The Mavericks are 9-4 heading into their Wednesday night showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder and remain one of the top defensive teams in the league. But in Tuesday’s home win against the Detroit Pistons, we saw a repeat of the same troubling offensive bog down that we saw in last Friday’s home loss to the Chicago Bulls. A bunch of guys standing around watching the Big German do his thing. And that simply can’t happen.
Dirk Nowitzki dropped 42 vs. Detroit on Tuesday night, but it was Caron Butler’s early aggressiveness in the final frame that sparked this victory. Heading into the fourth, the Mavs had only scored 56 points and Dirk had almost half of that total by himself (27). The team was shooting 33 percent and had only 13 free throw attempts. It was painful to watch, and Butler in particular seemed to be a spectator. But that all changed at the start of the fourth. With Nowitzki on the bench, Butler decided to play with what coach Rick Carlisle commonly refers to as force.
Butler scored the Mavericks' first seven points of the quarter and grabbed several key rebounds while upping the overall level of aggressiveness. Detroit was in the penalty after only five minutes in the fourth -- primarily because of the way Butler took it to the Pistons -- and the end result was 14 free throw attempts in the final 12 minutes. Maybe instead of playing with force, he was just using The Force. Maybe he heard Obi-Wan’s voice in his head telling him to let it flow. Or more likely he heard Carlisle’ voice in his head preaching to play the Maverick’s “flow” system of pushing the tempo and getting good shots in secondary transition or via movement before the D can set up shop.
It’s the equivalent of a good quartet jamming. And when all the guys are on the same page with where the tune is going next, they make beautiful music and it’s tough to stop. But it requires assertiveness and staying involved -- moving without the ball. You have to crash the boards and stay active in the passing lanes. You can just wait around until it’s your turn to force a busy solo. You can’t be a ball stopper when your teammates are down to riff.
Butler has the type of skills to absolutely flourish in this type of basketball, but too often he’s watched, waiting for his turn to get in on the action instead of creating the action with movement on offense and assertiveness on defense. We saw how brilliant he can be during the first five minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday, as well as in the third quarter against the Bulls last Friday.
That’s the Caron Butler this team needs if it’s going to have a successful season -- which means a deep playoff run. He’s too talented to not always play with force, or be a force, or use The Force. Did I force that?