"Transition Defense, Transition Defense, Transition Defense": Dallas Follows Avery Johnson's Mantra, Evens Series With Phoenix at 1-1In case reporters' tape recorders were not working or the TV cameras were not rolling, before game two of the Western Conference Finals Dallas Coach Avery Johnson helpfully repeated what he hoped would be the theme of the night: "Transition defense, transition defense, transition defense." The Mavericks, listened and followed the game plan, holding Phoenix to .449 shooting from the field and 98 points in a seven point victory. The Suns got off to a slow start with a season-low 17 first quarter points but after a 35 point second quarter they led 52-47 at halftime. Dallas finally put on the defensive clamps in the second half, outscoring Phoenix 58-46. Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for the Mavericks and Josh Howard overcame a sprained ankle to contribute a playoff career-high 29 points and seven rebounds. The Mavericks have not lost a game this season when Howard scores at least 20 points.
Boris Diaw had another outstanding game (25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists), Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds and Steve Nash scored 16 points with 11 assists. Nash had only two points and three assists in the second half. Are we going to hear that he "quit," as Kobe Bryant was accused of doing when he did not put up big second half numbers in game seven versus Phoenix? After the game, Nash spoke about his quiet second half: "In hindsight, I would have maybe tried to be a little more aggressive, but I kept feeling like I was making the right play. I was drawing two guys and passing to the open man, and you know that's the type of player I am. I try to make the right play and then when the right time comes you want to be really aggressive." Funny, that's exactly what Kobe Bryant did when he was double-teamed. It's amazing how much better you look as a player when your teammates make open shots when you pass out of the double-team. In this year's playoffs we have seen Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Steve Nash each have at least one half in which he did not score a lot but also did not accumulate many assists. Only one of these three players was accused of being selfish.
Dallas outrebounded Phoenix 48-39 and had a 36-11 advantage in free throws attempted, clear statistical evidence of how successful the Mavericks were at slowing the game down and pounding Phoenix inside. Raja Bell did not play and may not return until game five, a significant loss for the Suns. His defensive tenacity and his three point shooting are difficult to replace; Leandro Barbosa started for Bell and struggled all night, shooting 3-15 from the field.
Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni put up a brave front in spite of those grim numbers and the prospect of not having Bell for the next few games: "We're in pretty good shape. We're going to go to Phoenix and hold serve. If we do that, we win the series." It is unlikely that things will go that smoothly for Phoenix. The Mavericks could easily be up 2-0--they led by nine points with 3:26 remaining in game one--and have the right personnel to execute Coach Johnson's game plan. The two L.A. teams pushed Phoenix to the brink but did not have the necessary willpower and focus to finish the job. Dallas will not likely repeat the late game collapse from game one and will win this series in six games--at the most.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:27 AM