This was a hard loss to swallow. Not only was it the best home crowd all season, but the Mavs had so many "golden" (get it?) chances to close out a young Warriors team without Andrew Bogut on the second night of a back-to-back. With their 105-101 OT loss on Monday, Dallas slips to 6-6. That would have been a nice win to bank before an upcoming four-game stretch of Knicks, Lakers, at 76ers and at Bulls.
I've never been a huge Steph Curry fan, but he absolutely dominated tonight. He had 31 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds on 9-21 shooting while shutting down Darren Collison on the other end of the floor. Defenses have made a point of denying Collison penetration and keeping him out of the open court; he may have hit rock bottom against Golden State: 38 minutes, 7 points on 2-11 shooting, 5 assists to 5 turnovers. The Mavs recent downturn has coincided with Collison's play dropping off the map: Dallas, without Dirk, will go as far as their PG will take them. More than anyone else, Collison needs Dirk back to take some off the defensive attention off him.
Collison isn't the only regular Dallas has been carrying for awhile now. Elton Brand played 10 minutes tonight and if you look at his statistics this season, it's fairly hard to justify him getting even that many: 6 points and 6 rebounds on 36% shooting, a PER of 12. The Mavs, once again, got absolutely murdered on the glass (60-41), this time by a Warriors team missing their starting center. Bernard "Sarge" James is the only one holding his own on the backboards; Carlisle may not like playing rookies, but he doesn't really have much of a choice. At some point, this does have to be a results-oriented business.
One interesting twist that I thought worked well was playing Shawn Marion at the 4, which they did to close out the game. Marion has the second highest rebounding percentage (17.8) on the team, and you can get away with him upfront against an undersized team like the Warriors who can't punish him down low. In return, going small adds much more speed and offensive firepower to the floor.
Then again, so would playing Brandan Wright more. He had 3 points on 1-1 shooting, 1 rebounds and 1 block in 4 minutes tonight. Dallas was +3 when he was on the court. Obviously, that's a tiny sample size, but maybe, if the guy with the highest PER on your team plays well in a stretch, let's see if he can string that together for a while, yes? Nothing to see here though. Move along. Move along.
One player I was impressed with on Golden State's end was their rookie C Festus Ezeli from Vanderbilt, who got the nod ahead in Bogut's absence. He's big (6'11 260), fairly athletic and he knows how to play. In 21 minutes, he had 9 points and 8 rebounds on 4-4 shooting and absolutely mauled Dallas on the glass. I'm surprised Jackson didn't play him more in the second half, especially with Kaman's size advantage over his other big men.
The other somewhat questionable decision by Jackson was sticking with Klay Thompson all through the fourth quarter and OT, even after OJ Mayo repeatedly went around him. For some unknown reason, the Mavs ran the final play of regulation for Vinsanity, but I'd much rather have the ball in OJ the Juiceman's hands. For one thing, he can actually knock down a step-back jumper. In Jackson's defense, that would be a spot for Brandon Rush, Golden State's best perimeter defender, but he's out for the year with a knee injury.
Dallas, meanwhile, may have found a useful role for Dahntay Jones. He was, by far, their best cover on Curry: his length and defensive toughness at 6'6 225 can really bother 1's. Collison, on the other hand, got the back of the hand all night. It was brutal. I don't think Jones has the size to give most 3's or the best 2's trouble, but he's a good weapon to have when Dallas faces an elite PG.
One thing I don't understand about the Warriors is why they never drafted an athlete/slasher type on the perimeter with one of their lottery picks. Instead, they essentially picked the same guy at three positions: Curry, Thompson and Harrison Barnes. (The media guide kindly informed me that Barnes' nickname is "The Black Falcon", which I'm going to call him from now on) All three are great shooters and good ball-handlers, but they all attack from the outside-in and none has the athletic ability to defend multiple positions. So, for example, when the Juiceman gets going in OT, Golden State has no way to address it without taking one of them out or going super small.
With Richard Jefferson out (a devastating loss no doubt), the Warriors also gave significant run to a third rookie, second round pick Draymond Green out of Michigan State. I loved him in college and he has an interesting offensive game, but at 6'7 230, I'm just not sure who he's going to defend. Can he survive as a small-ball 4? Because Vinsanity, he of the 39% shooting percentage, filleted him rather easily at the 3. This is the same concern I have with Jae Crowder, who Andy Tobo talked about in his column today.
The scouting report on Dominique Jones looks like it has gotten around. He had a nice few games as a back-up 1, but now that teams are playing the pass and forcing him to shoot, his inability to finish is killing him. 2-6 with 4 assists on 3 turnovers in 15 minutes tonight.
I'd be remiss not to give a shout-out to Troy Murphy, who had his best game of the year on Monday. He had 12 points on 4-6 shooting from beyond the arc, and he even threw in 4 steals; how, I have no idea. I still think Wright makes far more sense in that spot in the rotation, but the Murph Dog justified his spot on the floor, at least for one night.
The Big Picture:
Ever since Collison's play began to slip, the Mavs have completely fallen apart. The only thing disguising it has been a paper-thin schedule, but that changes on Wednesday, when Carmelo, Chandler and Co. come into town. I believe Dallas has several line-up options that could get them through this stretch, but I'm not holding out hope that Carlisle will use them at this point. I would try a big man rotation of Kaman, Wright, James and Marion, for one. Instead, with Dirk likely out at least a few more weeks, this could get ugly.