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NBA Playbook: Dallas Mavericks Run Same Set Four Times, Forces Checkmate

With the Mavericks looking at a nine point deficit with four minutes to play, there was precious little time to waste possessions as they had earlier in the quarter. Halfway through the 4th, the Heat were forcing the Mavs into turnovers in the middle of the court and in turn jetting in the opposite direction for transition baskets and open jump shots. The Mavs had to figure out a way to get their offense engaged without the aggressive trapping that the Heat were employing. Jason Kidd was not quick enough to beat his man off the dribble, and Jason Terry was constantly over-penetrating and losing the ball. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle responded by subtly adjusting his half-court set to create the space his team needed to get the open looks required to tie the game.

A Look at the Plays That Sparked the Comeback | NBA Playbook

Pruiti does his usual great job in looking at the four offensive plays that the Mavs ran to pull themselves within a single bucket as the final minute approached. Each time, the offensive set began in the same way, with a high staggered screen involving Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Each time they ran the set, the Mavs relied on their collective basketball knowledge to control the Heat defense and in this game of chess, the Mavs always stayed two plays ahead.

Here is the most critical play, which cut a third of the deficit away:

A few comments after the jump.

  • The Heat were killing the Mavericks by trapping Terry aggressively in the lane, and the Mavs could not get any offense going as long as this continued. This initial set allowed Terry to turn the corner. In a sense, this opening set was merely the set-up; it was because the Mavs were able to move the ball effectively around the perimeter that they were able to get Dirk in open space on the weak side. Once he had that pocket of space, it was easy for him to suck the defense in, which in turn freed up Kidd for the 3-pointer.
  • The Mavs used this initial set-up to then give Dirk the opportunity to read how the Heat would respond. When the Heat anticipated and overplayed the staggered high screen, Dirk immediately slipped through it and faded to the wing, where he found plenty of room for his open jump shot. In a sense, the Mavs expected and wanted the Heat to respond in this way, and the Heat complied. 
  • In the third iteration, the Mavs actually got the exact same look. Unfortunately, for some reason Terry gave up on the set too easily. If you watch the 3rd clip, you can see that once again the Heat tried to jump the staggered screen, which wasn't even executed well. Chandler never got set and Dirk faded too quickly. And yet, because the Heat thought they knew how to play it, they erroneously had three players guarding two all outside of the 3-point line while the Mavs' most dangerous scorer was left all alone.  If you freeze clip #3 four seconds in, you can see that Dirk is wide open for either the jumper or the drive, and if Dirk opted to drive that Dwyane Wade, stuck in no-man's land underneath the rim, would have had to challenge him. This commitment by Wade would in turn have allowed Shawn Marion to cut to the basket on the weak side for a dunk. So once again the Mavs were a step ahead, but they rotated the ball in the wrong direction, allowing the defense to recover.
  • In the final set, the Heat probably thought they had figured out what the Mavs were trying to do, and so they laid off the hard trap off the double-screen. Udonis Haslem, Dirk's man, correctly hedged to Dirk's left, sealing off the wing where Dirk had faded twice before. However, this is where Dallas' experience and trust really shined. As reported by John Shuhmann:
"I told the guards, ‘Whoever comes off me and Dirk's screen, before you look to the strong side, look back to the weak side, because I think I can get him open for a good look... And right then, the next play, I was able to get that pick. And I was just holding it, because I knew, I saw Bosh in front of me and I was picking Haslem, so I figured [Nowitzki] would be somewhere behind me getting a good look." - Tyson Chandler, explaining Dirk's final 3-pointer

In essence, Chandler had a strong sense of how the play might unfold, and so he had prepared his teammates for the opportunity. It was Chandler who read the play correctly in identifying both Haslem and Chris Bosh, and so he set the hard pick on Haslem and waited for Dirk to spot up and drain the 3-pointer. The play is also a great tribute to Chandler's character, because his attitude was not, "I can get open for my shot," but rather it was, "I can get Dirk open for HIS shot." Chandler sacrificed himself by taking the hard screen on Haslem in order to give Dirk that shot.

  • In sum, these four sequences were a perfect illustration of a team being able to think through all of the options a very simple offensive set can provide. Dallas did not even have to rely on any weak side motion to make the plays work; it was simply a combination of all five men knowing exactly how to deal with the situation. 
  • These sequences were a great example of where the Thunder need to go to improve on their 4th quarter offense. It takes time, but this type of recognition, understanding, and counter-move will eventually come to them and then their collective basketball IQ will match their considerable athletic skill. Also, as you can see, the trigger man in each case was Jason Terry, not Jason Kidd. Russell Westbrook will never be Kidd, but he certainly can be a Jason Terry when it comes to decision-making.