They had to come from behind again. But, we've learned this week that the Dallas Mavericks know how to close out a game, and the Oklahoma City Thunder don't! Let's take a look at some additional Dallas strong points in their 4-1 Western Conference Championship series victory...
First, the numbers from Wednesday's Game Five.
DALLAS 100, OKLAHOMA CITY 96
2-point pct: OKC 45%, Dallas 47%
3-pointers: OKC 5/16, Dallas 5/20
Free Throws: OKC 21/25, Dallas 31/36
1's and 2's: OKC 81, Dallas 85
It may not have felt like a free throw game while you were watching. But, for the second time in a row, Dallas had a big edge from the charity stripe. They were +10 in makes and +11 in attempts here, +15 in makes and +14 in attempts back on Monday in their Maverick Miracle. Treys were a wash, which would normally be bad news for Dallas. The Mavericks were outscored by six points on deuces too. They kept attacking the basket and marching to the line.
(Hint #1 for the NBA Finals...Dallas will clearly make it a point of emphasis to get the Miami stars into foul trouble. Mark Cuban commented on this before the Lakers series. It ended up not mattering there. A 65 of 75 mark from the line in the last two games vs. OKC suggests a line of attack we'll be seeing again next week).
I've spent a lot of time focusing on what OKC was doing wrong this series (because Russell Westbrook is giving me Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas flashbacks---Westbrook's age 22 season is almost a dead ringer for Marbury's, with a difference being that his Usate Rate was even higher---Westbrook's Usage Rate this year was more in line with Arenas at his ball-hoggiest--making him a potentially implosive hybrid if the maturity process doesn't go as hoped). Let's focus tonight on what Dallas has been doing right.
Here's a list in no particular order...
*Dallas won turnovers in every game this series. They had been concerned about turnovers setting up cheap points for Portland back in the first round. This is a team that can get burned by opposition fast break points if they're sloppy with the ball (Nowitzki referenced that in his past-game interview with Doris Burke). In order, they won 12-13, 12-14, 12-14, 13-25, and 12-13. One of those quiet, relatively hidden things that can loom large in games that go down to the wire.
*Dallas won or tied three-point volume in every game this series. It was only a big edge in two games rather than every time out. But, this is something nice to have in your hip pocket whenever you take the floor. Game-by-game makes were 9-7, 9-7, 7-1, 8-2, and 5-5.
Counting on 7-9 in general brings comfort of course. Let's not forget though that Dallas has shown a consistent knack for inflicting horrible long range performances on playoff opponents. It's still up for debate about how much is defense and how much is luck. Here are OKC's three-point percentages by game:
44% (equivalent to 66% on two's)
39% (equivalent to 58% on two's)
6% (equivalent to 9% on two's!!)
15% (equivalent to 23% on two's)
31% (equivalent to 47% on two's)
After a shaky start, Dallas held Oklahoma City to 8 of 46 on treys the last three games. Ironically, this may not matter much in the Finals because Miami hasn't been shooting many treys lately (3/8, 3/13, 3/9, 5/13). Should Chicago rally back, they haven't been anything special on treys since the Eastern Conference opener themselves.
Let's say it's mostly defense, with a little bit of luck helping to create the 1 of 17 (OKC), 2 of 20 (LAL), 2 of 16 (Portland), 2 of 13 (OKC) type performances.
*It would take a lengthy X's and O's treatise that I'm not qualified to do, but it's pretty safe to say that Dallas made sure that each individual OKC player had to shoot from places they weren't comfortable shooting from. The options for OKC were to run a gauntlet to the basket for a score or a foul (largely attempted by Westbrook, Durant, and Harden)...or, shoot a guarded shot from a non-sweet spot.
And, give OKC credit for running that gauntlet! The Thunder either shot at least 48% on two's, or attempted 30+ free throws in every game until tonight's.
OKC's Gauntlet Run
Game One: 48% on two's, AND 37 of 43 on FT's
Game Two: 62% on two's, but just 21 of 26 on FT's
Game Three: 46% on two's, but 32 of 36 on FT's
Game Four: 52% on two's, but 19 of 25 on FT's
Game Five: 45% on two's, 21 of 25 on FT's
Games 1-2-4 were 48% or higher on two's, Games 1 and 3 saw a high number of free throws.
Dallas doesn't have a bunch of defensive stoppers. But, they use experience, schematics, and brains to disrupt what they can to maximum effect. We're about to learn where the Miami Heat stars don't like to shoot from. And, we're about to see them fly at the basket because that's better than forcing up poor shots from non-sweet spots.
*Dallas wasn't able to fully redefine offensive efficiency, as the super-fantastic performances from Game 4 of LAL and Game 1 here turned out to be temporary peaks. They did maintain better than a point-per-possession scoring ratio in the other games (which can be tough to do consistently in playoff wrestling matches). And, they did that despite hitting just 30% of their treys over the last three outings.
I focused on team issues in the list above. Obviously Dirk Nowitzki's consistently high level of play is a big positive as well. I think the media's done a very good job of capturing that story. Wanted to list some keys that haven't been discussed as much, but will likely be important in the next round. We'll talk more about the finals once it's time to run an in-depth preview. First, some quick concerns for Dallas:
*They were outrebounded in all five games of this series.
*Their SIGNIFICANT edge over OKC in having a gameplan in nailbiters may or may not help them as much in the next round. It's not like Miami has knocked everyone's socks off in buzzer games this year. But, the Heat at least have a few guys who have been in playoff nailbiters many times before and won't be in awe of the moment. Let's review how close all five games were from the Dallas perspective.
Game One: Up just 106-101 with 3:42 left vs. tired OKC
Game Two: Lousy finish in only loss
Game Three: Blew almost all of a huge lead
Game Four: Please
Game Five: Trailed 94-92 with 1:15 left
A 4-1 series win feels dominant, particularly coming on the heels of 4-0 vs. the Lakers. But, Dallas trailed late in three of the five games vs. OKC. And, they were also almost too cavalier in the series opener, then again in Game Three after jumping out to a 35-12 advantage. If you assume Miami won't be exhausted in the series opener...and that Miami is less likely to fall apart in the final seconds...
More on that next week, as well as the way that the Dallas three-point attack is very well suited to deal with the brick wall Miami has been putting up inside against Chicago. The Finals could be a lot of fun! First, let's get through Miami-Chicago. The Bulls will try to stay alive Thursday night at home. Back around mindnight with numbers and notes after that game finishes.