DALLAS _ Way back before this season started, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told his team they could go to some great places if they improved their defense.
His players apparently listened.
The Mavs are only two wins away from claiming their first NBA championship. And they can thank their rugged defense for being in this position.
“On our opening meeting the beginning of the year it was something we talked in great detail about and put forth some goals that were the kind of goals, that if we wanted to be a championship contending team, we had to get into the Top 10 (in team defense),’’ Carlisle said. “We were 11th last year.
“And look, it’s not unlike every other team in the league. There’s 29 other coaching staffs going the night before training camp starts and talks about the importance of defense. But we had more consistency this year.’’
That consistency has the Mavs more hungrier than ever before. And even with injuries during the season to Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic and Rodrigue Beaubois, the Mavs’ ship just kept on rolling down the river.
“Through some of our injury things that we had to deal with, we had some difficulties,’’ Carlisle said. “But in many ways the season is kind of like possessions in the series.
“It’s a scramble and you have to get through it. And we did.’’
Miami has yet to score more than 93 points in any of the four games against the Mavs in the Finals.
As a whole, the Mavs’ defense was on full display Tuesday when they held Miami Heat superstar LeBron James to a career playoff-low eight points during their 86-83 Game 4 victory. Point guard Jason Kidd did most of the heavy lifting against James, who was just 3-of-11 from the field and turned the ball over four times.
“He’s so talented you try to make it tough on him,’’ Kidd said. “He’s going to score, he’s going to find open guys.
“(Tuesday) night guys may be saying he wasn't aggressive. But he was.’’
Carlisle said his team doesn’t necessarily put any extra pressure on James when he’s the primary ball-handler.
“This is the fourth playoffs we've been in and we've tried to pressure the ball in all series,’’ Carlisle said. “When we've been able to do it effectively, it's helped us.
“When you let teams operate this time of year, you get your (butt) kicked.’’
Overall, the Heat put the Mavs in 34 pick-and-roll possessions in Game 4, but walked away with only 17 points. Such stops are what Carlisle said his team has been working on since Day 1.
“Well, we scrambled,’’ Carlisle said. “We didn't play a perfect defensive game by any stretch, but a lot of times when coverages aren't perfect you have to hard‑play through them and scramble through them.
“Look, once you defend the pick‑and‑roll aspect of it, then a lot of times it turns into a one‑on‑one situation. Again, with their individual ability to break you down, it becomes a team responsibility to keep those guys in front of you. That's not easy.’’
-- Dwain Price
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