11.20.2017 – Boston Celtics at Dallas Mavericks

1st Quarter

  • Kyrie is still rocking the mask after getting the right side of his face smashed in. It is a shame that the black mask was outlawed. Most likely it was because LeBron played so well while wearing it that the league had to consider it a PEM (Performance Enhancing Mask).
  • Dennis Smith Jr. comes out hot, driving with purpose and getting a couple of jumpers to fall. Unfortunately most of his contributions to the game come here at the beginning of the first.
  • Klebur’s role in this game is to fill the lane from the weak side whenever Dirk gets put into a pick and roll situation. He plays the slower Morris well, but is late rotating to Tatum, who takes advantage and gets a free dunk.
  • I’m still fascinated by the plays where DSJ gets Barnes switched onto a point guard, then has to decide whether to give it up to Barnes or to attack his own mismatch. The first time they get the switch DSJ takes it himself and can’t find the space to get a good look (although he has a cool self-pass off the backboard). The next time he goes to Barnes, who beats Kyrie on a baseline spin. Barnes is still the best option in these situations, as he’s currently the mayor of midrange isolation island, and DSJ is still figuring out his go-to moves.
  • A bad shot by DSJ gives a free fast break opportunity to Jaylen Brown (who has been killing it lately, and had his coming out party against Golden State recently). Brown hits the PUJIT (pull up jumper in transition) and Carlisle calls time out.
  • JJ subs in and Carlisle immediately has him running some Horns. You don’t ever really see any horns or staggered screens for DSJ, it is usually just a spread high ball screen, which is easier for the rookie to diagnose the defense. Hopefully we see more varied looks for DSJ as a ball handler soon.
  • Kyrie is already having a monster game. Even though he’s the type of player that can put up 50 on you if you aren’t prepared for him (just ask the Spurs), he’s had a fairly tame season in terms of scoring. Part of that is adjusting to a new system, part of it is simply his role in said system (which he’s excelling at, even though people thought that being a playmaker just wasn’t in his DNA), and part of it is his injury. Sitting at 5 for 5 shooting, he drives and kicks out a rainbow pass to the right wing, and by the time the ball gets there he has raced to the corner on the same side. Corner three, 6 for 6.
  • Marcus Smart is a fascinating player to watch. His passion and effort makes it impossible to root against him, unless he’s playing your team. Usually teams will play a more conservative defense early in games while they feel out where the pressure is coming from and where it isn’t, but already in the first quarter Carlisle sees that he can basically have Smart’s defender abandon him in order to help on Kyrie. If Smart’s man doesn’t leave to double Kyrie, he leaves to cover the player whose defender is currently doubling Kyrie.
  • Dallas has shown up and is hanging with one of the best teams in the league. Opportunities are there for them, but a lot of open looks just aren’t falling.

2nd Quarter

  • Much of Dallas’ strategy on offense is to attack switches whenever they get them, which is a lot because Dallas runs a ton of pick and roll. That strategy is pretty useless in this game, as Boston’s roster is full of long, athletic wings that can guard almost anybody on the court. They have to ignore the switches and try to attack open space, which is difficult, as Boston switches everything and thus hardly ever have defenders falling behind in the play.
  • After talking a big game about how he wouldn’t shoot an airball unless he got fouled, Dirk comes out and airballs a wide open shot.
  • Tatum has found an excellent situation to be in for a rookie. He just has to run up and down the court, play tough defense, and make the occasional play with the ball when it comes to him. Usually that play is a quick shot or pass, but when he’s forced to drive his handles are actually pretty decent, if not a little bit plodding. If you consider him a backcourt player then him and Brown are one of the scariest (I hate that term but I’m going with it) young backcourts in the league right now.
  • Boston’s offense stagnates while Kyrie is on the bench for a long stretch in the quarter, but Dallas can’t find it in them to close the gap.
  • After going full Icarus to start the game and getting benched for it, DSJ comes back in and looks way more passive, allowing the offense to run and just hoping for some looks to materialize (they don’t). One good play: DSJ has the ball, and goes left over a screen. Baynes, the screeners defender, hedges hard in order to cut him off, but DSJ is ready with the lightning-quick crossover that faces him towards the basket and gets a step ahead of Baynes. Baynes does a great job of recovering and contesting, and the layup barely rolls off the rim, but the anticipation and ball skills needed to execute the play are exciting.
  • Kyrie doesn’t take his seventh shot until around 4 minutes left in the second. 7 for 7. Brad Stevens has been spreading minutes around more than most coaches this season, which has a lot of benefits, but one downside seems to be that you have to put the lid back on a player who is dominating (as a Mavs fan I certainly wasn’t upset that Kyrie spent half the quarter sitting on the sideline).
  • As Mejri draws a charge on Smart, I’m suddenly aware that two of the most combustible players in the league are on the floor together (Smart because he always plays at full emotional tilt, and Mejri because he pisses off everybody that goes against him). NBA brawl of the year is on the table for this game.
  • DSJ has an isolation drive on Brown and gets a lefty layup. If you’re asking DSJ to get you a bucket just having him iso his man is probably the best available option at this point. Annoying, but no reason to run from it.
  • Kyrie has a sick fadeaway in the lane (8 for 8), and then a pu3it (9 for 9). A high speed desperation drive at the end of the quarter leads to his first miss, and I’m actually kind of disappointed.

3rd Quarter

  • Even though he’s dominating, many of Kyrie’s shots have been a pretty high degree of difficulty. There’s nothing you can tell your players other than keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe say an extra prayer or two.
  • Dirk hits an open shot early in the quarter and Stevens calls time out to remind his players that you should never leave Dirk open. Many of his young players haven’t been baptized at the Church of Nowitzki yet.
  • Klebur forces a turnover by hedging hard on a Kyrie ball screen. It is fun to see Carlisle have an athletic defender that he will allow to take risks. Mejri usually just stays back to guard the lane, and Powell doesn’t have the speed to jump out to the ball and recover. Later he makes a quick recovery to cause Morris to miss a layup, and gets an offensive rebound. Maxitrillian is showing up.
  • Barnes’ shot looks better from straight on, his shots from the baseline seem to miss worse, and more frequently (I’m the same way). I’m sure there are stats to back me up or disprove me on this, but that’s just how I feel when watching him. (Actually, I found one, which sort of backs me up. Shooting the same percentage from the top of the key as the corner basically means you’re better from straight out, and his best spot on the floor is in the key, where he gets most of his mismatches.)
  • Dallas is repeatedly getting Barnes onto Kyrie and letting him attack. This is a good look for Barnes, and helps to wear Kyrie out (in theory, not really in practice tonight). Another mismatch found Tatum, 19 year old rookie, guarding Dirk, 39 year old legend, in the post. Dirk totally punks him for the easy layup, a moment that Tatum will hopefully appreciate and look back on fondly at some point, as these two are probably going to share less than 40 minutes of court time together.
  • Harris uses a screen to get a step on Brown, and is very fast, but Brown still stays in front and refuses to let Harris turn the corner. Amazing defense.
  • If you combine Kyrie and Smart you end up with a really average shooter.

4th Quarter

  • Nice to see Shane Larkin again, as he shows some feistiness defending JJ. There’s probably some professional rivalry there, as Larkin spent a season in the JJ role in Dallas while JJ was exiled in the north.
  • You know that moment when you’re trying to walk down a steep hill, and you take a step too far and realize you’re now actually running down the hill with no way of slowing down and soon there will be an inevitable crash? That’s what it feels like whenever Wes takes more than like 2 dribbles.
  • Boston’s offense again stutters with Kyrie on the bench. Dallas is really just getting junk points and somehow keeping a lead.
  • Dallas pulls out the zone, which convinces Morris to take an open three that misses. I assume Morris is playing well for Boston, but I haven’t seen it tonight.
  • Kyrie comes back in, and Dallas goes right back to switching him onto Barnes on offense. It works a couple of times, but eventually Boston really starts to resist it, with Kyrie just trying to fight over the Barnes screen. One play saw Yogi and Barnes try three times to get the switch, and when they finally got it Yogi faded to the corner, and Morris left him to help on Barnes, who ignores the help defense and tries to drive into the lane, but just turns it over. If Boston is so desperately avoiding having Kyrie marooned on Barnes Island, I don’t know why Barnes would think that once he has the ball everything is kosher.
  • Tatum tries a full court heave that almost goes out of bounds, but is saved by Smart. Smart then tries to drive, but has to make the same desperation pass to save the ball and finds Kyrie, who hits a three. Typical good team BS.
  • Dallas finishes regulation with a lineup of JJ, Yogi, Wes, Barnes, and Dirk. I can understand the argument for this as the best two-way lineup, and it might be, but I’m still unsettled by the idea of Dirk being the rim protecter in crunch time.
  • Boston’s defense turns into an absolute machete at the end of games, this one included. Forget good looks, Dallas couldn’t even find any looks. Switching and ball pressure made most of the Mavs’ typical actions difficult, and if the ball stopped there were defenders swarming to take it away. Dallas turns it over on consecutive possessions (first Dirk then Barnes) at the end of a winnable game against a great team.
  • Dallas has the last possession of regulation in a tied game, and they decide to isolate Barnes on Tatum. If they had done something to get Barnes into his spot in the key or on the block this might not have been so objectionable, but Barnes just takes it from outside the three point line. Tatum is a rookie, but there’s no evidence that he’s going to get beat in this situation, and he forces Barnes into a stepback long two, which misses. Man I hate that look. It is easy for me to say from behind a keyboard, but I don’t understand how you can’t run some kind of two-man or off-ball action to maybe find an open shot. I understand the argument that you just want to avoid the worst case scenario of turning it over and blowing the game in that moment, but abandoning your system because of that just means that your actions are being governed by a fear of losing, and not a desire to win. Regardless, Dallas’ bad shot brings us to, for the first time this season,…

Overtime!!!

(Actually, I wanted to point out that Boston did get a chance to inbound with 0.4 seconds left, at which point Carlisle decided to bring in Noel to defend the inbounder. Given how Noel has been relegated to the bench lately, and he didn’t play in overtime, bringing him in for literally four tenths of a second seems almost spiteful, and hilarious)

Dallas might have had a chance to win a 48 minute basketball game against Boston, but they aren’t equipped to win a 5 minute game against them. Yogi made some good defensive plays, and Dirk tried his best to hang on defense, but Kyrie is an unstoppable force, and Dallas is a fairly moveable object. Dallas tried a few different looks, and the zone came out again (which was actually pretty effective with Smart on the floor, forcing a four-man Boston unit to beat a five-man zone), but it wasn’t enough.

In a game where regulation ends in a tie you’re always going to be able to look at a couple of plays and think that if they had gone the way they should have, you would have gotten the win (of course Boston feels the same), which just goes to show how the first three quarters actually do matter (just like a win in November is just as important as a win in April). The Mavericks’ three point shooting fell off a cliff after the third, and their fourth quarter lead could have been even bigger considering they held Boston to 35 points in the second and third. Yet when it came down to the game-deciding plays, Dallas couldn’t find the points they needed, and couldn’t stop Boston from catching them, which is what usually happens when a tanking team plays a contender. That said, Dallas’ ability to go toe-to-toe with the hottest team in the league is encouraging, and if the team really is tanking (they are), losing close games to good teams is exactly what you want to see if you’re looking for some silver lining.

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