Tempo control could be key against Warriors

Shootaround Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle weighs in on tonight's game against the Warriors.

The Mavericks managed to achieve two extremely rare feats during their three-game road trip.

We’ll start with the most recent: Dallas scored zero fast break points in a Dec. 31 win against Oklahoma City. It was just the 21st time this season a team hasn’t scored a point in transition.

Just two days earlier, however, the Mavericks piled on 30 fast break points in a Dec. 29 win in New Orleans. That was only the 14th time this season a team has scored 30+ points in that fashion.

Why does that matter? Aside from possibly being the biggest change from one game to the next in NBA history, it represents a key to tonight’s game. The Warriors play fast — they’re fifth in the league in possessions per 48 minutes, per NBA Stats, and they lead the league in fast break points per game at 21.8, nearly six points more than anyone else. Of those 14 times that teams have scored 30+ fast break points in a game, Golden State was responsible for nine of them. Nine!

The Dubs score more than 1.2 points per possession in transition this season, according to Synergy Sports. Basically, if you let them run up and down the floor, they’re going to rack up points fueled by incredible 3-point shooting.

“Their shooting percentages in transition are historic, really,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “I can’t imagine that any team is shooting the three in transition over 60 percent. It’s just mind-boggling.”

You might look at how the Warriors love to run and think that, well, the best way to beat a very good team is to take their game right back at them. After all, Dallas scored 30 fast break points only a few days ago, so the Mavericks are capable of matching them blow for blow.

But Carlisle wasn’t thrilled with the breakneck pace of that game in New Orleans, calling it a “pillow fight” defensively. Dallas is at its best moving from defense to offense and controlling the tempo — Golden State is fifth in pace this season, while the Mavericks are 27th. As further evidence to support Carlisle’s discontent, two nights later the Mavericks didn’t score a point on the break.

Dallas also kept the Thunder relatively at bay, holding OKC to roughly its season average of 15 fast break points. It helped that the Mavericks only turned it over eight times, which limits transition opportunities the other way. That, too, will be a big factor tonight: Golden State averages 17.7 points off turnovers in wins against just 15.0 in losses, per NBA Stats. Related, their pace in wins is 102.91 possessions per 48 minutes, versus a slower 100.13 pace in losses.

It appears we might witness a tug of war tonight. You’ve got one team in Golden State that wants to get up and down, run the floor, and fill it up in transition. Meanwhile, the Mavericks prefer to keep it a halfcourt game. The Warriors zip the ball around the court and as a result turn it over quite a bit, while Dallas minimizes risk and has perennially been one of the best teams at avoiding turnovers under Carlisle.

When you’re watching the game tonight, keep an eye on fast break points. Carlisle correctly said there’s no “secret sauce” to beating the best team in the league, but there’s at least a blueprint, and that’s enough to work with. If the Mavs can keep the Warriors off the break, they have a chance to make it five straight wins.