“He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end.“
-Harry Emerson Fosdick
The conclusions of the past two games have been shockingly similar given their vastly different contexts. The features of Game 3 were greatly exaggerated in Game 2, with the highs even more impressive and the lows even more debilitating, but remarkably enough, both exhilarating contests wrapped up in more or less the same capacity: the Mavs overcame a slow start to put themselves in position to win, but the formula that brought Dallas their crucial, game-changing run had become stale by late in the fourth. A bounce of the ball here, a turnover there, and Tony Parker from everywhere, and the Mavs’ hopes of taking a 2-1 series lead completely dissipated.
Dallas stayed competitive thanks to an incredibly successful stint by the three-guard lineup, with J.J. Barea (14 points, four assists, four rebounds), Jason Terry (17 points, 6-of-15 FG, two assists), and Jason Kidd (seven points, 1-of-6 FG, five assists, seven rebounds) completely erasing Shawn Marion (seven points and two turnovers in 17 minutes) and Caron Butler (two points and three turnovers in 15 minutes) from the rotation. Aside from a three and a half minute stint from Marion in the beginning of the third quarter, neither Shawn nor Caron played in the second half. Barea certainly earned his playing time, as he put together his most impressive game of the playoffs and complemented his much-needed offense with solid defense. Kidd and Terry, however, were present for the Mavs’ crucial third quarter run, but uncomfortably silent for large stretches of the game.
The Spurs defense was just too strong, and they worked the Mavs into 24-second violations and late-clock shots with alarming frequency. Dallas seemed rattled in getting into their offensive success, which is as much a credit to the Spurs’ excellent defensive coverage as it was their physicality. Blowing the whistle on whistle-blowing is pretty useless, but if nothing else I should at least point out the differential in foul calls (25 called on the Mavs to 16 on the Spurs) and free throw attempts (26 for the Spurs to 15 for the Mavs). Those differentials are obviously distorted by the shot attempts taken by the two teams, and particularly so by the Mavs’ reluctance to drive to the basket in the fourth quarter, but it should still be noted. And it is so noted.
Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic again (35 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds), but he was but one man against an army. Manu Ginobili rebounded from a scoreless first half and a nasal fracture to finish with 15 points, Tim Duncan (25 points, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) was as terrific inside as you’d expect him to be, and Tony Parker (26 points on 13 shots) came off the bench to three tough shots in a row to finish off the Mavs. All three were long, two-point jumpers, and at least somewhat contested if not heavily so. Parker knocked them down without hesitation, and each ensuing fist pump was a punch in the gut to the Mavericks’ cause.
Also, get this: the Spurs didn’t make a single three-pointer. Not one. Dallas had eight makes out of 20 attempts (40%), but even that wasn’t quite enough to make up for the Spurs’ superior defense and Parker’s resolve. There were stretches of this game where the Mavs looked rather terrific defensively, largely thanks to the effectiveness of the zone. Kidd roamed within the zone D to add even more pressure on San Antonio’s ball-handlers, and the Spurs were forced into turnovers and difficult shots. It was that defense that had Dallas up by nine points in the third quarter, but Manu’s penetration, the threat of Duncan around the rim, and Parker’s shooting were ultimately the Mavs’ undoing.
Maybe having Caron Butler or Shawn Marion in at the end of the game helps, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea played essentially the entire second half, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry not far behind. There was a lot riding on what had to be tired legs, and despite what was, at times, a rather resilient effort, the Mavs fumbled this one away. They had a win in their grasp, but couldn’t seal it, and should the series end up going to the Spurs, Games 2 and 3 will be the ones that got away.
More analysis to come, along with closing thoughts.