While Mavs coach Rick Carlisle went out of his way to point out that the Thunder were missing three starters -- perennial All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, perimeter stopper Thabo Sefolosha and rugged center Kendrick Perkins -- this was a spectacular performance by Dallas in snapping an 11-game losing streak against the Red River rivals. The Mavs displayed the depth and dynamic scoring ability that could make them a dangerous matchup in the playoffs.
“If we attack from all angles and have multiple guys score, we’re a tough team to play,” said Nowitzki, who had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, sitting out the final six minutes after an Oklahoma City squad that had won the previous 11 meetings with the Mavs waved the white flag.
This performance epitomized the Mavs’ attack-from-all-angles style. Eight players scored at least eight points, led by Shawn Marion’s 19. Dallas shot 53.3 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 13-of-24 from 3-point range.
It was one of the Mavs’ most impressive offensive performances, but it certainly wasn’t out of character. This is a team that ranks third in the NBA in offensive rating (108.5 points per 100 possessions) and third in 3-point shooting (38.3 percent).
Nowitzki’s mere presence guarantees that the Mavs guards will have space to attack. Ellis (nine points, seven assists) and Devin Harris (eight points, six assists), in particular, have the quickness to exploit those creases. That often creates open looks for shooters such as Jose Calderon (16 points, seven assists, 4-of-8 from 3-point range) and Vince Carter (18 points, 4-of-8 on 3s).
“We have so many guys that can do so many things,” Carter said. “Even without Monta scoring, he gets in the paint and he does a lot for our team. He just makes it tough for [opponents]. When we’re hitting shots, his ability to get in the paint is to another level. He just gets there with ease and makes the right play. He can find guys for open shots. When we’re hitting them, it’s tough.”
Carlisle prefers to keep his play calling to a minimum because the Mavs are at their best playing a random, flowing offensive style. They’re a veteran bunch that pride themselves on their savvy and unselfishness, well aware that ball movement is a critical element to their efficiency, ranking fifth in the league with 23.6 assists per game.
As Nowitzki said, the Mavs kept the ball “hopping” during this visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder’s rotations were consistently a step or two too slow to contest shots.
“The basketball had too much freedom,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said after Dallas dished out 26 assists, while carving up the Thunder's defense. “They were moving us around. They dictated the game with their ball movement. We could control the basketball, and that is what happens when you are playing against a great 3-point shooting team.”
One of the major goals of the Mavs’ summer roster reconstruction was to put together a team that didn’t need Nowitzki to have monster nights to have a chance to win. The Mavs succeeded in that mission.
Nowitzki is as efficient as ever, ranking 13th in the league in scoring with 21.4 points per game and sitting a half-point shy on his field-goal percentage putting him in the historically exclusive 50/40/90 shooting club. But he has a legitimate scoring sidekick in Ellis; three other teammates who average double figures; and a deep bench to ease the scoring burden on the big German.
This is a good enough offensive team to make one of the West’s big boys sweat in a playoff series.
“We know we can score,” Harris said. “It’s what we do on the other end that [will determine] how successful we’ll be. We know we can make shots.”
The Mavs have proven that over the course of the season. Sunday night was one of their prettiest exhibits.