"The whole purpose [of the zone] is to shut down the lane and make them shoot tough, challenged 3s," said Mavs assistant coach Dwane Casey, who runs the defense and will serve as acting head coach for tonight's game against the Thunder as Rick Carlisle recuperates from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Oklahoma City does a good job of getting in the lane but ranks as the worst 3-point shooting team in the league (32.2 percent). Dallas has grown so comfortable with its zone defense that it will stick with it even when the opponent hits a couple beyond the arc, which is typically the red flag most teams need to slide back into man-to-man. Not the Mavs.
"The No. 1 thing is the confidence," Casey said. "Two years ago, even last year, they [an opponent] hits a couple 3s and guys start looking cross-eyed and say, 'Hey, let’s get out of this.' You’ve got to have confidence to stay in it."
The statistics from this season's first matchup on Nov. 24 in Oklahoma City suggest the Mavs were fortunate to come away with a 111-103 victory, a game they won by suffocating the Thunder down the stretch. Oklahoma made 6-of-15 (40 percent) from beyond the arc and shot 48.2 percent overall, besting Dallas in both categories, and shooting well above the 43.4 percent Dallas is allowing on the season, second-best in the NBA.
The Mavs would prefer to force the Thunder into more long-range shots, such as the 31 Miami took a week ago or the 29 Orlando launched the next night.
Dallas is giving up 36.2 percent from beyond the arc, a mark that ranks just 14th in the league, but Casey said that's part of the sacrifice of playing zone. They might give up a few more 3s, but it's paying dividends by making it harder to get to the rim as evidenced by Dallas' stellar overall defensive field goal percentage.
"You want to protect your paint. That’s your mantra," Casey said. "Our defense against the 3-point shot has suffered a little bit because of that, but our 2-point defensive field goal percentage has improved with that philosophy in mind and having confidence in it, and guys are committed to it. As a coach, you can have all the philosophies you want, but if your players don’t buy into it and believe in it and want to execute it, nothing’s going to work."