The brutal truth is that the Dallas Mavericks, as fantastic a basketball team as they truly are, are simply not built for the playoffs. I like the pieces on this team. I like the pieces a lot. I'm just not sold on how they all fit together, especially when it comes to playoff basketball.
Defense wins championships
To his credit, Rick Carlisle has preached defense since Day One. Ultimately, his words alone cant stop opposing teams. At the end of the day, Dirk Nowitzki is always going to be on the court. As ridiculously sensational as he is offensively -- and make no mistake about it, he is as elite as they come in that regard -- he can be a liability on the defensive side at times. His little fourth-quarter scoring buddy Jason Terry is in the same defensively challenged boat. The two of them are among the best clutch scorers in the league. So in the final moments of a game, 40 percent of the players wearing a Mavericks uniform don't have a whole lot to offer in terms of stopping the opponent.
They have a 37-year old point guard in Jason Kidd being asked to keep up with some of the most fleet-footed basketball players in the world. Undersized backup point guard J.J. Barea has enough heart for an entire roster, but defensively he lacks the ability to create stops. On top of everything else, their best defensive player, Shawn Marion, has been finding himself on the bench more often than not against the Spurs. Their next best defense, DeShawn Stevenson.
Bottom line: The Mavs are no defensive juggernaut. Anyone expecting them to ride their sometimes shaky defense to a title is delusional.
The Spurs are averaging 95.5 points per game while shooting 48 percent. More times than not, it looks as if the Mavs are seeing the pick and roll for the first time. In Game 4 -- when they were miraculously able to hold Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker to just 31 points combined -- an unexpected and lethal leak sprung loose in the form of George Hill, who scored 29 points.
For all of the great attributes that this team possesses, a stifling, hard-nosed defense is not one of them.
Jason Kidd and the half-court offense
Fast-paced, track-meet style offenses are often slowed to a grinding halt in the playoffs. Teams that thrive in the transition game are forced to look for sustenance elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Mavs, that devalues the greatness of Kidd.
Kidd is at his absolute best when he's flying down the court with the pedal floored. Teammates who chase after him are rewarded with easy stats. In the world of fast breaks, the basketball court is a simulated illusory world created by robots to pacify humans, and J. Kidd is Neo. But when you ask him to play a role in a half-court grind, he's Keanu Reeves performing Shakespeare at the airport Marriott.
Kidd will bury a wide-open weakside 3 with the best of them. It's a part of his game that has developed nicely over the years. But in the playoffs, when defensive intensity and weakside rotations ratcheted up to do or die levels, wide-open shots are unicorns. You never see them.
The Mavs can't run a Spurs-style pick-and-roll because Kidd is not a threat to drive to the basket. Neither is Terry. I'm not sure what Caron Butler is doing, but I feel like I've never seen anyone miss more bunnies around the basket. Marion is a brilliant transition filler, but you don't want to see an offense that is designed with his halfcourt skills as the focus.
The reason Barea gets in games is because he has the coconuts to attack the basket fearlessly. Too many of his teammates refuse to do so. At their core, the Mavericks are a team of jumper launchers, which ultimately seems counterintuitive to survival in the defensively charged postseason. To win in the playoffs, I've always believed that teams need to show aggression at close range. The Mavs just dont seem to have enough rim attackers in the mix for that style of offense.
The end result is a halfcourt offense that becomes far too stagnant, far too jumper-reliant, and far too dependent on Nowitzki's clockwork heroics.
The big German is the best player in this series, hands down. The problem for the Mavs is that he's alone. The next best four or five players in this series are all Spurs.
Their season might or might not end on their home floor tonight. Either way, it will end sooner than anyone expected in the next few days. Which brings us back to that brutal truth I mentioned. The Mavs have won 50-plus regular-season games for 10 consecutive years, but what has it gotten them? Very little in the playoffs.
This offseason, as the Mavericks consider exactly what to do with a pretty salty hand of roster retooling assets, they would be well served to focus on one thing and one thing only the blueprint for how to win playoff style basketball games. In my opinion, they need a two-way shooting guard (not an undersized tweener) who has handles, can be effective in the pick-and-roll game, can attack the basket and get to the free throw line.
As much as the Metroplex would like to see the Mavs rewarded for a decade of regular-season dominance, I'm afraid they just aren't built for playoff basketball. At least not this year.