First Impressions: Mavs 110, Grizzlies 96
The Dallas Mavericks looked at Wednesday's visit to Memphis as a game that would have "playoff-level intensity,'' Dirk Nowitzki promised.
He was right -- at least for the one team that was capable of sustaining that intensity.
""We showed a lot of guts and resolve tonight, which is encouraging, but it guarantees nothing beyond tonight," coach Rick Carlisle said. Carlisle said. "We know that. We're looking for more. We're looking to get better.''
There is no shortage of basketball heroes here (as might be revealed when you vote for who deserves "The Dirkie'') and there is no shortage of winning angles.
But armed with the DallasBasketball.com revelation that when Dallas shoots at least five percentage points better than its opponent, the Mavs are an astounding 13-0, I spend Wednesday keeping one eye on the bobbing of "comparative field-goal percentages.'' And while in the end, the Mavs shot 53.8 percent to Memphis' 53.6 percent, that doesn't paint an accurate picture of what happened with this stat.
Dallas gave up 60-percent shooting in the first half, catching its only break when officials belatedly waved off an intermission-beating bucket made possible because the Memphis clock-keeper was slow on the trigger.
But Memphis still held a three-point edge and a shooting percentage that looked like it would doom a Dallas team that had lost five straight games at this site -- and had never scored more than 89 points in doing so.
Then came the third ... and a turnaround.
Dallas limited Memphis to 6-of-19 shooting (31 percent). And suddenly the hope of how the crummy Mavs defense can salvage itself -- by simply allowing a field-goal percentage that isn't cartoonishly out of what with what Dallas does on offense -- was alive.
"We know the head of the snake was missing," Nowitzki said, alluding to Memphis' injured point guard Mike Conley. "But you still got to take care of business, and that's what we did in the second half.''
The the big "business'' push to make it a blowout came with just over eight minutes left. Devin Harris (the only man on the Dallas roster who has mastered perimeter defense) craftily drew a change. Next possession, an equally clever move, Brandan Wright slipping the pick to receive a pass he took to the rim ... and suddenly Dallas was up 90-76.
And at that moment, Dallas was indeed shooting about five percentage points better than the Grizzlies.
Doing that shooting: Dirk scored 26 on 10-of-14 shooting (including 3-of-4 from the arc). Big men Sam Dalembert (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Wright (17 points) matched the challenge of Memphis' great bigs. Monta Ellis had 14 points and Vince Carter had 13 points and seven assists.
The Mavs had an unsurprising 43-21 edge in bench points to go with a shocking 35-32 rebounding advantage.
There is one big storyline here. The Mavs promised they would approach this with "playoff-like intensity,'' did so, and won doing so. The hot Grizzlies had a chance to pull into an eighth-place tie with Dallas in the Western Conference standings but the 29-21 Mavs slapped them down and have a right to look ahead in the standings, where only a half-game separates them from Phoenix and Golden State.
"We're a team looking to move up," Carlisle said. "We're looking to move up in the standings. We're not looking to just hang on to the eighth spot. Who wants to be in the eighth spot if you've got a chance to move up to seventh, sixth, fifth or fourth?
"That's what our mindset's got to be."
But there is a smaller storyline I think is worth watching, a statistical storyline. Flirt with being five percentage points higher on field-goal shooting -- along the way holding the bad guys to 31-percent shooting in a 17-point third quarter and then outscoring them 32-24 in the fourth -- and the Mavs are guaranteed to flirt with victory.
That's Our Little Secret Measuring Stick. ... and a big reason for "the biggest win of the season.''