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Notebook game observations: Mavericks attacking Trae Young on defense

Dallas couldn’t stop Young on offense so they went at him on defense

Atlanta Hawks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks beat the Atlanta Hawks twice in the span of a week and both games proved to be tactical chess matches.

The story of the first matchup was how Dallas slowed Trae Young down on offense. Rick Carlisle implemented a plan to get the ball out of his hands. The Mavericks trapped Young at half-court and in almost all pick and roll situations and managed to get away with a win.

New game and a new plan

The Mavericks continued with the aggressive defense on Young in the second game as well. But Young is an awesome offensive player and he adapted well to the Mavericks’ pressure. He finished the game with 25 points and 15 assists, manipulating the Dallas defense throughout most of the game. Young was +7 for the game and Atlanta’s offense looked bad when he was off the floor.

To win this game Carlisle decided to focus on Young’s weakness, which is his defense. For all offensive excellence, Young is still a liability on the other side of the ball. Dallas won the game by attacking Trae Young on offense all game long. Mavericks started by targeting Young and trying to get him switched on Luka Dončić. Then in the 4th quarter, Jalen Brunson finished the job by attacking Young whenever possible.

Rick Carlisle talked about this plan in his post-game interview:

A great player like Young is a guy you’ve got to put pressure on defensively. Just to try wear him down a little bit. Jalen did a great job attacking him.

How did the plan work?

Per NBA stats matchup data for this game, Dončić and Brunson scored 19 points on 54% shooting in their direct matchups against Young. Even more, Dallas scored a total of 47 team points in situations where Young had to guard either Dončić or Brunson. Young finished the game with a 125 defensive rating (DEFRTG), the worst among all Hawks players who played more than 10 minutes.


Video breakdown of the plan

Dallas started targeting Young Dončić matchups early in the first quarter. Here is a simple pistol 21 action from an early offense situation. Richardson sets a screen, Hawks switch early, and Dončić scores on a layup.

Carlisle likes to use double drag screens in early offense situations to make ball screen actions for Dončić a bit more complex. Here is an early offense situation, still in the first quarter. Brunson and Cauley-Stein set a double drag screen, Young switches on Dončić and Luka makes the three-point shot.

Here is a similar situation in early offense, where the Mavericks are hunting for Young - Dončić matchup. Young does well on the first attack, but Dončić calls for the ball again and attacks Young on a drive.

Stack pick and rolls are wrinkles Carlisle likes to throw at opponents to get a favorable matchup. In this game, Dallas was using the player Young was guarding as the second screener. This forced Young to get involved in rotations on defense and make decisions.

In this clip, you can see Young caught between helping on Dončić or tagging Kleber on the roll, and just being too passive. Dončić scored easily on the drive that followed.

At the end of the third quarter, Dallas started to attack Young in guard-guard ball-screens. Carlisle played Brunson with Dončić together a lot in this game, so either of them could take advantage of the matchup against Young. In the next video are two guard-guard ball-screen situations in the key moments of the third and fourth quarters.

In the first action, you can see Young tell Snell to help and double Dončić, and Brunson scores off a Dončić pass. In the second one, Dončić just uses his size to shoot over Young after Young switches on him.

Brunson as a secondary ball-handler attacking Young in the 4th quarter

Dallas struggled a lot in the past trying to find a secondary ball-handler to complement Dončić in the key moments of close games. In this game, Brunson was great at making plays off initial Dončić’s attacks. Brunson's went against Young early in the fourth quarter, when Dončić was off the floor. Here is a simple play of Powell’s screen where Brunson gets to his spot and scores over Young.

Two same ATO plays in the clutch and Young struggling defending both

With the game up for grabs, Carlisle called for two stack pick and rolls after the time out plays (ATO) in a span of less than a minute. The goal on both was to use Dončić as primary ball-handler and Brunson as a secondary attacker, once the defenses collapse around Dončić.

Here is the first ATO play, where Brunson slips out of the screen early, Young gets caught ball watching and Brunson punishes him on a close-out.

30 seconds later, Carlisle calls for the same play out of the timeout. This time the Hawks trap Dončić early, Dončić finds Brunson who attacks Young with the floor spread.

A tough stretch on defense for Young in the fourth quarter as Brunson was feeling it.

The key clutch play Brunson made was with a minute and a half left in the game. This time Dončić screens for Brunson, who attacks the paint and finds Dorian Finney-Smith for an open three-point shot.

Dallas won 3 in a row and as our editor Josh wrote, the Mavericks’ clutch offense looks much better this season. Dallas has a 5-5 clutch record, Luka Dončić is trusting his teammates and they are stepping up big time. Kleber and Richardson hit important shots against the Warriors and Timberwolves down the stretch. Yesterday it was Brunson who made key plays in the closing moments.