The stakes were high and the pressure was palpable, and the Mavericks responded to a rough loss with perhaps their best win of the season last night against San Antonio.
The offense sizzled after the first quarter to the tune of 110.1 points per 100 possessions, an elite mark. Monta Ellis spearheaded the attack, scoring a season-high-tying 38 points on 16-of-27 shooting from the field. But, as has been the case ever since the Rajon Rondo trade, the Mavericks won the game with defense. Dallas limited San Antonio to just 65 points after a first quarter in which the Spurs scored 29. The team absolutely came alive in the final three frames, forcing 16 turnovers, allowing just six offensive rebounds, and scoring 20 points on the fast break.
This was an all-around performance against a division rival at home in a game the Mavericks needed to win. Any way you slice it, this was a huge win. Let’s see how Dallas got it done.
TOO MUCH MONTA
Ellis bounced back in a big way from his 4-of-22 performance Sunday night against Phoenix by putting together an absolute gem. He shot a shade under 60 percent from the field, hit two threes, and led all players in scoring, adding in five assists and two steals for good measure.
The story, though, was his shot distribution. Ellis was relentless attacking the basket against San Antonio, often flying right past Tim Duncan and other Spurs big men en route to the rim on plays like this.
Duncan rightly has a reputation as one of the best interior defenders in modern NBA history, but at this point in his career he simply can’t keep up with Ellis one-on-one in tight spaces. Not many players can, though, which is what makes Ellis so effective when he’s attacking the rim downhill.
Ellis was set up to be successful in this one, as Dallas stretched the floor both horizontally and vertically against San Antonio. By that, I mean the Mavs played four-out, loading up the perimeter with shooters to space the floor side-to-side. Then, the Mavs ran high pick-and-rolls for Ellis to pull the big man even farther from the rim than he normally would be. The difference between covering Ellis for 20 feet and covering him for 30 feet when you have an extra eight inches of height and 40-50 pounds of weight might as well be a mile. Ellis doesn’t need much room to breeze by big men, but in that situation he’s almost unstoppable.
All in all, 13 of his field goal attempts came from within the paint, and he hit nine of those shots. Eight of his attempts came point-blank at the rim, and he converted on a whopping seven of them. Generally speaking, if you can hit 60 percent of your attempts at the rim, you’re really, really good. In this game, Ellis hit 87.5 percent of his attempts there.
And when he’s feeling good and in the open floor, the defense might as well forget about it. Take this play, for example, when he took only four steps and one dribble to get from midcourt to the rim. That’s just absurd.
His strong game could be related to his health, as he alluded to on TNT after the game, it could be because the matchup was favorable, or it could be for a bunch of other reasons. If he continues to play with the pep in his step that he showed against the Spurs, we’ll all be forgetting about the Suns game soon enough. Because against San Antonio, he looked like the game-changing scorer we’ve grown familiar with.
DEFENSE TO OFFENSE
The Mavs made it a point to push the tempo off of any Spurs misses or mistakes, and there were plenty such opportunities. In the first quarter, Dallas recorded four fast break points. But after the opening frame, the club scored 20 points on the break, and the up-tempo, attacking style of play positively affected the feel of the game for the Mavericks. Add to that 19 points off of turnovers in quarters 2-4 after scoring zero in the first, and you can see how Dallas won this game.
That’s been the case with the Mavericks for months now. They are at their best when they play with pace in open-court situations. After a stop, they’ve really made an effort to get up the floor and get a shot up as quickly as possible, whether it’s a layup or a three-pointer. The Mavs’ personnel fits this style of play, too. Ellis, Chandler Parsons, and Devin Harris are excellent in that up-tempo style of play, and other guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Charlie Villanueva, and Rondo are comfortable at that pace as well.
The most important part of all of this is the Mavericks have three forwards — Parsons, Aminu, and Villanueva — who can run the floor extremely well, and the shortest among them is Aminu at 6′ 9″. Most opponents don’t have big guys who can get up and down the floor the way the Mavs’ can, which means more often than not Dallas is going to have a severe size advantage on the break, which generally means close, lightly contested attempts at the rim just about any time Dallas wants them. Mix in the speedy guards and then Dirk, who’s always a threat to take a trailing three off the secondary break, and you can see why the Mavericks are such a dangerous team in the open floor. This is their biggest strength by far, and it’s one that turned this game and many before it.
DIRK REACHES ANOTHER MILESTONE
New dad Dirk Nowitzki found yet another way to make history last night, becoming the first player in NBA history with 25,000 career points, 10,000 career rebounds, 1,000 career blocks, and 1,000 made three-pointers, and also the seventh player ever with 27,000 points and 10,000 boards. His productivity and longevity have surely cemented his place in NBA lore, even setting aside his iconic jump shot and all the awards and accolades he’s earned over the years. He’s remained very effective for 17 seasons, which is something that only few players in the history of the sport have been able to say. That alone is impressive. But, you know, the 27,000 points part is pretty cool, too.
Raymond Felton played rotation minutes for the second straight game as JJ Barea is recovering from an ankle injury. Felton has played on and off throughout the season, but head coach Rick Carlisle’s mantra of “stay ready” applies to all 15, and Felton has delivered twice in a row now. He only scored two points in eight minutes, but he was a plus-10 in that time, the third-best mark on the team. The Mavs have kept four point guards on the roster all season long for this very reason. Barea, Rondo, and Harris have all missed time this season, and Felton has performed well when he’s been called upon. Tonight was another example.
Villanueva, too, stayed ready. After not making an appearance in the first half, Villanueva entered the game in the third quarter and, 34 seconds into his stint, he hit a three-pointer which launched a 10-0 Mavs run and gave the club control of the game. There have been times this season when the forward has played heavy minutes, and then there have been times when Carlisle has looked to someone else off the bench. Throughout the campaign, though, much like Felton, Villanueva has stayed ready to contribute in whatever role he’s asked to fill that night.