The Dallas Mavericks are 3-23 in Dirk Nowitzki era when scoring below 90, but this one seemed to hurt a little bit more than the rest. After blowing a 23-point lead late in the third quarter, there are many questions to whether or not the Mavs can bounce-back from the devastating loss. Knowing the Mavericks’ history, bouncing back from psychological blows is not our strength. The ghost of being up 13 with six minutes left in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in ’06 is a nice refresher that no lead is too big for the Mavs in big games.
The list of problems in this game that the Mavs need to address is long, but with one day in between Game 4 and Game 5 (Monday, 8:30EST on NBATV) the Mavs don’t really have time to go through everything. So, let’s just stick to the big ones.
Firstly, the Mavericks need to accept the ghost of playoff past, and understand that it is a part of this team. Denial isn’t (and hasn’t been) doing us any good; acceptance is the first step to ridding this problem. Okay, glad we cleared that one up.
Now, let’s get to coaching. Coaching, coaching, coaching...
When the Mavericks only needed ONE bucket, Dirk never saw the ball. Carlisle seemed flustered on the sideline. Dirk, who has played the best in the fourth quarter in this series and his career, never saw the plays go his way. Blame must be distributed between the sideline and Dirk, but this is a coaching problem. It went by in a blur. The Mavericks have been noted that Dirk is their number one, and their number two is scoring by association—but this game took it to a new level. The Mavs looked like five different guys playing an online NBA 2K co-op game, not playing as a team with a defined leader/superstar that should get the ball. The only other team in the NBA that has the biggest drop-off between an MVP candidate and their second scorer is Dwight Howard and the rest of the Magic. But the Mavs made a strong case for the lead in this category on Saturday.
After attempting and making two of his four free throws all game, Dirk only had one offensive possession in the remaining 5:20 of the game. It resulted in an offensive foul, which Gerald Wallace drew. In the last 2:30 of the fourth, following timeouts, the Mavs had Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry taking the shots. Dirk did not touch the ball. Plays were clearly not drawn up for him. And if they were, they certainly did not work. Meanwhile on the other end of the court, Brandon Roy was pulling a classic Mavs-killer move. A legit scoring guard who was hot, getting bucket after bucket, after bucket. Nate McMillan just kept going back to him, and back to him, and back to him… In fact, so much so that Roy outscored the Mavericks in the fourth quarter by himself. We’ve seen this script before (Wade in ’06), except it was a little different since B-Roy beat the Mavs fair and square. No help from the refs with some cheap FTs. Just a great offensive show.
However, the Mavericks’ coaching on defense was absolutely appalling. Throughout the fourth quarter, there was little to no awareness of the 24-second clock on defense. The Mavericks let the Blazers shoot 75 percent from the field in the fourth, and it seemed that Portland had no possession that went at least 16 seconds into the clock. Coach McMillan was well aware of the time and got Roy the ball as quickly as possible so he could run the specific play—allowing him time to survey the court and make a play for himself or his teammates (spoiler alert: he went to himself over his teammates a lot).
The Mavericks then once again went away from some crucial defensive principles that they have relied on all season in the remaining minutes of the epic collapse. Basketball is a game of counters, and the Mavericks pulled zero of those at Brandon Roy.
Forget sending a second defender at Roy (which seems pretty obvious at some point) or trying zone (which has won the Mavs many games this year), the Mavericks simply needed to utilize pressure correctly.
Dallas should have, and could have, pressured the ball-handler as soon as he crossed the time line. This could have easily forced the dribbler into making more turns than he wanted to, blocked his vision of the whole court and essentially disrupted the initiation of any offensive play.
In addition, the Mavericks never used the sideline to their advantage. The sideline in basketball is essentially another help defender. Using the sideline to your advantage is key; it limits ball handlers to one side of the court, crowds the offense and forces passing to one direction so help-defenders can easily rotate. This in turn eliminates, or at least delays, quick swings of the ball from one side of the court to the other, which can be deadly for defenders trying to closeout on the weak side of the court.
It was clear watching the game that Mavericks players were too afraid to rotate after Roy made his initial move, mainly because he was at the heart of the paint and had all four of his options to kick the ball out to. Chandler would always have one hand on Aldridge, and was never in a comfortable position to rotate over and help cut off Roy’s strong drive to the hoop time after time.
Play after play Roy was able to effortlessly set himself up at the top of the key with plenty of room. The Mavericks were literally forced into watching one-on-one game with Roy and Marion. And like always, great offense always beats bad defense.
Don't get me wrong, defense is not some sort of play that a coach can call during a time-out, but the Mavericks could have made some simple changes that would have established control in the game. Dallas desperately needed to delay the offense and shorten the amount of possessions in the game; that should be obvious—especially with a 23 point lead. They had their foot on Portland's throat, but they fittingly let up.
Dallas' defense needed to act, rather than react. Force the disruption, confusion or delay of the offense—then deal with the results. Don’t react to the offense after it’s been initiated. It’s simple. Don’t wait for the offense to start to decide if you can stop it; let your aggression create problems rather than wait for them. Pressure defense is the answer; it allows for traps, longer possessions, disruptions in offense and cooling down a player that is on fire. Throw in a 2-2-1 three-quarter trap or something, anything with pressure! Take the ball out of the hands that are putting the ball through the net; no more one-on-one confrontations that kill us.
The Mavericks’ coaching needs to step it up if there is any hope of beating the Trail Blazers in this best of three series heading back to the AAC in Dallas. Contrary to what many fickle media outlets believe, the Mavericks clearly have the talent and superstar leader in Dirk Nowitzki to win a championship. However, Portland now has enormous momentum on their side, and it’s going to be very tough to win this series and prevent another classic Maverick collapse after being up 2-0 in the series.
Game 5 is tomorrow night at 8:30 EST. The game can be seen on NBATV.
Officiating has been, once again, awful this series. Whichever team is at home is getting all the calls.
Brandon Roy has some mortality, missing Portland’s only missed free throw of the game (they went 22-23, Mavs shot 10-10).
Tyson Chandler only played 30 minutes, finishing with 5 fouls.
DeShawn Stevenson led the team with a net +13 in the game, but was only given 16 minutes of burn. Jason Terry was a miserable net -15 for the game, yet he got most of the shots down the stretch.
Update: In honor of Earth Week the NBA has decided to recycle their poor officiating from the past decade throughout these playoffs too.