Grind it out, be rough and tough, play great defense, and then jump on a team and strangle them late to close the game away.
That was the formula for the first couple months of the season, and it worked. That plan had been on hiatus since the Caron and Dirk injuries, but tonight in Utah, at least for this game, it returned.
Oddly enough, the defense actually started off very poorly. The Jazz scored 18 points in the first seven minutes, 22 total in the first quarter, and 25 more in the following quarter. At halftime, they were shooting 52%. The Mavericks showed a few signs here and there that the defensive effort was there, notably forcing a shot clock violation on the final defensive possession of the half, but the stats did not back them up.
The second half, though, it all came together. The Jazz managed just 30 points in the final 24 minutes, shooting just 12 of 40, while turning the ball over nine times. The Mavericks were swarming and aggressive, contesting nearly every look, and looked like the defensive team that was seen early in the season.
Its a welcome sign to see, because we all know defense is the key to winning in the playoffs. The Mavericks also outrebounded Utah by eight, and, unlike a couple losses in the past month, outtoughed the Jazz on the road in their home gym. That's how the Mavericks will have to win come April, and this game showed that they still have it in them.
Not Out of the Woods Quite Yet...
- This was a good win, but there was no doubt some real problems that continued to manifest themselves. Turnovers killed the Mavericks in the first half, coughing the ball up ten times. Jason Kidd was the main culprit, committing six of them (for an eye-bleeding 1:1 assist:turnover ratio). Fortunately, some fix was made at the half, as the Mavericks finished with just 13.
- The Mavericks did outrebound Utah, but they once again gave up too many offensive boards. The Jazz grabbed nine of them, the worst being Earl Watson's tip in off glass to tie the game right after the Mavericks had climbed the hill. He's 6'1".
- Slow starts have also plagued the Mavericks, who could definitely get jobs digging holes if the lock out stretches on for too long. In this game, however, it could have been much worse. The Jazz jumped out to a 18-9 lead with five minutes left in the first quarter, but unlike the past few weeks, the Mavericks responded. Kidd hit a three pointer, Marion hit short two pointer, and then, after a couple key stops by the defense, Terry would drain a long range bomb to close the deficit just one.
There's No "I" In Team, but Let's Talk About Individuals Anyway
- Dirk single-handedly carried the Mavericks through the first half, scoring seventeen while shooting a perfect 9-9 from the line, but was no were to be found in the second...literally. Carlisle sat him for much of the fourth quarter as the Maverick subs started a scoring frenzy. He definitely did not have the same impact half to half, but there's no doubt that if it had been a close game in the closing minutes, Dirk would have been in taking and making the big shots.
- Jason Terry was fantastic, missing just one shot from the field (six of seven), draining four threes, and getting eight free throw attempts (six makes). He finished with 22, and also lead the team in plus/minus.
- Shawn Marion, back in the starting rotation, struggled early on, but turned his game completely around in the fourth and was a key factor in the Mavericks pulling away late in the fourth quarter. His game is such a great change of pace for the Mavericks.
- Kidd is still struggling with his three pointer, down to just 27% for the month, but he twice this game he flashed some abilities down low. Late in the first, he backed the the smaller Earl Watson into the post and finished with a hook shot, and later in the third quarter did the same, but finished with a spin and bank. He's shown it before, but lately seems to have been going to it more often. Look for an article discussing it further in the next few days.
That's Just Ridiculous
- With his 9/9 from the line, Dirk increases his free throw streak to 72 consecutive makes. This streak is the tenth longest in NBA history for the regular season. With another make, he will tie teammate Caron Butler, who hit 73 consecutive freebies in 2008. Dirk already owns the third longest streak of 82 consecutive, which he achieved during the final games of last season and the first couple of this one. The record is Michael Williams, with 97 straight makes.
- Just a few minutes into the game, back to back to back to back offensive fouls were committed by the Mavs and Jazz. On a similar note, the Mavericks had accumulated five offensive fouls just minutes into the 2nd quarter.