Tonight's game was an emotional roller coaster, with both teams making massive runs and the Mavericks overcoming a 20-point deficit (twice) to lose a close one.
After both teams rolled out small, fast-paced line-ups in the first quarter, the Mavs entered the second quarter trailing by just three points. Carlisle's new starting line-up was again looking solid and both teams were channeling all of their energy into offense. But then Cavs opened the second quarter shooting lights-out on a 19-2 run to give them a 20 point lead with six minutes left in the half.
It seemed that the LeBron-less Cavs were going to totally have their way with the Mavericks, but Dallas rallied and went on their own 19-2 run powered by David Lee's 14 first-half points (on 6-7 shooting) and Dirk's 16 after a cold spell earlier in the quarter. After closing the gap to just three points, the Mavs ended the first half down six with a totally respectable 51 points.
The ride continued into the third as the Cavaliers again took an emphatic 20-point lead. Kyrie Irving kept up his impressive shooting, and Cleveland closed out the third up 16. But during the final quarter, the Mavericks managed to get everyone's hopes up while bringing the Cavs' lead down to two. JJ Barea was a relentless pest on both ends of the court and Zaza dominated.
Because nothing about this game made sense, the Mavs' had what could've been the final possession of the game down two but lost the ball to Kyrie Irving, who was inexplicably guarding Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs quickly fouled Kyrie, who sank both his free throws. Deron Williams sank a beautiful buzzer-beating three, but the Cavaliers still got the one-point win.
Carlisle's line-up shakes-ups work, except when they don't
It seems a little silly to say that the top team in the East is underrated, but with some of the personnel drama this season and two historically great teams dominating the West, it's easy to forget that the Cavaliers are a genuinely good basketball team. In addition to being at the top of their conference, their 6.2 point differential is pretty impressive (or it would be in a normal season), and they have plenty of talented players not named LeBron James.
So when Carlisle relied for three quarters on the strategy that worked pretty well in Charlotte, going small and fast, it was probably the right choice, and changing things up again in the fourth by going back to a bigger line-up definitely threw the Cavaliers' offense off. Tonight's loss was frustrating, but it was a good reminder that sometimes it doesn't matter how much of a wizard your head coach is or how productively your back-up center is playing; this season, it's just not quite enough to beat good teams.
God bless David and Dirk and Zaza
JJ Barea had a great fourth quarter, but tonight really belonged to the Mavericks' big men, who kept the team in the game despite two huge runs by the Cavaliers. David Lee was excellent, ending tonight with 20 points on 8-11 shooting. Dirk was freaking Dirk, and Zaza has taken to his new role off the bench with gusto. The big man was instrumental in the Mavs' fourth quarter comeback.
Some good things
It was a rough night, so let's end on a few good notes:
- In addition to his 20 points, Dirk somehow had three blocks tonight. Dirk is the best, y'all.
- Another good thing: Justin Anderson got 15 minutes of playing time! It'll be interesting to see what he does going forward, but it seems like Carlisle might have finally resigned himself to giving the young dude some time on the court. If the team isn't going anywhere this year, at least we might get a chance to get a better handle on the team's potential future.