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The Dallas View: Mavericks’ Challenge Requires Greatness From Team, Not Just Dirk Nowitzki

Offices around the country regularly throw out a well-worn adage when met with difficult requests from clients: “Cheap, fast, and good. Pick two.”

Rarely can you get all three. And when you can, you know you’ve gotten a great deal.

The Dallas Mavericks’ formula for winning is similar: Great Dirk, great defense, and a great bench. Pick two.

Dirk Nowitzki (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

For example, in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers, Dirk was great, the defense was smothering, and the 3 point shooters off the bench were on fire. The Mavericks won handily.

In the Game 1 Mavericks win against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, the defense was sub-par, but Dirk was transcendent and the bench provided a fantastic spark – enough that the Mavericks won a close game.

Last night, in Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Dallas, Dirk did his part, but the defense and bench fell short. Thus so did the Mavericks.

Dirk didn’t have a game for the history books like he did in Game 1 (he even missed a free throw!), but 29 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists qualify as greatness. He bested Durant in all three of those categories (Durant went 24, 4, and 4).

Rick Carlisle (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

One part of the formula, then, gets a check-mark.  And while it felt like OKC was bothering Dirk and forced him into spots on the floor he was less comfortable on, he did take over the game in the 4th quarter as you expect him to.  But the defense and bench didn’t quite hit their marks.

Defensively, the Mavericks had similar breakdowns as in Game 1 – too much penetration to the lane, too many easy mid-range shots for Durant.  But they were able to overcome that with Dirk’s magnificent game and big bench help from J.J. Barea and Jason Terry.  The Mavericks gave up 112 points in Game 1, and coach Rick Carlisle as well as Dirk admitted their defense needed improvement if they were going to win this series.

You can’t expect that Mavericks to score 121 points every night like they did in Game 1. And they didn’t in Game 2.

James Harden (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

In Game 2, the defense simply could not get the critical stops they needed when the Mavericks’ offense was hitting shots.  It wasn’t until the Mavericks entered desperation-mode defense with risky half-court traps lead by Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd did they start getting stops – but that was inside of 2 minutes and the game had fallen just a little too far out of reach. James Harden (and his beard) came through with stellar shooting, leading the OKC bench charge that beat the Mavericks’ reserves.

The Dallas bench had been a key during the 7 game playoff winning streak, but they didn’t get the production they did in Game 1. Before the series, Jason Terry said that his goal was to personally outscore the entire Oklahoma City bench. He succeeded in the Mavericks’ win by scoring 24 to OKC’s 22.  Barea almost accomplished the feat as well, dropping in 21 points and several SportsCenter highlights.  In game 2, the Mavericks bench got outscored 50 to 29.

Terry scored only 8 points on 0-2 3-point shooting, combined with 1 assist, no rebounds, and 3 turnovers. Obviously, that’s not going to get the job done. Barea scored 11 on an efficient 3-5 shooting from 3-point range, which is solid – we can’t really expect him to drop 21 points in 19 minutes every night out. The downside, though, is that Oklahoma City was able to use pick and rolls to get bigger guys onto Barea, who were able to take advantage of the size mismatch.

The Mavericks are going to have to find a way to shore up their defense against Oklahoma City when they cross the Red River if they’re going to avoid falling behind in the series.

And stronger bench play than they got in Game 2 would be nice, too.

It’s safe to assume that Dirk is going to carry his load – he’s done so consistently throughout this playoff run, ranging between playing at superstar levels and at all-time-great levels.  But that alone won’t get the Mavericks to the championship.

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Andrew Kaufmann is a Dallas based writer who has spent time working for Dallas sports franchises. Follow him on Twitter – @andrewk (http://twitter.com/andrewk)

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