When Caron Butler set his feet for a wide-open, spot-up three-pointer with a few second left, it seemed the Mavericks were done. They would have coughed up a six point lead with two minutes left and a five point lead with under 30 seconds left.
The shot clanged off the iron and Dallas picked up its fourth win in a row over a quality Western Conference team, 96-92. It was another mucky game and another second-half shooting swoon but the Mavericks defense stayed level, keeping the team in it until Dallas could get the necessary daggers.
The differences in offense between the first and second halves continue to be remarkably confusing. At first it seemed it was just the Mavericks having an inability to adjust to an opponents' changes on defense. But tonight, Dallas generated decent looks in the second half and just weren't able to knock them down. The rebounding was a problem early, but down the stretch, the Mavericks closed out possessions well, which was crucial especially when the offense wasn't getting much.
Like I said, it wasn't pretty. But Dallas managed to limit turnovers (except for that, uh, pretty big one) and attacked the basket and made an effort to get to the line. Against a top Western team in the Clippers (how weird is it to say that, still?) you'll take it. This team is leaps and bounds from the team that slopped through that Cleveland game and still has plenty of room for improvement. Dallas is 18-11 and it still feels like the best is yet to come. Bullets after the jump.
- Kudos to the Dallas coaching staff for exploiting a sneaky weakness (well, not that sneaky) of the Clippers: interior defense. Other than DeAndre Jordan, LA doesn't do a great job of preventing paint buckets as Blake Griffin is still a little slow on rotations and the Clippers don't have the strongest back up big men. Dallas screened, cut, rolled and drove its way to 40 paint points and 28 free throw attempts. Vince Carter had two huge jams, Shawn Marion found himself open consistently just above the free throw line in the middle of the lane and Dirk Nowitzki did what Dirk does: frustrate defenders into tickey-tack fouls that could go either way. Dirk shot 15 free throws (and somehow missed four) and while most of them were from Dallas getting into the bonus early in most quarters, it's still a testament to the Mavericks simply not settling.
- Speaking of paint points, Brendan Haywood looked like he was well on his way to a monster night, with 10 points and six rebounds before the first quarter had even ended. The Mavericks did a wonderful job of finding Haywood off dribble as Jordan was more than willing to leave Haywood free to help or go after a shot block. Los Angeles adjusted accordingly after that and Haywood only finished with the 10 points. It was nice to see that Haywood's early engagement allowed him to finish the game, and he helped a ton in preventing any second chance opportunities when the Clippers made their final rally.
- The beauty of tonight's offense (even when it was bad) was that the ball never stuck. Dallas passed the ball around from corner to corner and each Maverick took advantage off the dribble when the rotation wasn't too crisp from LA. Seven Mavs had at least two assits and five had at least three. Jason Kidd wasn't completely tasked with creating for his teammates – everyone seemed to chip in with the correct pass. It's even more wonderful that with all this movement, the Mavericks only coughed it up 11 times.
- But that last turnover. Sheesh. Jason Kidd is as steady as they come when it's time to inbound the ball in a high-pressure situation (Here are some reminders) but that was just silly. I'm not sure Kidd was wondering about a potential 8-second violation (correct me in the comments on if that resets on a timeout or not) but even so, there was no reason to fling that pass to the other side of the court to Delonte West. Even worse, Kidd wasn't even pressured by a five-second count, and Dirk and Jason Terry were just standing there, not even ready to move to Kidd to catch a pass. Just a really dumb play from one of the smarter basketball players of this generation.
- Shawn Marion is going to get snubbed from the NBA All-Defensive First-Team and that's a damn shame (unless he and LeBron James get the forward spots, I doubt it'll happen). Marion hounded Chris Paul all night and while Paul's stat line isn't bad (15 points, nine assists, five turnovers, 5-of-10 FG) it was far from a Chris Paul type game. Paul has routinely bailed the Clippers out of bad possessions with a quick pull-up jumper or herky-jerky drive to the rim, but Marion contained him well and forced him to pass off to his teammates even when he wanted to get a shot off. Paul is an amazing facilitator but limiting him to 10 shot attempts in a close game is just fantastic work.
- Jason Terry, where have you gone? Not much to say about Terry tonight. He needs to find his shot (nine points, 4-of-12 FG) and find it fast. To his credit, Terry is still OK on defense, making good rotations. But that shot needs to find its way back.
- We all love what J.J. Barea brought to Dallas title run last year. But I wouldn't trade Delonte West for any other back-up point guard in the world right now. Another solid night (10 points, 4-of-8 FG) for West and he also helped out on Paul with some success.
- The Mavericks offense continues to be hot/cold and it's crazy to think where the team would be if it weren't for forcing turnovers and turning them into easy points. The Clippers turned the ball over 21 times and the Mavericks converted those to 22 points. Those easy baskets were absolutely huge once the jumpers and the half court sets stalled in the fourth.
- Kenyon Martin brings so much to this LA team. He's leaps and bounds a better offensive option over Reggie Evans and has much better defensive principles. Martin isn't spectacular at this point of his career, but he's steady – something the Clippers have desperately needed from their back up big men. You don't have to worry about Martin on the glass or playing post defense and every now and again, he'll chip in a pick and pop jumper or finish a dive cut off a double-team. His defense on Dirk was great (but don't fret too much, Mavs fans. Dirk did do a lot of work against Martin in 2009 when Dirk went off in the second round of the playoffs). But what was so peculiar was Vinny Del Negro going with an Evans, Martin, Blake Griffin front court for a lot of the fourth quarter. Martin makes Evans pretty much useless in that lineup and takes away almost all weak-side shot blocking that Jordan provides. Such a strange move.
- Speaking of Griffin, Brandan Wright, Haywood and Dirk all did solid jobs on the All-Star forward. Griffin still finished with 20 points on 17 shots with seven rebounds because he's that good, but he never looked comfortable, especially after Dallas repeatedly hacked Griffin late. Griffin isn't a great free throw shooter but he's certainly not a 2-for-9 shooter either. The misses shell-shocked Griffin into making any agressive moves as he would have a key turnover when Dallas led 88-84 that was a result of Griffin not looking to score at all.
- Lamar Odom will make a nice drive, then shoot a stand-still 23 foot long two pointer. Then he'll throw a ridiculous one-handed lob pass to Wright, then miss a layup off a backcut. Odom had another on-again, off-again night with nine points, three rebounds and three assits on 3-of-8 shooting. It's been difficult for Odom to string together consecutive good plays and he really needs to cut out the long two-point jumpers out of his game. He's so wonderful moving to the basket and posting up.