I'm not sure entirely sure how the Dallas Mavericks have got to this point. Yes, there's the excellent bench play, somehow effective defense and of course Rick Carlisle. But I mean, Dirk Nowitzki is shooting 33.3 percent in the two games so far.
His PER in these two games is 9.3 He's never posted a playoffs PER below 20. He's been very, very bad. Bad enough that our own Andy started talking about Greek mythology after Game 1. It's weird to watch Dirk miss shots and it's even weirder to see him miss shots in the playoffs -- he has career playoff splits of 46.1/38.1/89.2 and that's including these past two games and his first two playoff seasons, which weren't all that great.
So what gives? It seems highly unlikely that the Mavericks will keep seeing themselves in this group as the playoffs continue:
Perhaps the most maddening part of Dirk's struggles? He's missing his shots. The Spurs have barely sent any doubles toward Dirk's way and most of his misses have been pretty open spot-up looks like this:
Or decent isolation looks. Tiago Splitter has done about all he can against Dirk -- just contest and pray. It's seems to be working.
The Spurs haven't had to double and really, why should they? If Dirk is clanking jumpers like the ones above, why compromise the defense but leaving another Maverick open? Dirk is simply going to have to do better on his isolation attempts, like this one below where Splitter is able to disrupt his rhythm by poking the ball lose.
Again, credit to Splitter. He's being active, he's disrupting Dirk's routine at times and he's contest about as well as he can without fouling (or maybe he is fouling, if you are to believe Dirk's reaction after a lot of his misses.)
What does Dirk need to do other than simply make these shots? Well he perhaps needs to mix it up. Dirk has taken it to the rim less and less as he's aged, naturally. His free throw rate and at-the-rim attempts this season were his lowest in years.
Dirk had similarly low free throw and rim-attempts in the 2011 season. It turns out Dirk was just saving his body for the postseason -- once the playoffs started Dirk was at his attacking best with his typical mix of jumpers.
It's not like he's lost the ability to get to the rim. And the Spurs are so not worried about sending a double that in the gif below, even Marco Belinelli won't leave Jae Crowder to help on Dirk:
Dirk also mentioned after Game 2 that he was in a bit of a rush. It's probably hard to tell from our vantage point whether Dirk was rushing or not, but Dirk looked substantially better after this nice, patient pump-fake and jumper to give him his first bucket of the night.
Also, surprisingly, Dirk has only taken TWO three-pointers in the two games. This season, per 36 minutes, he attempted 4.5 threes a game, by far his highest number since the run-and-gun days of 2003. In other words, Dirk's 3-pointer was an even bigger weapon this season than it has been in the last 11 years.
What gives? Well it certainly appears that Dirk is picking and popping more into the mid-range area and also taking a bit more isolations and post-ups. But if the Mavericks can keep forcing the Spurs into missed shots and turnovers, that also opens up more three-point transition bombs for Dirk. It's his favorite.
Or, you know, you could just walk into a three off a made basket
Again, more of this. And really, more of what he's been doing. Dirk needs to take advantage of single-coverage, punish the Spurs for it and then force the Spurs into doubles, which, hopefully will continue to open up the floor for the rest of the Mavs.
Somehow, Dallas is scoring anyway. Thank Devin Harris, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Brandan Wright, DeJuan Blair and even some Vince Carter. But Dallas isn't winning three more games with Dirk shooting under 40 percent. The side effects of Dirk missing on single coverage will become more apparent as the series wears on.
Hopefully there were some good signs in Game 2. Dirk started 0-for-6 but finished the game 7-for-13, including a few Dirk dagger gems like his and-1 jumper in the third quarter. Even then, he still missed a few wide open jumpers in the second half.
Luckily, the Spurs aren't really even doing anything complicated. This is fixable. Unless San Antonio used some black magic before Game 1 and imbued Tiago Splitter with deathly distracting magic hands.