“Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.”
When I watch this season’s Mavs, I feel like I’m watching something special. The play isn’t always sterling and the team is hardly immortal, but their games (and particularly their wins) have a certain sublime quality that begs watching. It’s not so much a demand as it is a gentle nudge, a reminder to sit up and pay attention. And if the Mavs didn’t have everyone’s attention after their wins againt the Lakers and Jazz, they should definitely have it after pulling out two close wins over the Bucks and as of last night, the Spurs.
Both teams looked and played like they’d been decimated by injuries, and rightfully so. Shawn Marion, Josh Howard, and Erick Dampier sat out for Dallas, and Manu Ginobili joined Tony Parker among the wounded after straining his left groin early in the first quarter. Both teams looked completely out of sync offensively in the first half, with bad shot selection being the Mavs’ vice of choice and turnovers the Spurs’ poison. But the Spurs and the Mavs were careful not to lose too much ground, relying on energy and quickness to outwit and outwork one another. While those early offensive struggles didn’t offer much in the way of a prelude, they still dictated the theme of things to come: as the Mavs do, so do the Spurs, and as the Spurs do, so do the Mavs. It was as if both teams were connected by a string, and as soon as one began to rise, the other inevitably followed suit.
The second half was a welcome change of pace. Drew Gooden (17 points on 8-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, three blocks, one steal, and just one turnover) had welcomed the challenge of defending Tim Duncan with open arms, and the third quarter glorified his offense to the same level as his hard-working defense. There must have been something on Gooden’s bulletin board, because I’ve never seen him play with such inspiration or determination, especially not in a Maverick uniform. On a nightly basis, I expect Drew to be solid. But Gooden took that expectation and crushed it in his bare hands, stood against Duncan and lived to tell about it, and then sent me a very angry letter for merely expecting competence. Drew was near every loose ball or potential rebound, his defensive fundamentals were sound (and held Duncan to 22 points on 22 shots), and he didn’t try to force his way on offense. The Mavs don’t even sniff the win without Gooden’s contributions.
Dirk Nowtizki did more than his fare share during the third, but really made the game his in the fourth and fifth frames. Gregg Popovich’s decision to through primarily one-on-one coverage at Dirk was misguided if not completely flawed, and to make matters worse, Matt Bonner drew the primary responsibility despite the vastly superior defense of Antonio McDyess. I’ve been very impressed with McDyess’ defense on Dirk in two games this season, as Dice has both the physical (strength and length) and mental attributes (preparation, understanding of Dirk’s tendencies) to cause Nowitzki some problems. But Pop opted for Bonner, a decision which resulted in more open looks than you could count on your hands and a few trips to the line to boot. With Jason Terry (13 points, 4-19 FG), the Spur-Killer, struggling to find his shot, Dirk decided that tonight would be one of those nights. He unleashed a flurry of picturesque jumpers over the outstretched hands of Bonner, Duncan, McDyess, and anyone foolish enough to get in his way. And to top it all off, Dirk was far more than a stop-gap defensively after Drew Gooden fouled out late in the fourth. Dirk bodied up Duncan and made every look in the post a difficult one. The he ran the court, made a few and ones, dropped a 3-point bomb on Spurs’ comeback hopes, and called it a day.
The Mavs were decimated in terms of 3-point percentage, made less of their shots overall, were outrebounded, attempted less free throws, and were out assisted. But the Spurs committed 18 turnovers to the Mavericks’ five. That’s where the Spurs missed the steady hands of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and that’s where Dirk Nowitzki and Drew Gooden were able to capitalize.
- Hoorah for the point guards! Jason Kidd again played effectively despite his inability to score (8 assists, 11 rebounds, 4 steals), Rodrigue Beaubois proved that he can do wrong but still shot 50% from the field and scored 8, and J.J. Barea had another effective game against San Antonio with 9 points and 3 assists, not to mention a +14 in terms of on-court team production.
- If near-dunks were pennies, the Mavs would be a few cents richer today. Kris Humphries’ ‘almost poster’ of Tim Duncan would have been one for the ages, and Tim Thomas would have won over the fan base quickly had his dunk gone through. But alas, some things just aren’t meant to be.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Drew Gooden. Dirk gets plenty of love, but Gooden’s terrific defensive performance earns him a sticker. I called, and Gooden answered, and I couldn’t be happier.