DONUT 1: Foreward ...
The Dallas Mavericks headed to San Antonio with a four-game winning streak, equaling their longest of the season, only 2.5 games out of the eighth playoff seed in the Western Conference, to take on a Spurs team without Tony Parker, who continues to miss time with a sprained left ankle.
It was often ugly, as the Spurs dominated the boards in the first half, outrebounding the Mavs by a margin of 31-to-14, including 9-to-1 on the offensive glass, and used a small spurt at the end of the second quarter to head into the intermission up by nine.
Dallas refused to bow to Tim Duncan’s big game (28 points, 19 rebounds), continuing to scratch and fight despite leading for only 19 seconds of 48 minutes … until they found themselves down only one with 5.6 seconds to play, granted a possible reprieve by a huge shot and rebound from Dirk Nowitzki in the final minute.
Only, Dirk would not touch the ball in the final seconds. Instead, it was Vince Carter who took the final attempt … and missed, leaving the Spurs victorious by a final of 92-91.
Four-game winning streak: over.
And, the Spurs sweep the season series with the Mavs for the first time in the Dirk era.
DONUT 2: The Final Shot ...
For all that took place before, the final 5.6 seconds will be what’s discussed, what’s remembered … and, ultimately, what’s lamented. It doesn’t matter whether this is fair or not, whether it truly was these seconds that defined the game.
Result-driven regret is easy to come by. We love a player, from Vince Carter to Mike James, when the shot falls. We blame them when it doesn’t.
Yet, is it unreasonable to hope for something better than Carter receiving the ball with 5.6 seconds on the clock, finding Tiago Splitter defending him, and settling for a contested 3-pointer released with just north of two seconds on the clock (the boxscore lists the shot at 1.2 seconds, but replays clearly show the ball released with just over two seconds)?
""It looked good and felt good,'' said Carter of that shot. "We're playing for so much, I need it to go in."
For many, in the end, it isn’t about Carter’s miss. It’s about the lack of an attempt for Dirk. It’s about a truth that’s haunted this team again and again, especially since their best player has come closer and closer to rounding into form.
For Dirk not touching the ball, the natural inclination is to point a finger at Carlisle. He designed the play. He put the pieces in motion. The dominoes fell the way they did at his push. Yet, it’s not the coach this line of thinking leads to. It’s what may end up being this team’s fatal flaw.
Dirk is a power forward. For all that makes him unique, that makes him elite, he is by definition a player dependent on others to deliver him the ball … in no situation is this more deeply highlighted than on a final halfcourt offensive possession originating from an inbounds pass.
It’s a plain, undeniable truth.
"I didn't necessarily like the play call, with me standing there in [Vince's] way," Dirk said after the game.
Judge for yourself:
DONUT 3: Inherent to that Truth ...
Accepting that truth, you must ask a simple question: who do you trust in the game’s biggest moment to deliver the ball to Dirk in a position to succeed?
The obvious choice should be your point guard. Do you implicitly trust Darren Collison, Mike James or Roddy Beaubois to quickly make that pass, that decision? Can you blame Carlisle if he does not?
The turnover struggles of OJ Mayo in the clutch have been well documented. Do you turn to him as the choice to ensure Dirk gets his look?
The next logical choice is Vince Carter, and we can’t love Carter for his fearlessness, his complete desire to take the shot, any shot ... and then curse him when he takes the shot. Carter is programmed to score. If the ball ends up in his hands, he’s looking to put the ball in the basket.
Back to the original question: who do you trust to get the ball to Dirk in a position to succeed when inbounding with 5.6 seconds on the clock and the game on the line?
Who do you have complete faith in to make a simple, decisive, prudent pass in to Dirk either with a defender on his back or chasing closely behind?
DONUT 4: The Next Problem ...
Accepting the scoring nature of Carter’s game, you come to the next issue raised by the above lack of trust: of guys that have taken more than two shot attempts, he’s been the worst shooter on the roster with under a minute remaining in a one-possession game.
With one minute or less remaining in a game within three points either way:
Carter has hit 3-of-11 shots (27.3 percent).
OJ Mayo has hit 6-of-9 attempts (66.7 percent).
Dirk is 5-of-10 (50 percent).
Darren Collison is 3-of-9 (33.3 percent).
Don’t get us wrong; Carter has been great for the Mavs this season. He’s far exceeded expectations and has likely been the most consistently strong player on the roster. This isn’t to minimize his impact or belittle his contributions … only to help express how cloudy the circumstances are for this team in crunch-time situations.
Obviously, you want to lean on Dirk. You want the game in his hands … but how do you get it there?
"We had a chance in this building to walk away with a win," said Nowitzki. "It has been a motto of our year. We are right there just cannot get over the hump. You are right there and you walk away with an 'L.' "
DONUT 5: Mayo and the West’s Elite ...
OJ Mayo has shown us a lot this season. While he may still be auditioning for whatever contract he’ll earn for next season (assuming he opts out of his Mavs deal), just as he may be petitioning to remain in Dallas, it’s been far too easy to forget he’s on the court at times in big games … particularly against the Spurs.
Thursday night, Mayo finished with 10 points, 4-of-11 field goals, two rebounds, two assists, one steal and one turnover.
He wasn’t necessarily a negative … just too much of an afterthought for extended stretches. A portion of this must be attributed to the Spurs defense, but it’s impossible to ignore a clear hesitance to attack at times, to take open shots he’s hit all year. The Mavs cannot afford for a guy that must perform as one of their top three players to be timid.
Mayo’s per game averages in four games against the Spurs: 9.8 points, 37.5 FG%, 0.0 3PT%, 4.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 2.8 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-17.5 (second worst of Mavs in those games)
DONUT 6: Mayo vs. the Rest of the West ...
Against the other top three seeds from the West:
Mayo’s per game averages in three games against the Thunder: 10.0 points, 33.3 FG%, 16.7 3PT%, 6.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 4.7 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-10.7 (third worst of Mavs in those games)
Mayo’s per game averages in three games against the Grizzlies: 10.7 points, 38.7 FG%, 50.0 3PT%, 3.3 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 3.7 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-4.7 (third worst of Mavs in those games)
Mayo’s per game averages in two games against the Clippers: 14.0 points, 37.0 FG%, 10.0 3PT%, 5.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-5.5 (6th worst of Mavs in those games)
DONUT 7: When Health and Help can’t be Relied Upon ...
When looking at Mayo’s numbers against the top four seeds in the Western Conference, you begin to wonder what impact this may have on Dirk in those same games. How does the underwhelming performance of the team’s second best offensive option affect the first?
Or, should the question be asked in the other direction? Who has a larger influence on the impact of the other?
Thursday night, Dirk responded from a slow start to finish with 21 points (hitting one of his first six shots, then 5-of-10 the rest of the way), 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals, one block and one turnover.
Dirk’s averages against the West’s top four:
Dirk’s per game averages in three games against the Thunder: 12.3 points, 26.8 FG%, 11.1 3PT%, 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-13.0 (worst on the roster)
Dirk’s per game averages in two games against the Grizzlies: 13.5 points, 47.4 FG%, 75.0 3PT%, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals, 1.5 turnovers, plus/minus of plus-6.0 (third best on the Mavs)
Dirk’s per game averages in one game against the Clippers: 15.0 points, 38.5 FG%, 33.3 3PT%, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 4.0 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-10.0 (only Darren Collison and Chris Kaman worse, both at minus-11.0)
Dirk’s per game averages in four games against the Spurs: 13.0 points, 41.9 FG%, 44.4 3PT%, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 turnovers, plus/minus of minus-8.8 (eighth worst on the Mavs)
When looking at those numbers it’s worth nothing that Dirk played the Spurs twice and the Thunder once prior to being reinserted into the starting lineup … a trio of games that significantly lower his numbers against those teams.
Are the woes of their two best offensive players a symptom of a team that struggles to lean on it’s greatest weapons, is hesitant to do so as one has returned to health, or simply the traits of a team that’s been forced to gradually find it’s way as a largely unfamiliar group of players have learned to act as one … a little of each?
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DONUT 9: In a “tough situation” ...
Chris Kaman played the first 2:14 of the game against the Bucks on Tuesday night, sat down, and did not return.
Kaman said all of the right things, doing his best to put the team first … while also admitting the difficulty of his individual situation, and the unreliable nature of his minutes, epitomized by that short stint against the Bucks.
Kaman started against the Spurs and played just over 14 minutes, but did not see the court in the second or fourth quarters. He finished with six points, two blocks, two steals … three turnovers and one rebound.
The Spurs scored 10 of their first 14 points in the paint, all with Kaman in the game. In the first half, San Antonio outscored the Mavs 10-0 in the paint and outrebounded Dallas 11-3, including 5-to-0 on the offensive glass with Kaman in the game.
For the rest of the half, with Kaman on the bench, the Spurs led the Mavs 18-12 in points in the paint and 20-11 in rebounding; still ugly, but not nearly as much so.
While we admire the stance Kaman is taking in trying not to create waves off the court, creating a few more on it could help alleviate any issues.
DONUT 10: Happy St. Pat's! ...
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DONUT 11: Mavsellaneous ...
*Quote from Pop: "Overall, they played better than us. More physical, more aggressive ... we continued playing in mud. ... We're really fortunate to win this game.''
*Brandan Wright tied a season high with eight rebounds, adding 10 points and two blocks in 24:20 of action. Wright has continues a push to earn additional minutes. In the last six games, Wright has averaged 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 66.7 field-goal percentage in 24.8 minutes per.
*Shawn Marion missed his fourth straight game due to a left calf contusion, and is out Friday as well. Rick Carlisle also expressed some concern over how long this injury is taking to heal. Marion will be examined by team Dr. T.O. Souryal this morning.
*Chris Wright was on the active roster against the Spurs, but did not play.
*Dallas led for exactly 19 seconds, coming from 7:46 to 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter after a Dirk Nowitzki three.
*For those counting, here are the Mavs leaders in field-goal attempts (not makes, just attempts) in the final 10 seconds of a one-possession game (a margin of three points or less) over the last four seasons:
2012-13: Vince Carter 8 attempts, Dirk Nowitzki 2.
2011-12: Jason Terry 11 attempts, Dirk 9.
2010-11: Dirk 6 attempts, Terry 2.
2009-10: Dirk 7 attempts, Terry 4.
Obviously, some of the distortion this season is due to Dirk's injury absence. But still ...
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
Dallas finishes the four-game road trip with a 3-1 record. The Mavs sit three games behind the Lakers for the eighth seed, only two back in the loss column. As much as this one would have been nice to have, playoff hopes remain, and there are no signs of a team set to willingly chase lottery dreams.
"We need wins,'' said Carlisle. "We don't take any moral victory from this.''
Understood. The Mavs may go down, the schedule may quickly drain what hopes remain, but this isn’t a group that appears to have given up. Perhaps there’s little consolation in this fact … perhaps there should be.