Celtics vs. Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki scores 31 points and grabs 11 rebounds as the Mavericks beat in the Celtics in overtime.

Through three quarters last night, Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams combined to shoot just 6 of 22 from the field. Neither could get clean looks at the basket against Boston’s pesky defense, which ranks second in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions.

But, as so often has been the case this season, both players stepped up big-time when it mattered.

The fourth quarter belonged to Nowitzki. The German scored 14 points in the frame — his highest-scoring period all season — mystifying Celtics defenders with a bevy of post moves and big shots, including a four-point play which pushed the Mavs’ lead to 94-89 with under two minutes left.

After Boston responded with six straight points to claim the lead, Nowitzki hit a pair of free throws to put Dallas in front. Following a Celtics miss, Williams then knocked down two of his own to put the Mavericks in front by three.

Then we went to overtime, when the fun really began.

There’s perhaps nothing more exhilarating in sports than watching a basketball player (or players, in this case) take over a game, especially when it comes in crunch time. This season, there hasn’t been a better duo in the NBA when it comes to producing in tight games than Nowitzki and Williams, who rank 5th and 10th, respectively, in total points scored in the clutch. (NBA.com defines clutch as the final five minutes of a game while either team’s lead is five points or less.) Of the top 10, the Dallas duo ranks first and second in nearly every efficiency stat, too. It’s not just volume; these guys are dominating.

Of those top 10 in total clutch scoring — a list which includes names like James Harden, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George — Williams ranks first in field goal percentage (51.0) with Dirk a close second (49.1). Nowitzki’s three-point percentage (41.7) is the envy of the lot, except for Williams, who boasts a torrid 47.4 percentage from deep. Williams has hit 95.0 percent of his free throws in the clutch, second in the group only to Nowitzki (95.7). They’ve combined to hit 41 of their 43 free throw attempts in clutch situations.

Those two have fueled a Dallas offense which leads the league in clutch offensive efficiency at 125.9 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs’ 54.8 effective field goal percentage in those situations also leads the league by a healthy margin, as does Dallas’ 61.7 true shooting percentage and its 4.31 assist-to-turnover ratio. No team turns it over in the clutch less often than the Mavericks, who give it away on just 5.4 percent of their possessions. No other team is below even 7 percent.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that the Mavericks scored 20 points in overtime last night, 17 of which came from Nowitzki and Williams. They combined to shoot 4 of 6 from the field, 3 of 3 from deep, and 6 of 6 from the free throw line. It’s the most points Dallas has scored in a single overtime period since Dec. 2, 2004, according to Basketball-Reference.

The most surprising element in play is how neither Nowitzki nor Williams will take credit for how good they are when it comes to closing games out. The night D-Will hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win a double-OT thriller against Sacramento, here’s what Deron Williams had to say when asked about why Deron Williams so comfortable in the closer role.

“(Dirk) just makes the game so easy,” he said. “It’s the same thing when I was out and J.J. (Barea) was in there. Just run pick-and-roll with Dirk and they’re gonna mess up somehow, because they don’t want to leave him. He just makes the game easy for everybody and gets people open by just his presence.”

After last night’s game, here’s what Dirk Nowitzki had to say about what makes Dirk Nowitzki so good late in games.

“D-Will has been fantastic for us down the stretch, making shots, making plays for other guys,” Nowitzki said. “He was extremely great tonight. Those two big 3s (in OT) were massive for us.”

Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on closing out the 118-113 overtime win over the Celtics.

This is their chance to spit fire about how they hit huge shots to win a game, and yet they’re instead deflecting praise from themselves and toward their teammates. It’s a decisively veteran postgame move, and that only makes sense. While Williams gives Nowitzki credit for making his job easier, Nowitzki does the same in regards to Williams. That’s the truth, to be honest. Those two play off of each other symbiotically. Both make each other’s jobs easier, just like the Nowitzki/Jason Terry partnership that lit up the league for the better part of a decade in the 2000s and early ’10s. When it comes to closing games, sometimes it’s just easier to throw out the playbook and work the two-man game to see what you can find. Put the ball in a reliable pair of hands and let the magic happen.

In the play below, the Mavericks run a Dirk/D-Will pick-and-roll. Boston’s defense immediately double-teams Nowitzki, and this is where the Mavs’ collective passing ability comes into play.

Def breakdown D Will 3

Zaza Pachulia catches at the free throw line then swings it behind him to Chandler Parsons. Parsons then attacks the lane to collapse the defense before kicking it out to Williams for three. The four players involved in that play — and Wesley Matthews, who was spotted up in the corner — are all veteran players who know exactly what to do when a defense shows a certain look. Boston doubled, so the Mavericks instinctively made that sequence of passes. Everyone knows exactly where to be, where to go, and what will happen next.

Williams also knows when to be ready to shoot, as evidenced by his immediate triggering of the jump shot off the catch in this situation.

D Will pindown

The point guard got his defender in a bad position by setting a screen for Nowitzki. Williams then comes off a screen of his own, set by Pachulia, and launches a three. The Mavs run this play fairly often, and it doesn’t always result in a three-pointer. Williams just knew his defender was out of the play and took the shot the defense gave him. Often in crunch time you see guys make things harder than they should be because they’re either thinking too much or the defense is buckling down to eliminate the easiest option. But the Mavericks have the depth and versatility to find good looks late in games, largely because of Nowitzki’s gravity and Williams’ savvy.

The first play wouldn’t be Parsons’ only contribution to the win, however. On the opening possession of overtime, he capitalized off of Williams’ penetration.

Inside out Parsons 3

Parsons also showed his value once again as the third option behind the Nowitzki/Williams duo, attacking the rim and collapsing the defense once again before making the right play in swinging it to Williams, who then swung it to Nowitzki, who then put the game away.

Parsons create Dirk corner

If the Mavericks can turn their dynamic duo into a terrific trio, so to speak, they could become an even better crunch-time team. With Pachulia’s screen-setting ability and the constant threat of a Matthews three-pointer, the floor will always be open for Nowitzki, Williams, and Parsons to make things happen. The Mavs showed once again last night why it pays to have so many players who can step up when it counts and close out a game.

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