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NBA Playoffs: Mavericks defense looks good thanks to Thunder offense

May 22, 2011, 1:41 AM EDT

Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three Getty Images

“Tonight we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV.

Maybe. But the Oklahoma City Thunder really helped them out with that — it’s a lot easier to cover a guy who is standing still. And the Thunder did a lot of standing around. On several trips down in a row in the second quarter Peja Stojakovic was on Kevin Durant, but the Thunder never exploited it as Durant stood still and called for the ball.

Russell Westbrook has and continues to take a lot of heat for the Thunder offense. Certainly he has had issues with 15 turnovers this series himself, a few of which led to some ugly frustration in Game 2. Then in Game 3, he scored 30 but was dominating the offense, shooting a lot and seemed to spend a lot of time just pounding the ball, dribbling at the top of the key.

But while Westbrook was dribbling, what movement do you see off the ball, what actions are being set up? Very little. Durant doesn’t work well off picks, doesn’t fight to get open. The Thunder’s offense has been stagnant, forcing Westbrook (or James Harden) to create everything off the dribble, maybe off a screen late in the clock.

Dallas has taken advantage of this, pressuring Westbrook and Harden when they have to create. They have Tyson Chandler in the paint, waiting to block shots. They are overplaying off-the-ball screens and the Thunder are not countering by big men slipping the screens or guys sliding out to the arc.

It all came together in Game 3 and the end result was Oklahoma City shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 1-of-17 from beyond the arc. The result was the Thunder scoring a rather anemic 96.7 points per 100 possessions. That is the reason the Mavericks are up 2-1 after a Game 3 win 93-87.

Dallas is a good defensive team, seventh in the NBA during the regular season giving up just 102.3 points per 100 possessions. But the Thunder put up 130.1 and 113.6 points per 100 possessions per game the first two. Oklahoma City attacked, hit their shots and got to the rim. But it was still a lot of success out of isolation and picks, not ball movement.

What happened Saturday was not all on Oklahoma City — Shawn Marion did a good job on Kevin Durant, who had 24 points but needed 23 shots to get that and only got to the line three times.Chandler has done a great job protecting the paint, taking away the easy buckets.

“We did not do a good job offensively, but I thought they did a great job, really took us out of our sets, they were trapping on the basketball,” Scott Brooks said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Just got us playing on our heels.”

Dallas did play its best defense of the series, but the Thunder fall out of their sets far too easily. The result is isolation basketball that is easier to defend. Isolation basketball that will not win them this series.

  1. jstrizzle - May 22, 2011 at 2:41 AM

    I feel like the Refs helped them in it a little too. I am not saying that all the trips by OKC to the line were not legit because they were. I just was seeing a lot on the other side that was going uncalled. A 2-1 discrepancy in FTs seems a bit odd. I thought Dirk should have been at the stripe more. And I will point out that I saw a couple bad calls that put Jason Terry on the line that probably shouldn’t have been called. Just kinda bad officiating all around. I guess it is the playoffs so what should I expect. Either way good comeback by OKC but they just fell a bit short.

    (Check out my sports blog please http://minnesporta.wordpress.com)

  2. bittersonicsfan - May 22, 2011 at 6:20 AM

    jstrizzle

    I thought the same thing, these refs were inconsistent on both sides, I’m glad Dallas pulled out the win, Joey Crawford has to be on the horizon, he’ll be consistent. Consistently crazy.

    • jstrizzle - May 22, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      Oh god not Crawford. I can see his shiny dome running around throwing techs right now. I feel like I am pretty unbiased because I have an affinity for both teams and whoever wins I wanna take it all. At first I thought they were kinda letting them play because Dirk was getting tossed around a bit and there wasn’t much to it. Then I think it started getting a little rough so they wanted to tighten it up. I don’t know, I do know that I laughed at the replays for Jason Terry’s fouls, then the Tech threw at Chandler for his “vicious” elbow and then the Tech for Westbrook retaliating. Playoff basketball is not suppose to be comedic.

  3. davidly - May 22, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    Last series, the Lakers were responsible. This series it is the Thunder. The Mavs are gonna be scary if they’re ever able to win, instead of the other teams “helping them out” by losing.

    You know, there is a reason that teams stand around. There is a reason teams – as you say – “fall out of their sets”. The reason is what Brooks, in this series, and Jackson and Bryant, in the last series, said: They were “taken out” of their sets.

    I suppose you’d have to have experience coaching and playing to be able to see that.

    • jstrizzle - May 22, 2011 at 11:02 AM

      I have never seen a team guard the pick and roll quite as efficiently as Dallas. Not to mention how quick they close out on the perimeter.

  4. davidly - May 22, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    By the way, that sure was another monster game from Perkins.

  5. delius1967 - May 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    The Thunder’s propensity to play isolation basketball was very evident in the series against Memphis. Watching that series it was evident to me that this team, while individually very talented, wouldn’t provide a serious challenge to the Mavericks, as long as Dallas continued to play the excellent team basketball they had been.

    That is, if the league hasn’t decided to prevent Cuban from getting to the Finals again. After last night’s game I’m not too sure about that.

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