According to HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy, J.J. Barea will start over DeShawn Stevenson for the Mavericks in tonight’s Game 4, and Brian “The Janitor” Cardinal will be moved ahead of Peja Stojakovic in the Mavericks’ rotation.
At first blush, this move does not appear to make a lot of sense. Stevenson has been quietly having a pretty good Finals. He’s defended both Wade and James fairly well (he seems particularly adept at taking James, who still seems to hate Stevenson, out of his game), and has averaged an efficient six points a game while making two-thirds of his three-pointers.
Barea, meanwhile, has loudly been having a terrible, terrible series. He’s averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 turnovers per game, and has shot 21.7% from the floor and 12.5% from the three-point line. And he hasn’t exactly been making up for it on the defensive end.
Still, there are some possible motivations for Carlisle’s decision here. Stevenson is an efficient scorer, but his offensive game is entirely based around catching and shooting — as ineffective as Barea has been, he forces the defense to move and pay attention to him by constantly dribbling around the perimeter, working pick-and-rolls, darting into the paint, and pulling up for threes if he gets any space.
Miami now has two choices regarding their starting backcourt — take their chances with the glacial Mike Bibby chasing Barea around, or force Wade to expend far more energy on defense than he has when he’s been guarding Stevenson. Kidd, who will be guarding Wade to start the game, isn’t as good of a defender as Stevenson is, but Carlisle may be betting that the best way to slow Wade down on offense is to make him work on the defensive end of the floor.
The Cardinal over Stojakovic decision is easier to make — Peja’s only real NBA skill at this point is shooting, and he hasn’t been making shots, having made a grand total of one field goal and zero threes through the first three games of the Finals. Cardinal isn’t as good of a scorer as Peja is when he’s on, but he can stretch the floor well enough himself and earned the nickname “The Janitor” during his breakout year in Golden State for his blue-collar style of play. (Also, he kind of looks like a janitor.)
As Dirk Nowitzki mentioned after Game 3, Game 4 is virtually a must-win game for the Mavericks — if they lose, they’ll have to win three games in a row to win the finals, with the final two of those games coming in Miami. The fact of the matter is that Miami has outplayed Dallas fairly handily through the first three games of the series, and is one historic collapse away from being up 3-0, so a shakeup from Carlisle shouldn’t really have come out of left field.