Game one is in the books, and unfortunately we’re left with more questions than answers. The glass rests on the table, but whether it’s half-empty or half-full is anybody’s guess.
The Mavs were able to overcome subpar efforts from both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to get a win on the road. I’ve asked for little more from this team all season long, and it’s huge in terms of development and adjustment. Still, you have to be worried about what the Spurs did to JET and Dirk defensively.
On the bright side, neither player was woefully inefficient. They weren’t hoisting up prayers or hunting for looks. But Terry in particular was completely blanketed by Bruce Bowen and friends, and only attempted 8 shots in total. When was the last time Terry had less than 10 attempts? If you disregard the February 7th and March 1st games, in which Terry’s minutes were significantly limited due to injury, you have to go all the way back to November 3rd. The JET tends to get his looks one way or another, but on Saturday night he was practically handcuffed. J.J. Barea’s success could potentially have a huge impact on JET’s production, depending on Pop’s defensive adjustments. If Bowen ends up seeing time on Barea rather than Terry, it could provide JET with plenty of opportunities against the less stingy Michael Finley, Tony Parker, and Roger Mason. But, if Pop decides that Terry, the far worthier threat, deserves the Spurs’ undivided attention, the JET may have to work extra hard, look to draw fouls, or simply be content with hoisting up fewer attempts.
My thought is this: put Terry on the floor in situations where Popovich must make difficult strategic decisions. If JET, Josh Howard, and Dirk are all on the floor at the same time, who does Bruce Bowen guard? That of course depends on the rest of the Spurs’ lineup, but it would almost certainly force an inferior defender (or two) to concede points to one of the Mavs’ big scorers. It doesn’t quite afford Dirk or Josh the rest they need or ease their scoring burden, but it just might be necessary to keep the Mavs’ offense in fifth gear.
Dirk I’m not worried about. He can get shots off at any time he wants against any defender the Spurs throw at him, and was more limited by foul trouble than anything. He’ll be there when we need him most.
J.J. gives the Mavs a much-needed extra dimension in their defense against Tony Parker, but it’ll be interesting to see how a game’s worth of film changes that. Parker is a smart player and Pop is a brilliant coach; the Spurs will surely have new ways to take advantage of Barea’s height and a variety of avenues to increase Parker’s access to the lane.
What’s interesting is that the Mavs weren’t locking down on the Spurs’ shooters, as is their custom. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker typically go to work, while defenders stick with Finley, Bonner, Mason and the other shooters on the outside. It’s absolutely crucial in negating the impact of those back-breaking corner threes, and it’s something that the Mavs didn’t do very effectively in the first half of Saturday’s game. The defense focused on the corners in the second half, and Barea dug up a new way to limit San Antonio’s shooters: stifle Parker’s penetration. Drive and kick offenses rely on deep penetration to set up open shots, and Parker clearly wasn’t used to being kept up with. Barea moved his feet and got in TP’s way enough to not only limit Parker’s scoring, but also his ability to dish to the Spurs set up on the perimeter. That was the real reason why San Antonio’s offense was hindered in the second half of Saturday’s game, but to predict that Barea can repeat his performance with the same success is to ignore Popovich’s genius entirely.
I will say this: for as creative and intelligent as Gregg Poppovich is, J.J. Barea is just as relentless and tenacious. He’s never had a reputation as a defender, but the guy loves to compete. You simply don’t make it into the league at 6’0” (in heels) unless you’ve got a little Napoleon in you.
It’s also worth noting that the Spurs shot about as well as they will in this series (11-14 from deep…that’s 78.6%), including 5-5 from three for Michael Finley and 4-7 from three for Roger Mason. Both are good shooters, but to expect them to continue at that pace would be a tad ridiculous.
So should the Mavs be happy that Terry’s shots that he took went down, or disappointed that he couldn’t get many off to begin with? Should Dallas be pleased with Barea’s defense on Parker, or concerned about what will happen when Tony figures things out, as great players are wont to do?
I’ll tell you around 10 tonight.