winds of chaos before they become a storm.
His presence on the floor is a loud laugh at the be-all of Advanced Stats.
It can begin with something as small as slowing the offense in the right moment, becoming subservient to a learned patience and getting the ball where it needs to go … which most often means getting it into the hands of Dirk.
"He know how to put the ball where it needs to be,'' Dirk said.
This may be most prominent not when he's on the court, and the swerve does not become a crash, but when he's not. A direct example of this: Kidd headed for the bench with 5:25 to go in the third quarter and the Mavs up 71-54.
Almost instantly the pace picked up for Dallas, in a bad way. Shots became rushed, with an air of disarray, lacking the control the capture efficiency. The offense sputtered. By the time Kidd re-entered the game at the 10:32 mark of the fourth quarter, the Mavs were up only three: 78-75.
In just over half a quarter of game-time the lead have slipped from 17 to three as Minnesota surged to a 21-7 run with Kidd out.
In a less than three minutes after he returned, Dallas was back up 12. Prior to the final surrender, when the Wolves pulled Kevin Love (who again played very well against Dallas with 32 points, 12 rebounds and five turnovers) and Ricky Rubio, the lead would not shrink below nine and would swell to as much as 14.
Kidd sees things you don't see, and not just on offense. As a help defender, he's aces. That's what allowed him to record a late-game block against a center in the paint.
An example that does appear directly on the stat sheet (and at the risk of going all Advanced Stats'y on you): Kidd had a plus/minus of +23, joining Dirk (+22) and Vince Carter (+24) as one of the three Mavs ending the game having the team outscore the Wolves by at least 22 with them on the court.
Plus/minus may be a completely unreliable statistic, particularly in the frame of one game … still, the picture painted here captures the essence of this game.
"He's a big part of our heart and soul,'' said Carlisle of Kidd, who even during the game, when on the sideline, was riding a stationary bike to accelerate his conditioning. "When we're without him, we can win some games but we're not the same team.''
Welcome back, BBIQ.
Welcome back, Jason Kidd.
HE'S STILL HERE: Perhaps it's nothing more than happenstance, a strange coincidence in timing, that Charles Barkley ruled the Dirk Era over just as Dirk shed the shackles of a poor start to the season. In the four games since, he's averaged 28 points, 60.6 field-goal percentage, 42.1 3-point percentage, seven rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks.
Against Minnesota, The UberMan had 33 points on 11-of-19 attempts, 4-of-7 behind the arc, four rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
Nowitzki continues to round into form, unleashing a full repertoire of moves with greater and greater ease. Each passing game brings another proof of life, another reminder that Father Time may eventually come as an undeniable tide destined to swallow The Uberman's Hall-of-Fame career … but not yet. For now, what saddles the horizon sits chained there, not clutching at the ankles.
Dirk is still Dirk. Indeed, as we said on the Fox Sports Southwest postgame show, Dirk's not playing like an All-Star. He's playing like an MVP.
THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE: Perhaps it's not the nickname that stuck. It's not as cool. Not as catchy. But, it captures the heart and soul of the Mavs most versatile player, Shawn Marion.
Of course, he's not Swiss. He's 'Trix.
Really, though, for the job at hand, he seems to always have the appropriate tool. Both resourceful and deadly when asked to be. The Matrix is the basketball equivalent to the Swiss Army Knife … and not the knockoff brand with scissors that struggle to cut a single strand of hair and blades too dull to slice open a sandwich bag stretched thin, tight.
He can slow Kevin Durant. He can interrupt the flow of LeBron James. He can force Kobe Bryant from a hot to a cold streak. He can make Kevin Garnett, or once upon a time, Dirk Nowitzki, work for their points … and, he can render harmless one of the NBA's newest sensations, Ricky Rubio.
Rick Carlisle chose to go with Vince Carter in the starting lineup beside Jason Kidd, leaving a clear absence of quickness from the starting guards and two guys much more suited to guarding opposing shooting guards or small forwards than point guards. Sure, the Mavs covered this at times by falling into a zone, but they also gave Marion more than a few attempts to defend Rubio … and he smothered Rubio into submission for most of the night.
Rubio had two points, making one of his three shots, and only one assist in the entire first half. He would improve in the second, when he had to deal with Marion much less frequently, but the tone was set … note that Minnesota set a new high for a Dallas opponent with 28 turnovers, leading directly to 30 Mavs points.
It was clever thinking by the Dallas coaching staff. Rubio is not a burner. He is clever, and can be defended by someone equally skilled. And in 'Trix' case, the skill is also long enough to swallow up the kid.
With Dirk once again entrenched as the team's leading scorer, Marion may have seen his shot attempts slip considerably, leaving him to fall from the eye of a greater audience so tuned in to scoring, but the impact remains. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two assists … and acted as an integral piece of the win.
Whatever Carlisle asks, Marion gives.
THE DEPTH CHART: We'll begin with who didn't play: Roddy Beaubois.
With Jason Kidd returning to the starting point guard position, Delonte West returned to the bench … and Roddy never left it.
From who didn't play to who got the most minutes of any Mavs center: Brandan Wright. Not only did he get more minutes than either Brendan Haywood or Ian Mahinmi, it was Wright who stayed on the court for the 10:32 of the possible 12 fourth-quarter minutes. This is another of those Carlisle button-pushes that ends up just right; the coach has so many options ... and that includes options that might go wrong.
But the B-Wright thing is working. The numbers may not be impressive (five points, 2-of-6 field goals, one rebound, one steal and two blocks), but there was once again that shift to the feel of the game when Wright was on the court. The bulk of this may come from his energy, whether it's running the court with the guards to finish the first half with an emphatic dunk on the secondary break or getting off the floor in an instant to block what appears to be an open attempt at the rim, Wright doesn't fade to the status of an afterthought at either end of the court … at least, not for long.
His dunk to close the scoring at the end of the first half wasn't just about skywalking. It was about confidence and instinct, a center running the floor to finish on a secondary break ... you just don't see that very often.
The threat of an alley-oop is constant, as is his desire to contest shots in the paint … and surprisingly, for a player his age and with his limited time on this team, in this system, mistakes are relatively rare. B-Wright has gotten away from the silly fouls. Because he can make FTs, he is in the game at the end instead of Big Wood. He remains a little light for the center position, meaning matchups may dictate his minutes at times, but it's hard not to like what you see.
How much does the coach agree? In the last four Mavs games, Wright has played 46 of of the available 48 fourth-quarter minutes.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHT REEL: Sweet stuff ...
THE NUMBERS GAME: Break 'em down ...
The Minnesota Offense is ...
• 23rd in points in transition – tonight they were limited to 13 fastbreak points while Dallas had 17. Controlling Rubio on the run was a gameplan key and Dallas did it.
• 8th in points in the paint and Minnesota scored 42 tonight. ... Love is a chore!
• 22nd in fg% at 42.9% per game and were limited to 41% from the floor and 26% from behind the arc by the Dallas defense. We say Minny comes away questioning why it allowed itself to be so dependent on perimeter shooting.
• 25th in assist per turnover at 1.17 per game and finished with an atrocious 0.71 assist to turnover ratio tonight.
• Last in the league in turnovers at 17.0 per game and coughed it up 28 times tonight, good for 30 Maverick points. In fact the Mavericks would enjoy a 30-10 advantage in points off turnovers tonight. Dallas was really special in getting its bearings on the run. Forcing ping-pong turnovers ... defense becoming offense becoming easy baskets.
The Wolves' Defense is ...
• 25th in points in transition and tonight the Mavericks notched 17 points on the break in Kidd's return.
• 9th in points in the paint and Dallas outscored Minnesota in that area 44-42.
VINCE IN THE POST: We called this in Kyle Leath's Advance Scouting Report (please tell us you are reading those religiously; they represent some of the smartest NBA coverage around): Minnesota plays little guards. Vince Carter is a big guard. We said he would victimize Minny in the post-up, and ... we're geniuses!
Vince goes for 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting (he also had five steals) as his size was too much for the Timberwolves. Oh, they tried to help Ridnour and Rubio and whomever. But when Dallas starts using VC as a go-through guy, and you respond by double-teaming Vince ... Well, Dallas wins. Because then Carter becomes a distributor out of the double.
VC was a go-to guy in Denver. He was a go-through guy here.
MAVSELLANEOUS: Minny hasn't swept Dallas since the 1995-96 season. Nice to keep it that way. ... Mavericks guard Jason Terry and Timberwolves guard Martell Webster are cousins and both hail from Seattle ... Dirk ragging on Jet wanting in the All-Star 3-point competition: "He might want to make some shots first, especially on the road." ... Dallas is now 8-1 when they score 100-plus points in a game this season ... The Mavericks are 11-2 when they commit less than 15 turnovers in a game this season and are now 5-9 when they record 15-or-more. They had 18 TO's tonight, with Jason Kidd, still a tad rusty and making too many full-court pass attempts, registering eight by himself. To be fair, he also had 10 assists and 8 points on the way to a game-high +23, as noted above. ... The Mavericks are 8-1 when they shoot at least 45 percent from the field in a game this season. They shot 43% from the field tonight, but splashed 9-of-21 from deep (43%). The Dirk of Old? This is the 217th time that Dirk has scored at least 30 points in a regular-season game. ... Terry scored 9 of his 16 points tonight in the fourth quarter. While he struggled with his shot overall, as Carlisle said, "I like the way he stuck with it.'' Hey, it was the fourth quarter. Jet's always gonna stick with it in the fourth quarter! The Wolves are 13-14. The Mavericks are 16-11.
THE FINAL WORD: Heading into Friday night, given that the first two games ended with 17- and 15-point losses, it was hard not to feel as if the Wolves simply had the Mavs number. Kevin Love had hit nine of his 12 3-point tries in the first two games, and dominated Dallas in almost every way, but – yes, there is a "but" – he did so against a less-than-ready-to-perform Dirk in one game, and completely without Dirk in another.
Love may have still tallied his numbers, but was reminded of why Dirk Nowitzki is an MVP, and a Finals MVP, and Love remains a very good player in the process of fighting his way up to the pantheon of greatness … where Dirk already sits.
Dirk may have only scored one more point than Love, and failed to compare on the boards (four to 12), but his impact resided where most important: on the outcome of the game.
Jason Terry (playing with a bad hip) led the Mavs with nine in the fourth quarter, others certainly contributed, but Dirk Nowitzki was the difference between this game and the first two. That's no slight to Love, only a testament to why Dirk's team has won 50 games in 11 consecutive seasons, and stands as the reigning NBA Champions.
"That,'' said Kevin Love, "is the Dirk I know.''
Soon enough, the torch will be passed … but not yet. Not just yet.