From the early going, just beneath the surface of Wednesday's game with the Oklahoma City Thunder, there seemed to be something a little off with the Dallas Mavericks. Perhaps it was playing on the second night of a back-to-back against a team returning from two full days of rest. Perhaps it was just the inevitable and unavoidable off night.
Sound passes found their way to open hands, only to bounce away. Whistles players expected to come remained silent. Steven Adams elbow found it's way to the side of Vince Carter's head in a manner Carter did not appreciate, and Carter responded with a hard forearm/elbow of his own to Adams' face … and was quickly ejected.
So it was.
The best thing about this game may be the fact that it's over, with the Dallas Mavericks falling to 3-2 after a 107-93 loss.
THE TAKEAWAY AND GIVEAWAY ...
In a sense, it's a team taking something.
The Thunder took this game. It's easy to lament the officiating in a contest that saw the Mavs on the ugly end of the free-throw battle, taking 14 in comparison to 23 of OKC. Dirk participated in that lament, saying, "The refs didn't really have it under control. They let a lot of stuff go and that's what happens.'' It's easy to point to the labors of playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
It's easy to make excuses, or to mark this as a "schedule loss."
But, there's also a team at the other end of those excuses that took this game, that capitalized on any mistakes the Mavs made.
Three examples of this immediately jump out: fastbreak points, rebounding and, most directly, turnovers/points off of turnovers.
The Mavs entered the game ranked fourth in the league with 19.3 fastbreak points per game. At 13.7 per game, the Thunder were 15th (though this may be a little misleading with fastbreak catalyst Russell Westbrook playing in only his second game).
Of course, Dallas was also giving up 19.5 fastbreak points per game (27th) … and the Thunder allowed 18.3 (25th).
OKC finished with 27, the Mavs with 15.
One team was able to attack on the break consistently, while the other was not.
AND ON THE GLASS ...
The Mavs outrebounded the Thunder 24-16 in the first half, scoring nine second-chance points while holding OKC to two.
In the second half, the Thunder dominated the boards: 28-12.
This helped lead to a 10-to-5 advantage in second-chance points for OKC in the half.
Dirk: "They've got the white Kendrick Perkins now. That [Steven] Adams kid."
AND THOSE TOs ...
In another sense, it's a team giving something away.
In comparison to the opponent's numbers in the same category, one could be misled to believe that turnovers evened out. Statistically, this may be true. Contextually, they condemned the Mavs and all but guaranteed the outcome of this game would fall into the "L" column.
Dallas turned the ball over 21 times, leading directly to 23 points for the Thunder.
OKC turned the ball over 24 times, leading to 24 Mavs points.
Sometimes, the scales hovering at the same height belie the truth of what each plate holds.
For a glimpse of understanding, look to the second quarter when Dallas was in the game, never trailing by more than eight and were continually fighting, shaving the lead to two. For the period, Dallas had seven turnovers leading to 11 Thunder points, while OKC had three for zero Mavs points.
When the game was in the balance, the Mavs fumbled it away. Toying with a lead, the Thunder capitalized on the grace a lead can grant, a heightened level of aggression that can overcome mistakes, and not gift the opponent free points at the most inopportune of times.
The Mavs were sloppy. Regardless of the reasons, justified or not, their turnovers picked apart their hopes for victory.
Said Coach Carlisle: "The 21 turnovers for 23 points did us in."
THE SILVER LINING? …
Jae Crowder has been reborn as an elite shooter? It may be too early to concede to such a notion, but the early returns from Crowder have been impressive.
Crowder finished with 17 points (one night after setting a career high with 18) by hitting 6-of-8 shots, including 3-of-5 behind the arc.
For the season, Crowder is now hitting 67.9 percent of his field goals, 68.4 percent of his threes.
Obviously, those conversion rates are not sustainable … unless we're bearing witness to the birth of the greatest shooter in the history of sport.
No, they aren't sustainable.
However, Crowder is shooting with a fluidity and confidence that seemed absent from his game for much of last season, though he did start hot a year ago as well, hitting 41 percent of his 3-pointers through the first 13 games of the season.
For at least one more game, Crowder has played his way into a rotation spot that Wayne Ellington seemed destined to fill.
Oh, and he was one of the Mavs who bowed up against an OKC team trying to ratchet up the physical nature of this thing.
"Those guys talk a lot of smack,'' said Jae, who fought back every way he knows how.
THE DUO ...
Dirk finished with 16 points, 5-of-12 field goals, 2-of-4 3-pointers, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and four turnovers.
Monta Ellis ended with 20 points, 8-of-17 field goals, 1-of-3 behind the arc, five rebounds, three assists and seven turnovers.
Dirk seemed to pass on a few too many attempts. We love his unselfishness. It's a part of what makes him as great as he is, but sometimes an open shot from Dirk is better than an even more open shot from a teammate … particularly on a night when hands across the roster seemed inclined to bobble passes that would usually have been claimed cleanly.
Ellis, like so many others on the roster, was afflicted by the "just-a-hair-off's." Perhaps it was the back-to-back, or a general frustration of not getting the calls he's been getting to this point in the season. Whatever the reason, as reflected in his seven turnovers, he was as guilty as any in letting things get away from him.
He was aggressive, taking 11 of his 17 shots in the paint, with two more just off the right elbow, about a foot outside of the paint … and launching only one shot that could be categorized at a "long two-pointer." While we hope the turnovers drop, and expect that they will, we won't hold his aggression against him here.
We'll go out on a limb and say the Mavs won't often win games in which their two best players combine to have 11 turnovers.
LIL' DEEPER ON ELLIS ...
Entering Wednesday night's games, Monta Ellis led the NBA in drives per game (11.8), points-per-game on drives (10.5), team's points-per-game on his drives (15.0), and after Tuesday night's dominant performance against the Lakers he moved up to 8th in the NBA with a 58.8 field-goal percentage on his drives.
He was also tied for sixth in free-throw assists per game (1.0 – passes that led directly to a scoring opportunity, player missed field goal while being fouled and made at least one of his resulting free throws) and led the Mavs with 11.3 assist opportunities per game (passes that lead directly to a shot that if made would have been counted as an assist – Jose Calderon was close behind at 10.3).
We covered most of that ground a few days ago, and we've talked at length about the return of the two-man-game Ellis has carried with him. Now, some statistical proof of that:
Entering Wednesday's games, let's compare how Ellis has fared as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll chances with Chris Paul (who's playing at an MVP level) and last year's (hoped) initiator of the two-man-game for Dallas, per Synergy Sports:
|Player||Chances||Pts per Pos||FG%||TO%||Team Scored%|
It remains to be seen if Ellis can maintain anything resembling this level of proficiency, but the numbers above lend easily to a growing optimism that he can thrive in Dallas alongside Dirk Nowitzki.
And per Synergy's tweet during the game, Ellis was creating 24 points per-game off of the pick-and-roll, leading the league by a "significant margin."
AS THE ELBOWS FLY ...
Vince Carter was upset enough to swing a retaliatory elbow at OKC's Stephen Adams. And after being ejected, Vince was upset about his over-emotional error in judgment.
"I just want to apologize to the fans of both sides," Carter said. "There's no need for it. They're trying to clean up the game and make it fun for fans to watch. It was one of those things where I got caught in the moment and reacted to a reaction that was done to you. My intentions have never been that way. It's just one of those things."
Carter is quite aware the NBA might suspend him and said, "It is what it is. There's nothing you can do. I hurt my team giving up free throws and points, so, I just have to deal with the consequences and move forward. It happened. Sometimes when you do something like that, you wish you could take it back.''
*Gal Mekel played only 10:49 and had a rather nondescript night, finishing with no points, missing the four shots he took, two assists, two rebounds, one steal and no turnovers.
It may surprise some (all) to learn that coming into the night, Gal Mekel, of players averaging at least 15 minutes, ranked 4th in the NBA in points created by assists per 48 minutes (31.5).
The guys ahead of him: Chris Paul (40.4), Deron Williams (36.3) and Stephen Curry (34.5).
At this point, with this small of a sample size, it doesn't mean much … but it's still not a bad list to be a part of.
*Shawn Marion followed up his best game of the season with another strong showing, finishing with 17 points, 7-of-13 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals and was the lone starter with less than three turnovers, two.
*The numbers, outside of field-goal percentage, aren't bad, but this was likely the worst Samuel Dalembert has played since the first preseason game with Dallas. He ended up with six points, 3-of-10 shooting, nine rebounds and three turnovers … but did not match the level of energy or movement we've seen from him in the previous games.
*DeJuan Blair played 19 minutes on his way to eight points and three rebounds. The size of Serge Ibaka (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Steven Adams (six points, nine rebounds) inside seemed to knock Blair from his game, keeping him off the glass and making it hard for him to bull his way to the rim.
*Kevin Durant (23 points, 10 assists) had a double-double and Russell Westbrook (22 points, four assists) played in his second game of the season … oh, and Derek Fisher also played (insert your "apparently, he's spend enough time with his family" joke here).
THE FINAL WORD ...
The Thunder deserve credit for taking the win. As much as what follows may seem to contradict this sentiment, OKC did beat the Mavs … let's not deny that simple fact.
Dallas was sloppy throughout, a step slow, a hand twitch late. Easy, on-target passes were dropped. Composure was lost. Chances were not taken advantage of.
Every time the Mavs made a push, there came a sprinkle of errors, both forced and unforced and a loss was handed to them as a result.
"If we really want to compete, especially in big road games, we got to find ways to get some stops,'' said Dirk, who leads the Mavs into yet another back-to-back this weekend, roadies Friday in Minnesota and Saturday in Milwaukee. "We want to win our first road game. That's obvious. We want to get on the board on the road."
On to the next one.