“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
-Gregg Popovich, before this game
Dallas was supposed to repeat a lot of things from their Game 1 performance, but playing miserable defense wasn’t one of them. Shots on the perimeter were to be strongly contested, Parker’s life was supposed to be as difficult as possible, and the Spurs’ supporting cast was sure to fall back to earth. None of the above came to fruition, and the only thing sloppier and less effective than the Mavs’ offense was their defense. Mavericks: you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.
Much like Saturday, the Mavs were hit in the mouth early. But all the moments in Game 1 where the team seemed gutsy or resilient were vanquished under Tony Parker’s (38 points, 16-22 FG, 8 assists) thumb. The Mavs trapped, they switched, and they hedged…or at least they engaged in defensive sequences that remotely looked like they should have been those things. I’m not sure that Parker is ever fully solvable if he has the mind to drive at will and the determination to break a team’s spirit, but it’s certainly possible to slow the guy. The Mavs couldn’t even accomplish that much, and the myriad of strategies they threw at TP were poorly executed due to technique and personnel.
The defensive ineptitude surely started on the perimeter with Antoine Wright, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea, but the interior defense of Brandon Bass, Dirk Nowitzki, and Erick Dampier left plenty to be desired. The worst part is that it wasn’t just Parker: the perimeter guys had enough trouble staying in front of Roger Mason, and Drew Gooden went Tim Duncan all over Dirk, Damp, and Bass. Tony Parker’s huge night is simply the one number punchline for how awful the Mavs’ defense was, when in reality they had trouble stopping anyone wearing white.
Part of the blame for Parker’s explosion has to rest on Rick Carlisle’s shoulders. Frankly, I’m not sure how any team that knew Parker and the Spurs were their opponents could be so ill-prepared to defend the high screen and roll. The playcall is practically sewn on to the front of San Antonio’s jerseys. Parker’s quick and intelligent, and to allow him to abuse your defense on the screen like that is simply poor preparation. Erick Dampier has never been great in that facet of defending big men and it’s arguably the weakest point of Dirk’s defensive repertoire, but both need to do a much better job of hedging and recovering after the screen. The Mavs were literally running into each other in their scramble to deny Parker the lane. Embarassing.
But please, don’t be naive enough to hinge this defensive breakdown on Kidd’s shoulders. And don’t put everything on Barea, or Terry, or Wright, either. Only with a true team effort can a defense churn out such a wholly and completely miserable display.
Still, give Parker his credit. Though he had plenty of looks at wide open jumpers, he used every advantage given to him to shape the game with his will. He converted tough shot after tough shot in the lane, and continued to make defenders look foolish with his game-changing speed and tremendous ability to change directions on a whim. This is one of the best point guards in the league, and he made sure everyone in Dallas knew that.
To make matters worse, the Mavs overwhelmingly efficient offense nevere showed up. The Spurs defense was suffocating, with frequent double teams and on-court pressure from angles I didn’t know existed. The Spurs honed in on every Mav that could potentially give them trouble, and Dirk’s off-night made things pretty difficult. And by off-night I mean off-night — he airballed a three pointer. Jason Terry (16 points on 15 shots) found a little breathing room, but just wasn’t quite right offensively. Josh Howard (3-8 FG, 7 points, 3 rebounds) was nowhere to be found, despite his tremendous performance in Game 1. Somehow, the Spurs managed to do the unthinkable: they tightened up and negated the offensive impact of every player on the Mavs roster.
Despite all of Dallas’ offensive and defensive flaws, they did manage to make a few runs. The lead constantly seemed to drift back to the 11-13 range (even as late as the third quarter), occasionally even dipping into single digits. The Spurs looked like they just couldn’t separate, because every significant increase in the lead was met with an eventual spurt by the Mavs. But then, they separated. Boy, did they separate.
Tim Duncan (13 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) showed up, but frankly he didn’t have to do all that much. Having a future Hall-of-Famer that can go to work in the post is surprisingly irrelevant when the opposing team’s defense will cede points to anyone holding a roundball.
Gregg Poppovich clearly lied: the Spurs’ coverage of Brandon Bass was much more aggressive. In Game 1, Bass didn’t so much as smell a double-team, but in Game 2, he had two defenders breathing down his neck every time he caught the ball on the wing. Barea was apparently enough of a bother to draw the attention of Bruce Bowen, and it pretty much shut Barea down. J.J. made a few shots, but his attempts in the lane were quickly smothered by all kinds of help defense. The results weren’t pretty. The height advantage that Spurs’ defenders have on Barea can make adjusting to him much easier, and last night it limited J.J. from getting anything going inside or penetrating cleanly enough to get out a good pass to the perimeter.
The three point disparity wasn’t even there. Both teams attempted 18 threes, with the Mavs making 6 and the Spurs making 7. Dallas just got punked in every way possible by the Spurs, be it by means of tremendous defense, offensive penetration, or just Tony Parker. All the credit for this win goes to Pop and Parker; the coach made every adjustment necessary to take away the most dangerous weapons on the court, stop penetration, and prevent Dallas from rebounding on the offensive end, and Parker just single-handedly decimated the Mavs’ defense.
- The flagrant foul called on Jason Terry in the second quarter was ridiculous. But, to be fair, Dirk was getting plenty of calls, and Terry’s drawn foul to end the first half is typically a no-call. I’m not saying it wasn’t a foul, just that under those circumstances, it’s rarely called.
- The Mavs used a zone defense that slowed the Spurs down for a few possessions to end the first half, but it didn’t get much play in the second half. I wouldn’t mind seeing more.
- Dallas did as much to kill their own momentum as SanAn did to stifle it. Every time the Mavs’ offense was finally putting something together, JET would launch a quick, contested three, or Josh Howard would over-do it by driving into three defenders without a plan of attack. These are not smart basketball plays, and though they’re not a reason why you lose by 21, they are reasons why you lose.
- Don’t forget to stop by for the live chat at 2 EST/1 CST to talk about this one.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: I’m not really sure there is one. There was no star in the losing cause, no potential savior. There was no one. In fact, let’s just give it to Tony Parker. He was good at basketballing.