Friday, June 10, 2011

Why is Dallas "Clutch"?

Inspired by this post at The Painted Area.

In my Finals preview, I noted that [Dallas'] ability to space the floor and pass also means they are one of the only teams in the league whose crunch time offense is something other than an ugly ISO into a packed lane. But are there any other reasons Dallas has been so good in the clutch?

I don't think those players (Dallas' crunchtime lineup of Kidd/Terry/Marion/Nowitzki/Chandler) are intangibly "clutch", but have the skills to be better in clutch time basketball. Now, If you think about it, clutch time basketball is different from regular basketball. What are these differences?

1) More leeway is given to defensive players, especially in the area of "touch fouls."

Kidd and Marion are two of the best in the league at getting away with these types of plays, which helps the Mavs immensely.

2) Because of this, teams generally transition to a "give the ball to our best perimeter guy and hope he makes a play" offense. In 2011, it's really difficult to get the ball to your low post scorer in the final minute of the game in good position. (This is why Hedo Turkoglu was so important in 2009)

Dallas' zone, especially when anchored by Tyson Chandler, is frighteningly effective against this type of offense. Carlisle deserves a lot of credit here I think.

3) On the other hand, because of Dirk and Terry, Dallas has the personnel to run their normal offense extremely effectively during late game situations.

When Dirk gets the ball at the elbow, unlike guys like LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Rose, or Anthony, you can't stop the drive, and hope he misses a clean 17 foot fadeaway. If you play him tight, he's skilled enough to drive past his defender and/or draw the foul. If you double Dirk, he can reliably find Terry (or anyone, one of the advantages of being 7 feet tall is that it opens up passing lanes that almost none of the other crunch time perimeter scorers in the league have). Now, you have the guard who can hit the open three, the midrange shot, or find the open man with the ball, and the defense is already out of position because of the double team. Now Terry can get an open shot, find Kidd on the second pass for an open three, or get the ball back to Dirk if the defense adjusts. And, Dallas has an athletic 7-1 finisher hanging around the rim the whole time, and Kidd, Terry, and Nowitzki are all good enough passers to lob him an alley-oop.

The defensive advantages are obviously somewhat new, starting with the arrival of Kidd, but the Dirk-Terry dynamic has been happening for years. Dallas is uniquely effective in these situations because their two best offensive players are at their most dangerous doing what the other 29 teams have to be forced into doing at the end of the game.

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