Chandler Parsons was brilliant in the fourth quarter last night against Oklahoma City, in what’s almost becoming the norm for the small forward as of late.
Parsons has been absolute money late in games since the All-Star break, when he’s averaged 4.0 points in fourth quarters on 58.8 percent shooting as opposed to 2.3 points on 40.0 percent before the break. Last night, he was 6-of-6 in the game’s final 5:30, scoring 13 points including a sweet game-clincher with under a minute left. As a team, the Mavs shot 8-of-11 once Parsons checked back into the game in the fourth, for 18 points in less than six minutes.
That doesn’t quite do him justice, though. The Mavs are running more and more offense through their young star as the season has gone on, which has led to all sorts of mismatches all over the floor. Forget about the game-sealing shot last night. When you have two guards who can run offense and then a small forward who can do it, too, it makes defending deep, versatile lineups really challenging.
NBA defenses love to switch, but the Mavs have the perimeter talent to take advantage of whichever switch leans their way. More often than not late in games that’s become Parsons. Take this play from last night’s contest for example, when Enes Kanter switched on to Parsons after a Tyson Chandler ball-screen. Parsons breezes past him for a layup.
There’s a lot more going on in this play, though. Because a big man switched on to Parsons, suddenly the man defending Chandler under the rim isn’t going to stop him. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki is guarded by Steven Adams, the other big man, but Dirk slides up toward the top of the key before Parsons’ drive while Rajon Rondo sinks down. That leaves a point guard at the rim to stop Parsons’ drive, and there’s no way a shorter player is going to contest that attempt. It’s easy points every single time.
Against a more conventional defense, however, with a seven-footer protecting the rim, it’s still very difficult to stop him. He can make the pass if the big steps out to contest the shot, as he did here.
Here, Kanter thinks that Adams will slide down to stop the pass to Chandler, but because Parsons is so quickly (and because Adams is worried about the guy with 28,000 career points) that leaves Chandler all alone. Parsons finds him.
That leaves the only other option as the big is hoping that Parsons’ man can stay in front of him one-on-one. That requires the defender to be really good, though. Remember: Parsons is 6′ 10″, which is really big for a small forward. He has the ball-handling and footwork of a guard, as well, making the list of players at his position who can stay in front of him very short.
It’s rare that three highlights can encapsulate a player’s ability in a particular system, but that was the case last night. This doesn’t mean that Parsons is going to be the Mavs’ default closer for the rest of the season — I imagine the team will ride the hot hand and keep attacking favorable matchups. Against a team like the Thunder, who, without Kevin Durant, lack a lengthy small forward, that happened to be Parsons. But against other teams, it might be working through Monta Ellis, Dirk, or even Rondo, depending on the opponent.
For example, in tonight’s matchup against the Rockets, currently playing without a “true” point guard as Patrick Beverley is out for the season, it will be interesting to see how Houston defends Dallas. Trevor Ariza is a lenghty 3-man who can guard Parsons, but that leaves Jason Terry and James Harden to defend the Mavs’ guards. There will be a mismatch somewhere in there. Similarly, Houston doesn’t have the length at the power forward spot to consistently cover Nowitzki, so he might get touches down the stretch in this one.
The Mavs are taking it game-by-game, and that’s OK. In the playoffs, attacking mismatches is what wins series. And as Rick Carlisle has said, the Mavs have basically been in the playoffs for a couple months now. Every game means so much due to seeding position and team morale, so it might as well already be the postseason. Dallas just needs to find ways to win games, and the best way to do that might be to simply abandon a traditional gameplan and instead focus on just winning that one particular game, regardless of which player you highlight. Last night, and for a few games now, that man has been Parsons. But it’s been Ellis and Nowitzki at other points throughout the season. All the same, it’s nice to see Parsons has the late-game chops to score and create for others in pressure-packed moments.
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