at Dallas 98, L.A. Lakers 92 (Dallas leads 3-0)
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 119.0, L.A. Lakers 111.2
Unofficially, Game Three of the series between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers will be known at Prospectus HQ as the Overcorrection Game. After falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Lakers made sweeping changes. For three and a half quarters, it appeared that strategy and a renewed sense of urgency would allow the Lakers to get back in the series. During the final six minutes, however, it became clear that the Lakers had in fact gone too far in the opposite direction, which cost them as the Mavericks came from behind to win 98-92 and take a commanding 3-0 lead in this series.
What proved to be the crucial adjustment was in the way the Lakers defended Dallas' lethal pick-and-roll game. The Lakers having been beaten time and again by drives to the hoop in Game Two, most notably by Jose Barea, Phil Jackson emphasized the importance of bringing over an extra defender to help against the roll man and cut off opportunities in the paint. On this narrow count, the strategy succeeded. Barea got few easy looks and made just one field goal in five attempts. As a team, the Mavericks scored just 20 points in the paint, an incredibly low sum, especially for the winning side.
Every adjustment means giving something else up, and by helping more aggressively, the Lakers surrendered open shots from beyond the arc on the weak side. This shows up most noticeably in the percentage of Dallas' attempts that were three-pointers. In the first two games of the series, 28.1 percent of the Mavericks shots were threes. In Game Three, that increased all the way to 43.3 percent. As the Orlando Magic and the San Antonio Spurs can testify, a three-heavy attack brings both great risk and great rewards. We saw the former during the second and third quarters, when Dallas shot just 3-of-18 from beyond the arc, allowing the Lakers to build a six-point lead.
Eventually, for a team as good from long range as the Mavericks, those open looks were going to turn into made baskets. That happened in the final period. Led by Peja Stojakovic, who could not hit anything in the first half, Dallas caught fire late in the game. Stojakovic had three of the Mavericks' five triples in the fourth quarter. Three came during a six-possession span starting at the five-minute mark with the Lakers up seven. By the time Jason Terry made the last with precisely two minutes to go, Dallas had taken a two-point lead.
The Lakers would rally to tie once more before Dirk Nowitzki's left-hand hook shot in traffic gave the Mavericks the lead for good. Thereafter, the Lakers beat themselves with two costly mistakes, both involving Derek Fisher. The first was actually a two-parter, as Pau Gasol was unable to secure the rebound off a Stojakovic miss. On the extra play for Dallas, Fisher fouled Jason Terry 25 feet from the basket, giving him two free throws that made it a two-possession game. There was still plenty of time for the Lakers, but when Fisher and Lamar Odom were unable to connect on the ensuing inbound pass, it forced them into desperation fouling mode. The Mavericks never again opened the door.
Jackson's other overcorrection came in response to Ron Artest's one-game suspension for clotheslining Barea at the end of Game Two. To replace Artest, Jackson went to a big frontcourt with Odom alongside Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a lineup that
was once common but played less than three minutes together during the entire regular season. For the most part, the combination served its purpose. With the starters on the floor, the Lakers were +4 through the first three quarters. However, making the team's only reserve rotation big man a starter created problems for Jackson. In the first half, he went to little-used veteran Joe Smith for a three-minute stint. In the second half, Jackson gave his big men limited breaks. All told, Odom played 42 minutes, Gasol 40 and Bynum 37. That extra action seemed to catch up to the Lakers' frontcourt down the stretch.
Whether because Bynum was fatigued, because the Lakers don't trust him in key moments or simply because they forgot about him, he ceased to be a factor in the offense early in the fourth quarter despite scoring 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Late in the game, it was Odom and Kobe Bryant who took over. Bryant hit a pair of high-difficulty jumpers to keep the Mavericks at bay midway through the period, but he followed that with a turnover in traffic and a forced miss under heavy defense. Odom split the two possessions he subsequently used during the final two minutes.
During the fourth quarter and all night, the Lakers' offense wasn't bad. It simply wasn't good enough to keep up with Dallas on a night where the Lakers overcompensated for the weaknesses that had put them in a hole in this series.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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