After a 38-point blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1, it would have been easy to write the Dallas Mavericks off.
A few years removed from their 2011 Championship, having failed to replenish their talent base in any meaningful way, Dallas is surely used to it by now. And yet, they persist.
The Mavericks won on a remarkable, and likely unrepeatable, chain of events. After Raymond Felton missed two free throws that would have extended their lead to three, Steven Adams tipped in what appeared to be a game-winner, only to be called off after the replay.
Mavericks win Game 2 as referees wave off buzzer-beating game-winner by Thunder’s Steven Adams pic.twitter.com/6XjLtIt0oI
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 19, 2016
“We let ’em know we’re here to fight,” Nowitzki said [per ESPN]. “Obviously, with their talent and their team and their roster, they’re still the heavy favorites. But we let ’em know this is not going to be an easy walkover.”
No David. no Chandler Parsons. No J.J. Barea. An injury-worn Deron Williams (whose night ended at 5:43 in the third quarter) and Devin Harris. The Mavericks already faced a talent deficit when fully healthy. To begin the game, Felton was guarding Russell Westbrook, and Wesley Matthews defending Kevin Duran–which is far from ideal.
But Rick Carlisle, as he always tends to do, managed to mix and match whatever skill sets he had available to him. Some playmaking from Felton and Williams, a dash of youth and athleticism from rookie Justin Anderson, and Dirk Nowitzki’s ageless wonder.
Everyone did their job defensively and slowly moved to keep their Thunder counterparts in front of them. They made a lot of shots. And the Thunder missed a lot of theirs.Durant started slow, shooting 3-for-8 from the field in the first, and ended up setting with the most missed field goals in a playoff game since Michael Jordan, finishing 7-for-33.
Sure, Westbrook and Durant combined for 15-for-55 on the night, forcing some and straight missing many. But the Maverick still had no business keeping this game close, let alone winning it.
The Thunder notably should have done more to capitalize on the Mavericks’ lack of interior presence. The defensive rebounding battle was 35-34 in favor of Oklahoma City, but neither team did well to keep their opponent off the glass. Dallas allowed 19 offensive boards to Oklahoma City (six to Westbrook, five to Kanter and Adams). However, the Thunder only got 19 second chance points. Those offensive putbacks could have resulted in a much higher efficiency than 1.0 PPP, considering that is often a great chance for open three-pointers.
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Aside from Westbrook and Durant, no Thunder player took more than eight shots. In a tight game, they needed to move the ball more to find easier looks. This top heavy shot distribution informs the lack of continuity and trust on this team.
This was not a game from which the Mavericks backed away. Despite their arthritic execution in the first half, they stuck with their gameplan and kept hanging around. The Thunder famously had a bottom 7 net rating (-8.3) in clutch situations during the year. Less famously, the Mavs were second in the league in clutch situations (16.0), trailing only the Warriors. If they were going to win games in the series, it was going to have to come down to the wire, which meant they Mavs needed to find a way to keep themselves in the game long enough for the Thunder to meltdown.
Raymond Felton was the savior for the Mavs, scoring 21 points with some big time finishes at the rim down the stretch to seal the victory. Despite missing two free-throws before the Thunder’s late attempt at a game-winner, Felton’s shot making bailed the Mavs out after Williams left the game with a sports hernia.
Matthews scored all six of his points in the final 6:30. He also ripped Durant up, preventing him from a third attempt at a game tying shot after a strange ATO baseline play from Thunder Coach Billy Donovan, going for a midrange baseline two, which just shouldn’t be the first plan of attack.
With such a thin roster, the Mavericks needed to decide the tempo, and they did. Salah Mejri (28 min, 5-for-7, three rebounds, three blocks) and Justin Anderson (14 min, 3-for-6, five rebounds, one steal, one block) injected some activity and athleticism, but still with Felton, Harris, Pachulia, the Mavs would walk up after misses. They stayed patient and made sure they would be around when the Thunder would do their fourth quarter thing, and let the game slip through their fingertips.
Dallas isn’t likely to win the series, and they know it. But they will make sure the Thunder know they’re in for a fight.