The Mavericks dropped a semi-crucial game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. I don’t want to talk about the loss, though. I want to talk about 70 seconds of Willie Cauley-Stein basketball action and the range of emotions a human can experience during those 70 seconds. Let’s jump right into the second quarter when WCS got funky.
There was 7:09 left on the clock and the Mavericks were down by five points. Rick Carlisle called a timeout to regather his team and set something up. Wisely, Rick drew up a play for his best player, Willie Cauley-Stein.
WCS got the ball at the top of the key, then proceeded into a dribble handoff with Tim Hardaway Jr., who was coming off a screen from Luka Doncic. Cauley-Stein gave the ball to Hardaway and immediately rolled hard to the rim. Hardaway delivered a lob pass right on target and Willie dunked on the face of a late-rotating Lou Williams. It worked to perfection. Check it out:
Emotions from this play: happiness, excitement, satisfaction.
After this play, Willie’s energy level noticeably increased. He was running around with the youthful exuberance you see from a 10-year-old who just made a basket at the local YMCA. It was great to see because an engaged Willie Cauley-Stein is a somewhat effective Willie Cauley-Stein.
On the following defensive possession, Cauley-Stein successfully navigated a Paul George-Ivica Zubac pick-and-roll, got his body into George and forced him into a tough floater. George missed, and the Mavs came running back on offense.
This offensive possession didn’t really involve Willie Cauley-Stein, but that didn’t stop his emotional momentum. He stayed active and got back on defense in a timely manner. This time on defense, he had to handle two pick-and-rolls, the first of which came from Williams and Zubac. Cauley-Stein sealed off the ball handler nicely and forced a wild pass. As the Clippers corralled the ball and got back into their offense, they put Willie in his second pick-and-roll of the possession, this time led by Kawhi Leonard.
If you told me before these plays happened that WCS was going to have to guard three pick-and-rolls in two possessions with Paul George, Lou Williams and Kawhi Leonard as the three ball-handlers, I would’ve guessed the Clippers were going to come away with like 18 points. I know that’s not technically possible, but with Willie Cauley-Stein on the court, anything is possible.
Emotions of seeing the future and knowing Willie Cauley-Stein will have to guard the three aforementioned pick-and-rolls: fear, regret, dread.
Willie proved me wrong, though. After handling the first two pick-and-rolls well, he handled the third even better. He hedged the screen softly and then dropped back into the passing lane, stealing Kawhi’s pass to the roller.
Here’s where things get swirly.
After stealing the pass, Willie takes off like a mad man with danger in his eyes. He wants to go coast-to-coast so badly and is doing his best to fight off his gut instinct.
If you pause the play, you’ll see one of the scariest basketball pictures of all time. Here it is:
The three closest guys to Willie are three Clippers getting back on defense. The only Maverick even slightly trying to run the floor with him? Trey Burke. 99 times out of 100, this ends in a wild turnover.
Emotions at the time of this freeze-frame: sorrow, horror, misery, paranoia.
To my utter and complete surprise, Cauley-Stein made the appropriate decision in this situation. He slowed down, found Luka, and passed him the ball. That’s the same advice I would give to every player on the Mavs roster in 95% of game-situations.
After giving the ball to Luka near halfcourt, Cauley-Stein sprinted hard at the rim and Luka rewarded him promptly with a beautiful lob pass. WCS caught the ball, realized he was too far away from the rim to dunk it, adjusted in mid-air and layed it softly off the glass. It went in. Check out the mastery:
Emotions after watching Willie make a literal perfect, gorgeous play: relief, peace, pride, euphoria.
Those 70 seconds wrap up the enigma that is Willie Cauley-Stein. Not many players can evoke emotions like dread and euphoria in a 70-second span in the second quarter of a Monday night NBA game. But then again, not many players are Willie Cauley-Stein.