“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”
The Mavs’ victory last night was significant for a variety of reasons, but catharsis was not one of them. There is hardly the emotional closure of that fateful 2006 series; the Mavs aren’t wrestling with big brother or with their own identity as a contender. There are no subplots of revenge or validation. Rather, the emotion that fueled the Mavs to victory in five games over the Spurs is the very same that I feel right now: pride. This is a veteran team with a lot to prove, but also one with enough invested in themselves to fight and fight hard. And, for the first time in years, this is a Mavericks team you can be proud of. We haven’t seen the end of this playoff run, but as of right now, I feel nothing but pride for the boys in blue, the quasi-underdogs considered down for the count all season long.
The Spurs simply could not get a defensive stop to save their playoff lives, a testament to both the Mavs’ ridiculous offensive output and just how far SanAn’s D has fallen. Dirk (31 points on 17 shots, 9 rebounds, 3 assists) was tremendous, and pulled a vintage performance out of his bag of tricks to absolutely smoke the Spurs. San Antonio was doubling harder than ever off of screens, but rather than pressure Dirk, they opted to trap the guard (either JET or Barea in most cases) and stop the ball movement. Barea was bottled up at times by taller defenders, but Terry saw the floor well and didn’t make any careless passes. So more often than not, you’d see a wide open Dirk standing at the elbow, while two Spurs chased around the little guys. If you’ve seen the Mavs’ ball movement in this series, it should be no surprise that Dirk found himself with the ball on quite a few occasions.
In the first quarter, I should’ve known that Tim Duncan (30 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) was dialed in when he score on two tough and one’s in a row. Obviously Duncan brought the circus with him. But while the first quarter was all Barnum and Bailey, the fourth was business time. Tim took full advantage of single coverage, and went right at both Erick Dampier and Dirk to score 12 points in the final frame without missing a shot. A noble effort to be sure, but ultimately, a futile one. In fitting fashion, the Spurs’ final game was a microcosm of the series: if Tony Parker (26 points on 11-21 shooting, 12 assists, 7 turnovers) had been spectacular instead of just pretty good (in a role reversal with Duncan), if the Spurs had just gotten a few stops, and if just ONE Spur had really picked up their scoring…
Call Josh Howard (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block) an X-Factor, call him the birthday boy, call him whatever you want; I’ll call him a damn good basketball player. The Mavs don’t win this game or this series without a healthy Josh Howard and a motivated Josh Howard, and to his credit he has been both. Maybe Josh isn’t at 100%, but he’s playing tough and scrapping every minute he’s on the floor. He’s scoring from all over the floor, he’s running in transition both ways, and he’s playing very intelligent defense. If you want a reason why Parker didn’t go nuts, credit Kidd and Barea, of course, but also Howard for providing the help D or cutting off the passing lanes to the corners. If you’ve been confused as to what the Mavs needed Howard to do in last season’s playoffs or in the early regular season, look no further than his contributions in this series. He’s scoring without trying too hard to be the man, he has become a more willing passer, and he’s working harder than ever on the defensive end to be in a position to make plays.
I said that Terry didn’t need to score 20 to help the Mavs win, and that was true…because he scored 19 and appeared to be back in the act. Somebody shined their flashlight under the JET’s bed to show him that no Bowens were waiting for him under there, and he responded by scoring 19 points on 7-14 shooting (and 3-5 from deep), notching 4 assists, and no turnovers. Virtually every Mav had a great game to close out Game 5, hopefully a wonderful omen of things to come in the Western Conference Semis.
This is one of those games where I could just go on and on down the roster, and thank them profusely for playing a fantastic game. Jason Kidd played solid defense as always, hit 4-9 on threes, and orchestrated the offense beautifully, even if his assist total (5) doesn’t show it. As far as I’m concerned, Kidd will never get enough credit for what he does offensively and defensively for this team, and fingers crossed that we won’t have to find out next season. Erick Dampier (11 points, 4-6 FG, 12 rebounds, including 4 offensive) was absolutely awesome, never stepping outside of himself but making his presence felt. Plus, if you factor in all of Damp’s tap-back rebounds, his night was just that much more productive. And while the Spurs’ reserves struggled (to make everything crystal clear, Pop chose not to even play Drew Gooden, and only played Roger Mason Jr. 12 minutes), J.J. Barea was as brilliant as ever, and he and Brandon Bass decided to make the second quarter their own with big play after big play to beef up the lead.
More specific thoughts on this series to come, but first, some closing thoughts:
- Even though Dirk was able to score big, his passing was as impressive as ever. Big ups to an unselfish superstar who doesn’t feel the need to force things, and big ups to a team that makes it so their superstar doesn’t have to.
- I would’ve loved to see Hollins bounce around the court, but he only got in the game for thirty seconds in the third quarter. Frowny face.
- If you’re a Spurs fan, and you didn’t like the calls in this game, I feel you. Some of those calls were a bit odd, and some were just bad. But it’s something that every team faces at one time another, and blah, blah, blah, you know the drill. Not having Manu is a legitimate excuse. Not having the refs’ favor, that’s something else.
- Umm…WE WON. YES.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Erick Dampier. Out of all the Mavs, he may not have had the biggest scoring contribution or the most versatile contribution, but Damp set up down low, drew some fouls, finished strong, and hit the boards with all of his burly bear-like might. I like what I saw, and I’m giving him the star. Congrats, Damp.