20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Doncic is Doncic, Washington Shines Early, and Irving Dominates Fourth Quarter as Mavericks Beat Thunder, 105-101

While it is true that game one winners win NBA playoff series more than 75% of the time, there are situations when the better team is flat for whatever reason in game one but then subsequently takes over. It remains to be seen if the defending champion Denver Nuggets have taken over versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, but Denver's game three rout put an end to all of the sweep talk and all of the slanderous talk about Nikola Jokic's legacy. In the other Western Conference second round series, the Oklahoma City Thunder dominated the Dallas Mavericks 117-95 in game one, but the Mavericks seized homecourt advantage with a 119-110 game two win and now the Mavericks are up 2-1 after beating the Thunder 105-101 in game three.

P.J. Washington scored a team-high 27 points on 11-23 field goal shooting, including 5-12 from three point range; the Thunder are conceding corner threes in general--and corner threes to Washington in particular--so even though the Mavericks did not have a great three point shooting performance overall (11-33, .333) they must be happy to be given so many open treys from the shortest three point distance around the arc. Luka Doncic limped through 41 minutes with assorted injuries, but he still produced 22 points, a game-high 15 rebounds, and five assists. Kyrie Irving also had 22 points, and he dished for a team-high seven assists.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 31 points, passed for six assists, and led the Thunder in both rebounds (10) and blocked shots (game-high five). Jalen Williams added 16 points and a game-high eight assists, but overall the Thunder are being pushed around, and slender starter Josh Giddey has been rendered so ineffective that he only played 13 minutes. The Mavericks' size and physicality have been the dominant themes starting with game two, and it is not clear that the Thunder can match up in those areas. The Mavericks won the rebounding battle 48-41, which helped them to launch 10 more field goal attempts than the Thunder. The Thunder outshot the Mavericks from the field .469 to .429 but still lost; it is more likely that the Mavericks will start shooting better than that the Thunder will suddenly become bigger, stronger, and tougher. The Mavericks outscored the Thunder 52-38 in the paint; regardless of what "stat gurus" insist, the truth is that games, series, and championships are won in the paint, not on the perimeter.

Hubie Brown provided the color commentary for ABC. He also did the ESPN color commentary for Dallas's game two win. During his pregame remarks, he praised Doncic's toughness for playing through injuries, and he also highlighted Doncic's pinpoint passing that creates easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. Brown said that Gilgeous-Alexander "is not unstoppable, but if you're guarding him you've got a full night's work ahead of you."

Brown noted early in the game that the big man rolling to the hoop is wide open for the Mavericks: "You've got to be happy if you're Dallas because everything is in the painted area." The Mavericks jumped out to a 15-7 lead, and even though the rest of the game featured runs by both teams the overall pattern had been set: Dallas is more physical, and Dallas can create more easy scoring opportunities.

The Thunder's Lu Dort picked up his second foul with 41 seconds left in the first quarter, forcing him to the bench. Brown mentioned that Dort's absence not only removes a top defender but also slows down the Thunder's running game. 

Throughout the game, Brown emphasized that Dallas needs contributions from the bench in general, and from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Josh Green in particular. Dereck Lively II proved to be Dallas' most productive bench player in this game, contributing 12 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes as Dallas' bench scored 23 points compared to 24 points for Oklahoma City's bench. Dallas can live with a near draw in this category as long as not only Doncic and Irving are cooking but Washington is also having a huge impact.

The Thunder led 52-51 at halftime, but the way that they built that slender margin was not sustainable: they were outrebounded 26-16 and only attempted 38 field goals compared to Dallas' 50, but they outshot Dallas .526 to .400 from the field. Once both teams' field goal percentages reverted to the mean--the Thunder shot .499 from the field during the regular season, while the Mavericks shot .481--the Mavericks regained the lead, outshooting the Thunder .463 to .419 in the second half.

Perhaps Jason Kidd rubbed media members the wrong way during his career, because otherwise it is difficult to understand why he does not receive more credit for being an excellent coach. Brown pointed out during the second half how effective the Mavericks' "soft matchup 2-3 zone" had been. 

The Mavericks led by as much as nine points during the fourth quarter, but the Thunder trimmed the margin to 92-89 before Doncic converted a layup at the 6:23 mark. Soon after that, Lively checked in, and the Thunder intentionally fouled him four times during the remainder of the game. Lively shot 5-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 8-12 overall. The math behind the intentional foul strategy is that if it holds the opposing team to one point per possession or less then the fouling team can either extend a lead or gain ground by making two point shots or three point shots--but that basic math does not take into account several basketball realities, including (1) the team that is fouled can set up an entrenched halfcourt defense, (2) intentional fouling slows down the game and thus kills the fouling team's fastbreak opportunities, (3) intentional fouling sends the message to both teams that the fouling team believes that it cannot win the game by getting a series of defensive stops, and (4) even a bad free throw shooter will likely hit a few free throws when given the chance to develop a shooting rhythm. Thus, intentional fouling ends up conceding more free points than "expected" mathematically while also making it more difficult for the fouling team to score.

By the time the Thunder stopped fouling Lively intentionally, the Mavericks led 100-95.

Irving has been a big-time scorer throughout his career, but so far in this series he has been picking his spots to score. After scoring 14 points in the first three quarters, he had eight fourth quarter points on 4-4 field goal shooting to close the deal.  

The Thunder earned the number one seed in the Western Conference--albeit on a tiebreak over the Denver Nuggets and just one game ahead of the third place Minnesota Timberwolves--and they are a young team on the rise, but to win a championship a team must be able to withstand physical play, rebound and defend the paint; those three areas are weaknesses that will be difficult for the Thunder to overcome versus the Mavericks.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 10:27 PM



Post a Comment

<< Home