Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki compared Tyson Chandler's defensive impact on the team to how Kevin Garnett instantly transformed the Boston Celtics into a defensive machine, and the stats bear him out.
"I don't think Ray [Allen] or Paul Pierce were great defenders before K.G. got there," Nowitzki said. "But, K.G., with his energy, his defense, his mentality and his high-octane self, he kind of changed the whole momentum on the defense. I think that's what Tyson did here."
In 2006-07, the season before Boston made the landmark deal to acquire Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Celtics ranked in the bottom half of the league in two key defensive categories: 18th in scoring defense (99.2), and 24th in opponent field-goal percentage (46.8). Boston finished the season 24-58, last in the Eastern Conference.
Garnett and Allen then joined Pierce to form the Big 3. The 6-foot-11 Garnett challenged Boston's commitment and intensity and catapulted the Celtics up the defensive rankings, finishing No. 2 in scoring defense (90.3) and No. 1 in opponent field-goal percentage (41.9). The Celtics went on to win the NBA title.
The Mavericks started last season on a defensive hot streak, but by mid-December they had tapered off and were a middling defensive club the rest of the way, finishing 15th in scoring defense (99.3) and 15th in opponent field-goal percentage (45.7). That team won 55 games and claimed the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, but fizzled in a first-round loss to San Antonio.
And although the Mavs have slipped some defensively over the past two weeks, there is no denying that Chandler has delivered a physical and psychological presence to a re-committed Dallas defense.
The Mavs are holding teams to six fewer points than a year ago (93.2) to rank tied for fifth in the league, and they're fourth in opponent field-goal percentage (43.5).
They'll be put to the test Monday night playing at Miami. The Heat lead the league in opponent fied-goal percentage (42.4) and scoring defense (91.2), just ahead of Boston.
When the Celts came to Dallas on Nov. 8, the Mavs' 89-87 win proved to be a defensive test of wills. Dallas held the Celtics to 41.8 percent shooting and to 18 fourth-quarter points.
Dallas acquired the energetic, 7-1 Chandler in an offseason trade that sent Erick Dampier and his large, expiring contract to the Charlotte Bobcats. Chandler won the starting job over Brendan Haywood during the preseason and is averaging 8.6 points on a team-best 63.2 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
"It's just his overall willingness to defend," Nowitzki said. "He talks out there. He's always a loud communicator, pushing everybody in the right spots. I think that's what Tyson brings to our team."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.