With the Boston Celtics in town for Saint Patrick's Day, the Dallas Mavericks opened the longest home stand in franchise history, an eight-game marathon that has almost everyone around the team voicing concerns over the negatives a creeping level of comfort could allow to sneak in to the teams disposition.
With both teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back, neither offense ever found solid footing for prolonged stretches, leaving a game of runs. Luckily for the Mavs, most of the Dallas runs built leads, as large as 15, while the Celtics' used the vast majority of theirs to shrink deficits.
Monta Ellis still appeared to be suffering the effects of an illness that limited him the night before and Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find his shot, hitting 6-of-17 attempts for 19 points, but the Mavs found a way to scratch out a win despite their third worst rebounding differential of the season (-21): 94-89.
Here's the official highlight reel:
Sixth Man of the Year? …
It's been interesting to watch as the tide has shifted in regards to Vince Carter's season, from its lackluster beginning to conversations over his "Sixth Man of the Year" candidacy.
Monday night, Carter's shot was not true, as he hit 4-of-13, including 0-of-5 behind the arc, and gave nothing that really stands out on the boxscore … except that one block.
The Celtics came out of a timeout with 19.8 seconds to play, down three. Jerryd Bayless, who had carried Boston back, attacked the rim but Ellis forced him into a tough attempt and miss. Bayless grabbed his own rebound and put up another attempt from four feet out … when Carter's arm shot above the fray and sent the shot back.
Shawn Marion would grab the rebound, sink a pair of free throws and ensure the win was in hand.
"Our bench was big for us,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "We had a lot of guys chip in and help, which was good. The big play at the end (by Carter) was big because they're right there -- it's a one-possession game.''
It wasn't a great night for Carter, but he was there with one of the biggest plays of the game.
The final 6:20 …
With 6:20 to play, the Mavs were up 12 after Shawn Marion had converted an Ellis assist with a running floater in the lane. A pair of Kelly Olynyk free throws, Jerryd Bayless and Avery Bradley back-to-back 3-pointers and the lead was down to four just about a minute later.
Boston dominated the glass all night, and continued to do so as the game dragged through its final minutes, totaling more offensive rebounds (6) than the Mavs had total rebounds (5) over that last 6:20, outscoring the Mavs 23-16.
Leading the way for the Celtics was Jerryd Bayless, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the second half of the fourth quarter.
With Bayless almost single-handedly carrying the Boston offense, scoring just over half of those final 23 points – only two of his teammates scored in this strech, Bradley with five, Olynyk with 6 – we're forced to wonder by Devin Harris wasn't in the game, and brought back to an earlier question.
Of the Mavs rotation guards Devin Harris would easily be considered the best defender, and he was rolling for much of the night on the offensive end. Yet, it was Jose Calderon next to Ellis for the final 5:02.
Unless there is a minute limit on Harris, who appeared to have his shoulder wrapped and iced on the bench as Calderon closed, or a general modus operandi to do everything possible to help Harris stay healthy ... it's hard to find a reason for Calderon to be the closer.
The primary argument may rest in who Rick Carlisle wants handling the ball: Monta Ellis or Devin Harris.
The point guards …
A not-so-subtle shift against the grain of preseason expectations has taken place with the Mavs roster. Most have noticed it and casually accepted it as reality, even if they've never truly spoken it outright: Monta Ellis is the starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks.
Jose Calderon is your starting shooting guard.
Here's another way to look at that, using Basketball-Reference.com's play-by-play data. Calderon had played 96 percent of his 2,052 minutes at shooting guard entering Monday night … meaning he's played only 4 percent at point guard.
By comparison, Ellis had played 94 percent of his time at point guard, only 6 percent at shooting guard.
Harris has floated between the two positions, 48 percent at the point, 52 percent at shooting guard, and we've all witnessed a rise in "get-the-hell-out-of-the-way" plays to close quarters or halves run for Harris … where he isolates centered high above the arc, with either a late screen or on his own with four teammates spread out along the 3-point line.
Is Carlisle simply showing us that he wants the ball in Monta's hands to close games by sitting Harris, Calderon providing the gift of space, shuttled to one side with his defender shackled to greatest 3-point threat on the floor as Ellis runs the offense?
If you accept that, why not at least attempt to substitute Harris in for defensive possessions when the opportunity arises?
We continue to like the idea of Harris as a closer, as the only true two-way talent the Mavs deploy at the guard position … but maybe we have to accept that this isn't about Harris, but the Ellis/Nowitzki two-man-game and an offense that feeds off of Ellis's ability to attack the rim and create along with the space Calderon helps provide as a complement to this.
Here's Devin's Video Visit:
The "clutch" numbers …
To play devil's advocate for a moment, here are the "clutch" stats for Calderon and Harris (with "clutch" defined as the final five minutes of a game within five points):
|player||O rate||D rate||Net rate||FG%||3PT%||asst%||Pts per 36||+/- per 36|
These numbers must be taken with a silo of salt, as Harris has only played 10 "clutch" minutes, a time so small a couple of possessions could drastically alter the totals shown here in either direction.
We only show them because they seem to support one view, that Calderon could be considered a better supporting offensive complement in the final minutes, while Harris has done best as the focus, with the ball in his hands (in the "clutch" only Dirk and Ellis have higher usage percentages than Harris).
The defensive and net ratings leap out, but so should the fact that Harris has no assists and hasn't hit a 3-pointer.
We'd still take the defense Harris has the ability to offer, but we're willing to admit the full situation isn't as clear as our desires to see Devin closing wish them to be.
*Monta Ellis has struggled from the field over the past two games, averaging 13.0 points while hitting only 33.3 percent of his shots. To have tunnel vision for this is to lose focus on all he's brought to the table; led by his desire to simply be on the court despite his illness.
You can point to his 5.5 assists, 7.5 free-throw attempts (including two that helped ice the Celtics' contest) as methods he's found to positively impact the game despite his shots not falling … but more than anything, you may have to look to the disposition (to use one of Carlisle's favorite words) he's setting by example, demanding to be on the court to do all he can to help his team regardless of what ails him.
There's something to be said for this brand of toughness, especially from one of the best players on the roster. It helps set an example, a tone. It's one more reason to like what Ellis has offered the Mavs.
Said Monta on playing at less than 100 percent: "If I have the ability to walk in the gym, I have the ability to play basketball. That's just my mentality."
A subtle sample of the Monta floor game:
And Monta's Video Visit:
*The Mavs had their third-worst rebounding differential of the season, getting out-boarded 57-36 by the Celtics, including a season-worst differential on the offensive glass, where Boston led them 21-6 … a differential of -15.
"The biggest problem we were having out there was rebounding,'' Rick said. "They had 21 offensive rebounds, which is an astronomical number. It's too many, obviously.''
The previous season worst was -11. Oddly, when opponents have gathered 10-or-more offensive rebounds than the Mavs, Dallas is now 6-1.
As ugly as it looks to get out-worked to that level on the offensive glass, there's something to be said for causing all the misses that made it possible.
*Boston has gone the 2013-14 season without a win on the road against the Western Conference, finishing 0-15. We're starting to think they won't fare well in The Finals. (Kidding.)
*The Oop of the Night:
*Dallas is now 9-6 on the second night of back-to-backs, with only one more back-to-back this season. Last year, the Mavs were 7-9 on the backend of back-to-backs.
*Three times this season the Mavs have held an opponent under a field-goal percentage of 37.0 … two of them came against the Celtics.
*Phoenix lost to Brooklyn, pushing them 2.5 games behind the Mavs. Dallas also moved a full game ahead of Memphis for the seventh seed, trails Golden State by one game for the sixth seed, and is only behind the Blazers by 2.5 for the sixth.
Poking Dirk ...
Before the game, Mark Cuban took a poke at Dirk for his occasional "napping.'' (That story is here.) Does Dirk's 19-point game -- with a big late make but a poor percentage -- constitute a response in the right direction?
"This was a tough one for everyone,'' Dirk said. "We didn't shoot the ball well. We just had to grind it out somehow. I had some good looks. They just didn't go down. I tried to be aggressive and was looking for my shot, but it just wasn't my night."
The Trix Video Visit ...
"The beautiful thing about our team is that we're always spacing the floor with shooters, so the defense has to make a decision. Most teams would rather give up a two than a 3, so those dunks are going to be there. And if they're not, then I've got Vince and Dirk behind him ready to shoot. So teams really have to pick their poison on that." - Devin Harris.
The Final Word ...
There was a lot not to like about the Mavs performance against the Celtics, except the result. We can complain about the rebounding, the stretches of sluggish play, the inability to crush a team with goals clearly oriented towards the future in place of current success.
In Carlisle's presser, there was mostly praise:
"We did enough to win,'' Carlisle said. "We won three of the four quarters. We had a dry third quarter, but they didn't score all that well themselves that quarter, either. Pretty typical, both teams playing back-to-back type game.''
So, this wasn't a perfect game … but it was a win.
At this point, assuming good health, isn't that all that matters?