Some Notes on Dirk Nowitzki

by Jeff Fogle 12. June 2011 00:48

Was thinking about some of the coverage of Dirk Nowitzki's run through the playoffs. Wanted to make sure the media discussion reflects the full extent of what he's accomplished.

First, it's been noted that Dirk has lifted his per-game scoring average from 23.0 in the regular season to 28.1 in the playoffs. That sounds like a big leap. It IS a big leap. But, he is playing more minutes per-game as well. In the postseason to this point Nowitzki is averaging 39.4 minutes per game. In the regular season it was just 34.3 (a level of pacing that looks very intelligent in retrospect since he seems fresh through an increased grind in the playoffs).

He jumped five points. He jumped five minutes. Don't those just cancel out?

Well, let's pro-rate them to 40 minutes...

Regular Season: 26.8 points per 40 minutes
Playoffs So Far: 28.8 points per 40 minutes

Not quite. Dirk is scoring more productively even after you adjust for minutes per game. Let that register for a second. Dirk's per-minute scoring has gone up...IN THE PLAYOFFS!

*In the playoffs, you're not facing a composite of NBA defenses that can range from great to horrible...and from fired up to indifferent. You're only facing playoff caliber defenses...all of which are battling for their playoff lives to to speak. Scoring is more difficult in the postseason than in the regular season, particularly if you're a focal point of opposing defenses.

Here's how Nowitzki's playoff opponents ranked this year in defensive efficiency starting with Miami and working back to the opening round.

Miami: 5th
Oklahoma City: 11th
LA Lakers: 6th
Portland: 14th

There are 30 teams in the NBA, so we're looking at the upper half of the league obviously. It's also important to remember that Oklahoma City upgraded its defense at the trade deadline. Over the last 18 games of the regular season, OKC had a defensive efficiency equivalent with "best quadrant" play. Nowitzki has faced three good defenses and an average one.

So...he's jumped two points per 40 minutes while facing a much tougher defensive challenge.

*In the playoffs, games slow way down. Possessions are treasured. Dallas averaged 93.2 possessions per game during the regular season. It's only 88.2 so far in a sequence of grinder rounds through the playoffs.

Dirk increased his per-minute scoring production...in slower games...versus better defenses.

Let me give you a quick recent example from another sport where that DIDN'T happen.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were fantastic offensively in the second half of the 2010 NFL season. They averaged 37.4 points per game in their last eight outings. New England entered the postseason amidst hoopla about having one of the greatest offenses ever. Then they ran into the New York Jets.

Facing an elite defense, that was playing at peak intensity with its season on the line...the supposedly unstoppable Patriots offense had 3 points at halftime, and only 11 at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, before picking up some late numbers in a 28-21 loss that stunned more than a few football pundits.

Here's one from college hoops. Ohio State took the #1 "adjusted offense" in the nation (using Ken Pomeroy's numbers) into a Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky (15th ranked "adjusted defense"). The Buckeyes shot 33% from the floor in a low scoring 62-60 loss you probably watched on TV.

It's a much tougher environment in the postseason. Any team or individual who can consistently maintain regular season norms is doing something impressive. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 28 points per game...in 88 possession grinders...against top caliber defenses.

Given the changing context, standing pat is "rising to the occasion." Dirk's done better than that. And, his scoring increase isn't just a matter of playing more minutes. It's doing more in those minutes in a tougher environment.

And, none of it will end up mattering if Dallas doesn't win Sunday or Tuesday night! Dirk Nowitzki is about to face a top notch defense that has its backs to the wall for the first time in the playoffs. His and his team's toughest challenges may still be ahead.

So many storylines in play Sunday evening. We'll touch on as many as we can after the game with numbers and notes around midnight. See you then...

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Playoff Fever!

by Jeff Fogle 8. June 2011 01:09

Fighting a sinus infection and a reported fever of 102, Dirk Nowitzki once again led the Dallas Mavericks to a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Heat to even the NBA Championship series at two games apiece.

It wasn't quite as dramatic as rallying from 15 points down with less than seven minutes to go in Game Two (a 22-5 finish). Dallas trailed tonight 74-65 with 10:11 to go, and was staring at this scenario...

*Their star Dirk Nowitzki was as sick as a dog. He hit his first three attempts of the game at peak adrenaline...but was just 1 of 11 over his last 12 shots at this juncture. It didn't look like he was going to be able to carry the Mavs on his back this time around.

*Nobody was making any treys. The team would finish 4 of 18 from long range. You can make up for an ailing star if role players make some buckets from behind the arc. Dallas was well below its norms on this evening.

*Jason Kidd had either lost his legs or lost confidence in his shot. Kidd would only take three shots on the evening (all missed treys). He was on the floor providing leadership, and toughness on the defensive end. You didn't get the sense he was going to make a big shot because he was shying away from taking any shots.

*Dwyane Wade of Miami was having another strong shooting game. He would finish 13 of 20 from the field for 32 points. The Heat weren't particularly on fire from the field as a team...but they had a workable option who wasn't sick, and wasn't shying away from the basket. 

*Jason Terry was 3 of 9 shooting at this point in the game. Given his recent history trying to score against LeBron James, there had to be skepticism that he was about to ignite and lead a comeback.

But, just like in Game Two...Terry DID ignite with two quick baskets that cut the deficit to three points with 9:22 left. Wade made a jumper to take it back to five points at 76-69. A Wade layup with 7:24 made it 78-73. That was the high water mark for Miami from that point forward. Dirk rose to the occasion. Miami shrunk.

DALLAS 86, MIAMI 83
2-point pct: Miami 49%, Dallas 46%
3-pointers: Miami 2/14, Dallas 4/18
Free Throws: Miami 17/24, Dallas 24/30
Rebounds: Miami 43, Dallas 41
Turnovers: Miami 13, Dallas 10
1's and 2's: Miami 77, Dallas 74

Both teams showed signs of fatigue tonight from long range. This had been a series with some pretty good production on treys. Miami and Dallas combined to go 6 of 32 this evening, with a lot of bombs that weren't exactly honing in on their target from the moment of release. Miami had the superior two-point shooting percentage again (4-0 in that stat this series if you don't round off Game One). Dallas made up for that by earning more trips to the free throw line again (4-0 in makes this series, with a 88-74 edge in points, and a 110-89 edge in attempts).

A big difference for Dallas came in the turnover department. They won that category for the first time all series, reducing what had been 18 and 14 giveaways in the last two games to just 10 tonight. This obviously isn't a series with a lot of margin for error. Dallas did a good job of plugging that leak on this evening.

A game like this presents a million possible topics of discussion. I've had the post-game interviews on TV in the background as I write. I think everyone's done a good job of outlining the Dirk drama, marveling at the ACTUAL shrinkage of LeBron tonight rather than the illusory shrinkage from Game Three....and Jason Whitlock just listed the successful coaching moves from Rick Carlisle in a question because he knew Carlisle wouldn't mention those himself (changing the starting lineup, getting Dirk more rest than normal because of the illness at a time when Dallas had been struggling badly whenever he sat, going to the zone in the fourth quarter, leaving Peja on the bench for 99% of the night, etc...). What's missing I think is this:

MIAMI'S POSSESSIONS THE LAST 7 MINUTES

6:50: Bosh misses 18-footer
6:05: Bosh misses 18-footer
5:15: Bosh commits turnover
4:48: Wade commits turnover
4:18: Miller commits turnover
3:33: Miller misses 3-pointer
2:59: Wade misses 24-footer
2:25: James misses 17-footer
2:16: Miller rebounds that miss and misses a layup
1:53: Bosh MAKES two free-throws, thanks to an insane foul from Stevenson on another jumper
1:09: Haslem misses jumper

That takes us to the point on the clock where Miami does get some stuff on the board thanks to a foul on a fast break, and a dunk when Dallas was giving away the inside to make sure Miami didn't shoot a trey.

As we saw in the other collapse, Miami is settling for jumpers. The good news is that the team just didn't run clock then launch a low percentage guarded trey. The bad news if you're a Miami fan is that this team STILL doesn't know how to consistently get points on the board late in close games vs. good teams (beyond hoping that guarded treys go in). The sampling above was very heavy on jumpers and very light on forays to the basket. Yes, Dallas was playing a zone. Zones arent unbeatable!

Let's take a look at the final six minutes from each of the four games played so far. That will give us a 24-minute "half" of basketball we can use for a crunch time comparison.

FINAL 6 MINUTE "SCORES" IN EACH GAME:
Game One: Miami 17, Dallas 15
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5

Total: Dallas 58, Miami 34

How's that for a "halftime score?!" Let that register for a minute. Dallas is up 24 points IN CRUNCH TIME, putting points on the board consistently against a defense that now, suddenly, isn't looking so scary. And, Miami should be pretty humiliated that they just popped 5, 7, and 5 points in the final six minutes of the last three games. It took a huge first game just to get them to 34! Dallas is up 43-17 in the final six minutes of action during the last three games.

Miami led all four games at the 42-minute mark (75-69, 88-75, 81-74, and 78-75).

Basketball Prospectus ran an interesting article yesterday about Miami showing signs of fatigue. You can make the case tonight that a lot of players were showing signs of fatigue. That fourth quarter slopfest from the Miami perspective (particularly the turnovers) looked tired (foreshadowed very nicely by that BP article). Scroll back up to that listing of late-game Miami possessions. It's just SCREAMING fatigue. Jason Kidd stopped shooting for Dallas. The Mavs got complacent on the boards for stretches and shot poorly on treys. The next game comes up quickly on Thursday, suggesting another tired fourth quarter may be imminent.

Who can handle the fatigue challenge better? Which role players will step up and be heard? Does the fact that LeBron James has been quieter than expected early on mean he'll be more fresh than everyone else the rest of the way? Or, has that quietness been a result of playing so hard on defense that he's just as worn down as everyone else?

And, let's not forget the plus/minus story with Dirk Nowitzki. The late surge tonight continued the theme.

The updated breakdown in plus-minuses so far from the Dallas perspective:
Game One: with Dirk -2, without Dirk -6
Game Two: with Dirk +13, without Dirk -11
Game Three: with Dirk +12, without Dirk -14
Game Four: with Dirk +7, without Dirk -4

Total: with Dirk +30, without Dirk -35

Will Nowitski have recovered enough to keep those positives so prominent? Back Thursday after midnight with numbers and notes...

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Dirk +23, Without Dirk -31

by Jeff Fogle 6. June 2011 00:11

In the 20 minutes that Dirk Nowitzki has been on the bench resting during the NBA Championships, the Dallas Mavericks have been outscored by 31 points. In the 124 minutes that he played, Dallas has outscored the Miami Heat by 23 points. As strong as Miami has looked earning a big riding time advantage through three games, they're WAY down when Dirk is on the floor.

Here's the breakdown in plus-minuses so far from the Dallas perspective:
Game One: with Dirk -2, without Dirk -6
Game Two: with Dirk +13, without Dirk -11
Game Three: with Dirk +12, without Dirk -14

Because Nowitzki finishes every game unless he's fouled out, we've developed a pattern where the Mavericks fall behind during his rest time...then spend the fourth quarter trying to climb back to equality. They successfully rallied to equality in Games Two and Three, with coin flip endings splitting out one apiece to each team.

It's amazing how quickly the Dirk-less collapses are happening. Nowitzki only missed six minutes of Game Two, but the Mavs dropped like a rock in that spell. Again tonight, six minutes of rest, but an even worse fall. Miami was 25 points better than Dallas in the equivalent of a quarter over Games Two and Three. Imagine a 35-10 quarter, or 40-15. That's Miami vs. Dallas without Dirk these last two games (next day edit...had a chance to go through the play-by-play to get the exact result...I'm showing 40-15, so that turned out to be a good guess).

A typical quarter with Dirk in those two games was a win of about 6.5 points for Dallas.

Postgame media coverage made a point of emphasizing that he needs scoring help. Be careful jumping to conclusions that it's the starters who are letting him down. The bench has played so well in the postseason that they're starting to get the benefit of the doubt when they don't deserve it. Look at the bench plus/minus tonight (expanded boxscore is here):

Peja Stojakovic: -11 in just 6 minutes
Ian Mahinmi: -6 in just 8 minutes
Jason Terry: -6 in 32 minutes
Jose Juan Barea: +3 in 19 minutes

Barea had a horrible stretch late in the first quarter that helped dig a hole, but did contribute despite poor shooting in the rally that fell short. He ended up on the plus side of the ledger.

By now, you've probably heard or read it mentioned often that the Dallas bench outscored the Miami bench in Game Three. Let's take a look at that. They did outscore them because they took eight extra shots. The Dallas bench didn't outshoot them.

Bench Shooting Percentages
Dallas: 8 of 24 (33%, including 2 of 9 on treys)
Miami: 7 of 16 (44%, including 4 of 7 on treys)

Miami's bench won rebounds (11-8) despite playing fewer minutes and won turnovers (3-5). It all added up to a very clear win for the Miami bench in terms of plus/minus.

Miami's Bench Plus/Minuses
Juwan Howard: +6 in 6 minutes
Mario Chalmers: +6 in 29 minutes
Udonis Haslem: +5 in 29 minutes
Mike Miller: +4 in 12 minutes

Dwyane Wade had a stellar 29 point, 11 rebound game, but the Heat were outscored by one when he was on the floor because so much of his time came when Nowitzki was also on the floor. Chris Bosh hit the eventual game winner, and won a gut-check award for playing most of the night after taking a finger to the eye. He had to keep his head bowed in the postgame interview with Hannah Storm because of the bright lights. Miami was outscored by 10 points when Bosh was on the floor.

MIAMI 88, DALLAS 86
2-point pct: Miami 44%, Dallas 41%
3-pointers: Miami 8/19, Dallas 8/21
Free Throws: Miami 12/15, Dallas 22/27
Rebounds: Miami 36, Dallas 42
Turnovers: Miami 10, Dallas 14
1's and 2's: Miami 64, Dallas 62

I'm afraid you're going to read a lot of coverage about how Miami turned their fortunes around by re-focusing on attacking the basket. After launching an out of character 30 three-point attempts in Game Two, they cut that down to 19 in Game Three. A quick reality check:

*Miami lost a two-point game the other night that was tied in the final minute. They won a two-point game tonight that was tied in the final minute. That's not exactly a dramatic change.

*Unless you're into measuring production to the thousandths of a point, there was no difference between Game Two and Game Three scoring once you adjust for possessions...

Miami scored 1.0219 points per possession in Game Two
Miami scored 1.0232 points per possession in Game Three

They didn't "fix" what was wrong. They just got to the same level of production by a different path.

*They reduced their three-point launches by 11, and increased their two-point launches by 16. Here's what it got them...

25 of 43 on two-pointers in Game Two
26 of 59 on two-pointers in Game Three

One extra deuce on 16 extra tries. Miami played smarter down the stretch, when they NEEDED a basket. But, in the big picture, they traded misses on treys for misses on twos.

*Aha, you're thinking. What about free throws? Maybe they earned a lot more trips to the line because they were attacking the basket!

16 of 24 on free throws in Game Two
12 of 15 on free throws in Game Three

They went to the basket less often, even after you adjust for a slower game (a drop from 91 to 86 possessions).

So...if you're under the belief that the postgame storyline should be Miami regaining control of the series by "imposing its will" with an inside attack...and that Dirk Nowitzki was let down by his starting teammates...hopefully this brief run through will help set the record straight.

Game Three was basically a replay of Game Two with a slightly smaller comeback from Dallas at a slightly slower tempo. Then, Miami scored the late tie-breaker instead of Dallas. Both teams are playing great defense. It's Nowitzki who's most able to "impose his will" on the series. He just can't do it for 48 minutes a night, and the team is falling apart when he's not on the floor.

Some quick stat notes before we call it a night...

*Dallas fixed its problem allowing offensive boards to Miami that was such an issue in Game One. They allowed 16 in an 8-point loss in the series opener. They only allowed 6 and 9 in the two coin flips.

*Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea aren't providing much scoring from the point guard position despite getting many opportunities to do so. Kidd was 3 of 8 tonight after going 2 of 7 Thursday. Barea was 2 of 8 tonight after going 2 of 7 on Thursday. (See what I mean about these being very similar games?! Dirk was 11 of 21 tonight after going 10 of 22 on Thursday. Dwyane Wade was 12 of 21 tonight, 13 of 20 on Thursday)

*Dallas has lost turnovers 18-12 and 14-10 in the two coin flips, suggesting that they still have a chance to win the series if they can just clean up some of their passing. Important to remember though that "forced turnovers" in basketball tells you a lot about a defense. Miami is creating a lot of those miscues.

*Miami has completely neutralized what was expected to be an edge for Dallas behind the three-point line in this series. Miami is 11-9-8 in makes. Dallas is 9-6-8. Both teams are shooting 38% from long range.

*Dallas has won free throws in every game in terms of makes, and has attempted 15 more from the charity stripe to this point.

See you again Tuesday near midnight with numbers and notes from Game Four. Want to clarify something from the Game Two post. I talked about some "tick issues" on the play-by-play rundowns. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop reminded me that there can be time between possessions where nobody has the ball but the clock is still running. Sometimes obvious things like that don't occur to you when you're writing at midnight! Thanks to Henry (and all of you) for reading and helping me get the record straight...

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Un....BELIEVABLE!!!!!

by Jeff Fogle 3. June 2011 01:39

Even though the Dallas Mavericks had recently engineered a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City Thunder...lightning doesn't strike twice. Dallas trailed the Miami Heat by 15 points with just over six minutes to go in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Championships. They seemingly had few workable options. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't shooting well. The bench wasn't doing much. D-Wade was on fire. Miami felt that this was their moment. They had established superiority. On destiny's doorstep. (cue music from "Rocky").

6:18: Jason Terry makes a jumper for Dallas to cut an 88-73 deficit to 88-75. Terry had only made two baskets on the night to this point...and had been enduring a slump the past few games. Nice to see the guy with the trophy tattooed on his arm join the series. (Using ESPN's play-by-play rundown as a guide, it may have been updated by the time you read this)

5:50: Mario Chalmers misses a three-pointer. On the prior Miami possession, D-Wade had missed a three-pointer. The team was settling for bombs figuring the game was won. If one goes in, a big lead gets bigger and the crowd goes nuts. If not, big deal! They're so far ahead it's not going to matter.

5:45: Jason Terry makes an uncontested snowbird layup on a long pass from Jason Kidd (who had rebounded the Chalmers miss). This cuts the lead to 11. Erik Spoelstra calls a quick timeout. I'm thinking "smart timeout from the Miami perspective, don't let Dallas think they have a chance." Miami just had two lazy offensive possessions, and then lost track of Terry. Spoelstra was right on top of it.

5:28: LeBron James misses a driving layup. He thought he was fouled, but he always thinks he's fouled. This would be the last time in a while Miami was able to fly at the basket.

5:20: Jason Terry is fouled and makes two free throws. After being invisible for most of the night, Terry now has six points in less than a minute to cut a 15-point lead to nine.

4:54: Chris Bosh misses a 21-foot jumper. That's a 26-second possession, which isn't possible...but sometimes the play-by-play stuff is off by a tick or two. You can tell Miami's trying to treasure their possessions since Dallas is back within single digits. But, if you've been following the team all year, you're already thinking back to all of those games where they stalled down the stretch with a sluggish offense. That couldn't happen again could it? So many in the media had assured us that Miami now knew how to run an offense late in close games. I'm putting the distances on missed jumpers in italics to help emphasize how much this mattered.

4:33: Shawn Marion makes a driving layup to cut the lead to 88-81. Marion was an unsung hero tonight. He would finish with 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Dallas looked to be out of it...then it was mostly Terry and Dirk doing post-game interviews because of their history making finish. Marion's scoring kept it from being an insurmountable deficit.

4:09: LeBron James draws a foul and makes two free throws. The Miami lead is back to nine points. These are the only points the Heat would score in about seven minutes.

3:54: Jason Kidd makes a three-pointer...with MUCH more room to shoot than Dallas has normally been seeing in this series. Miami isn't rotating now with the same intensity they had been in the first 7.5 quarters of the series. Spoelstra calls another immediate timeout. You can't take your foot off the gas against Dallas...on either side of the ball. Miami looks to be doing that on BOTH sides of the ball.

3:27: LeBron James misses a 16-foot jumper. Obviously this is late in the shot clock (again with tick issues). Another possession that takes a long time and leads to something forced up with time running out.

3:11: Jason Terry makes a 14-foot jumper. The defense was again slow to react. Dallas can hit an open look! The slacking of the Miami defense is creating them all over the floor. It's now just a 4-point game and Spoelstra calls another timeout. You can imagine him saying, "Five minutes ago I reminded you that Dallas came from way down to beat Oklahoma City. Wake the heck up!" It's hard to express this visually with words and numbers. A lot of the shots both teams were taking involved similar distances. Dallas was taking open shots while Miami was forcing guarded shots.

2:53: Chris Bosh loses the ball out of bounds trying to drive to the basket. One of the issues Miami has late in close games is that they're just giving the ball to one of their stars and asking him to do something. Turnovers are more common with that approach against fired up defenses. A penetrating point guard wreaks havoc and forces rotations. That's why Chris Paul's teams are so successful late in close games, while the superstar "scorers" often have trouble (as Henry Abbott has been showing all season at TrueHoop).

2:44: Dirk Nowitzki makes an 18-footer. He wasn't wide open (going from memory) but it was an easier shot than it needed to be. Miami's no longer reacting with defensive aggression. More like defensive fear. It's 90-88. It's a two-point game with just under three minutes to go. Against Oklahoma City, Dallas still had a lot of work to do in the final minute, and didn't tie the game until the final seconds. They're within a bucket already and there's plenty of time left. I've probably uttered my fifth "unbelievable" by this point already.

2:20: Udonis Haslem misses a 15-footer. Again, we're deep in the shot clock. Again, it's a jumper instead of anything at the basket. This time, it's Haslem taking the shot...which is something Dallas would pray for any time down the floor. He would go 1 of 3 tonight, and is now 4 of 20 the last four games. Some of this has to be rust from his tremendously long layoff. His form looks very sluggish on any jumper away from the basket. And his shots are hitting the wrong side of the rim. Where's D-Wade? Dallas is doing a good job encouraging the ball to go elsewhere. Miami still doesn't have a way to get the ball where THEY want it to go...beyond letting LeBron or Wade gain possession out by the arc and hoping they hit a guarded trey. That was going to bite them in the butt eventually.

2:00: Dirk Nowitzki has a jumper blocked by LeBron. Jason Kidd gets the rebound but loses the ball to Haslem. Miami gets a stop! It's still 90-88...but suddenly the Dallas run is over because the Heat defense made a couple of plays.  Nice try Mavericks. Try that old OKC magic on us. Ha! You had us going there for awhile. This is Miami and we've got a championship to win.

1:31: LeBron misses a guarded three pointer. But, Miami gets the rebound.

1:05: LeBron misses another guarded three pointer. Bit and bitten. It's frustrating that there's kind of a mini-debate going between some statheads saying "We told you back when Miami was losing close games during the regular season that they'd be fine in the playoffs," and others saying "hoping guarded three-pointers go in isn't a plan." When the bombs go in, it looks like Miami knows how to win close games. When they don't, Miami looks lost. Maybe we can stop debating how flipped coins land and talk about HAVING A PLAN WHEN YOU NEED TO SCORE.

Haslem would grab the board off that second miss, but immediately turn it over to Kidd. That triggered a fast break that's finished off by Dirk from a Marion pass. WE'RE TIED WITH 57 SECONDS LEFT!

Time out Miami. This is their third time out during the comeback.

0:36: D-Wade misses a guarded three-pointer late in the shot clock. Amazing. Dallas gets the rebound and doesn't call a timeout. They can think about trying to get something quick to force a two-for-one possession sequence. But that's squeezing it pretty tight unless you get something in the first few seconds. It looks at first like they're going to work for a good shot rather than sweat the two for one. Then, inexplicably, Dirk finds himself with the ball and plenty of space outside the arc.

0:26: DIRK FOR THREE! That's what I yelled so loud that my wife fell out of her recliner.  Historical moments deserve that kind of volume or you're not a sports fan. Similar volume last week when LeBron hit the tying trey in the comeback at Chicago (though it was earlier in the evening). Seems like the prior time was when Northern Iowa hit that "go for the jugular" trey against Kansas two Marches ago. Dallas leads 93-90, finishing off a 20-2 run that will surely go down in the...

0:24: MARIO CHALMERS FOR THREE! OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This was beautiful. It's easy to blame Jason Terry for losing track of Chalmers. But, Terry and Dallas were most worried about D-Wade rotating to the top of the key...and then LeBron on the old "pass it back to the inbounds passer so he can shoot" play. Chalmers ran to the far corner in case the shot was there. LeBron saw him and threw a perfect strike. Chalmers had been 0 of 5 for the night. He finished 1 of 6 with a clutch trey that temporarily saved the day. The camera angle made it seem like you could see the X's and O's diagrammed in human form. Art.

Dallas calls a timeout and sets up their play. They want the last shot. They know Miami has a foul to give. They're going to hold the ball to drain at least half of the clock off...then see if they can make something happen. Dirk gets the ball with about 8 seconds left (going from memory). He's on the left side of the floor...meaning any drive to the basket would involve his injured hand. He can try to shoot a jumper in traffic right-handed. He can attack and try to draw a foul. Can he score with a torn finger tendon on his left hand?

0:03: Dirk scores a left-handed layup!

Miami didn't give their foul. Once Dirk has the ball you don't want to risk fouling on a quick shooting motion that puts him on the line. Bosh wasn't up to the defensive challenge. With no timeouts left, Miami is forced to launch a desperation three that doesn't go in...

DALLAS 95, MIAMI 93
2-point pct: Dallas 52%, Miami 58%
Three-pointers: Dallas 6/17, Miami 9/30
Free Throws: Dallas 17/21, Miami 16/24
Rebounds: Dallas 41, Miami 30
Turnovers: Dallas 18, Miami 12
1's and 2's: Dallas 77, Miami 66

During the part of the game that Miami was dominating, it seemed like the key stats were going to be treys and turnovers. The Heat had once again neutralized the Dallas danger from long range. The Mavericks were sloppy with the basketball much of the night. Even though they fixed the offensive rebounding issue from the other evening (Miami only had six tonight after grabbing 16 in the series opener), Dallas was clearly the inferior side through the first 42 minutes.

With the Dallas comeback, the important stat looks to be rebounding. And, those 30 attempts from behind the arc for Miami are way too many. You want to neutralize Dallas, but you don't want to euthanize your own offense down the stretch.

We've seen a few big comebacks in Dallas playoff games this year. The Mavs survived one against Portland...regathered themselves...and dominated ther rest of the series. The Mavs inflicted one on Oklahoma City...and the Thunder are still shellshocked from the experience as we speak. How will Miami handle it?

It still seems that, when both teams are going pedal to the metal, Miami is the better side. If either slacks off on defense, then the other can put points on the board quickly. Will Miami be committed to 48 minutes of defense every game from this point forward? Will they get discouraged and lose defensive intensity if things start to go the other way (we saw that during the regular season slump, but not really at all in the playoffs...nothing's happened until tonight that could discourage them). Maybe Miami's still on destiny's doorstep. Dallas has made it clear they're not going to hold the door open for them.

Answers will become clear in Sunday's Game Three. Back with numbers and notes Sunday before midnight...

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A Maverick Miracle!

by Jeff Fogle 24. May 2011 01:13

Down 15 points with 5:05 left in Game Four of the Western Conference Championships, the Dallas Mavericks rallied all the way back to tie the Oklahoma City Thunder before pulling away in overtime to win a 112-105 stunner...

No matter what prism you've been watching this series through, there were moments in that stirring comeback that would play to your perceptions.

*If you're in the "Dirk's Destiny" camp, you saw a few seemingly impossible shots go down in the Mavericks late surge. Jeff Van Gundy called the performance "legendary."

*If you've been blaming a lot of things on Russell Westbrook (like me!), it's as if he wanted to make sure EVERYONE IN THE WORLD saw that he's likely to make very poor decisions at horrible times...and that he's not a consistent shooter once you get away from the basket.

*If you think Westbrook is getting blamed too much, there were several poor decisions by his teammates and his coach down the stretch that played a big role in the blown lead.

With those themes fresh in our minds, let's review the rally...

(First, as a precursor, be aware that Oklahoma City's scoring in the fourth quarter to build what had been an 81-77 three-quarter lead up to 99-84 was done...in order...by Ibaka, Durant, Collison, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Durant, Collison, and Durant. Westbrook only took one shot, a missed three-pointer. His Usage Rate ended at 33.9, meaning it was probably near or below the magic number of 32.0 before this stretch...OKC is 5-0 in the playoffs when Westbrook's Usage Rate is below 32.0. To reflect back to the prisms, I'll put Dirk's makes and Westbrook's misses in italics. The full fourth quarter play-by-play breakdown from ESPN's website is here)

5:00 to go: Oklahoma City leads 99-84

4:48: Shawn Marion is fouled by James Harden and makes 2 FT's.

4:33: Dirk Nowitzki is fouled by James Harden after a Dallas defensive rebound. This is notable because it was the SIXTH FOUL ON HARDEN, and because Dallas was in the bonus. DUMB! John Hollinger of ESPN was on top of things with poor OKC foul choices in his fourth quarter tweets (which made up for him tweeting "I think we're done here" just before the rally started...jinx city!). Dirk only made one free throw, so it's 99-87.

4:20: Russell Westbrook misses a 17-foot jumper just 13 seconds into the shot clock. The whole arena still thinks this is going to be an OKC win (and I was preparing an entirely different lead!)

3:48: Russell Westbrook tries to drive through the Dallas trees, and loses the ball to Jason Kidd. He pulls Kidd down afterward...resulting in two free throws that Jason makes. It's 99-89 OKC...and I'm thinking, "wouldn't it be something if OKC blows this game and I can point to those last two plays from Westbrook as the turning point?" Of course, Harden fouling out is the better turning point. In fact, Westbrook getting into trouble on offense is one of the dominos that started to fall because a key weapon was off the floor.

3:32: Kevin Durant misses a 22-footer 16 seconds into the shot clock. Durant seems to shy away from driving to the basket late in tight situations.

3:15: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 13-foot jumper...with the play-by-play listings not able to do justice to the acrobatics involved in Dirk's late scores. Dallas has cut it to 99-91 with 3:15 to go. And, it still seems unlikely that a full comeback is in the cards. Scott Brooks calls a timeout to remind his players that they haven't won yet.

2:49: Kevin Durant misses a 3-pointer late in the shot clock. Nick Collison gets the rebound. Russell Westbrook makes a free throw line jumper with 2:32 to go, and poses for the cameras like he's in a music video...rather than humbly remembering that he's hitting about 30% of his shots outside of 2 feet over the past few weeks.

2:21: Dirk Nowitzki hits a trey to make it 101-94

2:11: Jason Terry fouls Westbrook when Westbrook was a bit out of control bringing the ball up. But, Westbrook is great at drawing contact, so he may have been more in control than I was giving him credit for. Westbrook misses BOTH free throws, which was a shocker given how well he'd been hitting them in the playoffs.

2:00: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 14-foot jumper to make it 101-96, and it starts to dawn on Thunder nation that they're on the verge of a major choke job.

1:30: Russell Westbrook misses a 15-foot jumper. Obviously it was late in the shot clock. Harden isn't on the floor. Given what they've seen in the series, Dallas wants Westbrook taking that shot.

1:25: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 5-footer and it's 101-98 with 1:25 to go.

1:07: Kevin Durant gets picked by Shawn Marion...Jason Terry's subsequent layup attempt gets blocked by Thabo Sefolosha...Russell Westbrook misses a 16-foot jump shot...then fouls Shawn Marion right afterward in the backcourt. Marion makes one of two...meaning OKC gave Dallas four points on fouls a mile away from the basket during this stretch. It's 101-99 Oklahoma City with 39 seconds left. All of those "Dirk makes" and "Westbrook misses" notations and the Thunder are still ahead...WITH THE BALL...with 39 seconds left.

0:20: Thabo Sefolosha misses a three-pointer, and Dallas gets the rebound.

0:06: Dirk is grabbed from behind by Nick Collison and gets two free throws. I could see why some OKC fans would be mad about this call. Collison definitely had his hands on Dirk and impeded his movement. We've all seen it NOT called late in close games. We've also seen it called often when the scoring star of the team with the ball is the guy getting grabbed. Dirk makes his free throws, and we're tied.

Kevin Durant has a very long trey attempt blocked by Shawn Marion, and we're going overtime.

Overtime saw Jason Kidd and Jason Terry help Dirk with the scoring (a trey from Kidd broke a 105-all tie with 40 seconds left). OKC got buckets from Sefolosha and Ibaka, but misses from Durant and Westbrook. Four late Mavs free throws extended the margin to 112-105

DALLAS 112, OKLAHOMA CITY 105 (in overtime)
2-point pct: Dallas 48%, OKC 52%
3-pointers: Dallas 8/25, OKC 2/13
Free Throws: Dallas 34/39,OKC 19/25
Rebounds: Dallas 33, OKC 55
Turnovers: Dallas 13, OKC 25

Some truly weird extremes. Oklahoma City won rebounding by a monster margin. That was trigered by 20 offensive rebounds though....which is a sign they were settling for too many jumpers and not driving to the basket enough. You can see that they lost free throws by a bunch...AT HOME...which is very odd for the Thunder. Hustle made up for that until that last disastrous stretch. (The expanded boxscore can be read here).

Individually, Durant was trying to do too much...with 9 of 22 from the floor but a whopping 9 turnovers. Westbrook was 7 of 22 with 6 turnovers. The rest of the team shot 26 of 46 for 57%. Everyone else only shoots when they get really good looks, so that's a bit misleading. But, look how easy it is to get the guys who supposedly can't score some open looks!

Ibaka: 8 of 15, 18 points
Sefolosha: 6 of 10, 12 points
Collison: 5 of 7, 12 points

I'd feel like it's piling on to go through all of Westbrook's poor shooting spots again. I just wish this was part of the mainstream coverage. If an NFL quarterback kept having a horrible completion percentage in a series of big games, it would be mentioned. Heaven forbid AROD goes hitless in a couple of playoff games. Westbrook was 0 for 10 outside of 9 feet tonight. In what's supposed to be a jumpshooter's range of 16-23 feet, he's 15 of his last 56 going back a dozen playoff games. FIFTEEN OF FIFTY-SIX! He's 8 of his last 35 on treys, and OKC needs to keep up with Dallas from behind the arc.

Assigning proper blame amongst the contributing factors (schematics, teammates, coaching, his own mindset, intelligently designed Dallas defense) is admittedly tricky. But, the end result is so important that it shouldn't be ignored. It's happening. It matters. And, it was part of the collapse in the final minutes this evening. Dirk's heroics would have fallen short without all the zero possessions from OKC (he would end with 40 points on 12 of 20 from the floor...which was obviously a lot worse than 12 of 20 before the "instant classic" finish).

Dallas will bring a 3-1 series edge home for Game Five on Wednesday. Back with you late Tuesday for numbers and notes from Game Four of Chicago-Miami...

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