Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FTR ORR TOR
Dallas 98.0 103.1 46.0 12.0 29.6 7.1
San Antonio 102.0 54.8 20.2 26.4 8.9
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Behold, the power and savvy of Gregg Popovich. The top coach in the league has managed to create a system where prematurely emptying his bench in the face of a deficit actually puts all of the pressure on the Spurs’ opponent. That inverted dynamic — which has far from a perfect success rate, but still manages to make some opponents tighten up — is a pretty brilliant way to both manage the minutes of San Antonio’s top players and lend weight to the comeback efforts of his reserves. In the face of a double-digit Maverick lead, no Spur starter played beyond the 2:44 mark in the third quarter (save nine seconds from Kawhi Leonard); Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, and James Anderson were left to fend for their lives against a Dallas offense that had been humming all game long, and that group responded by dropping 33 points in the fourth quarter, making seven of eight three-point attempts in the frame, and nearly finishing off the defending champs with a baseline jumper at the buzzer.
If not for Green’s fingertips grazing the ball ever so slightly as the backboard illuminated, this would be a triumph for a talented core of San Antonio role players. As it stands, it’s still very much a triumph for San An, albeit one colored by the game’s unfortunate, uncompromising verdict. Dallas ran counterprogramming to the second-half narrative, recovering just enough from their lapses to earn extra minutes and a chance at redemption. The Mavs shouldn’t have squandered their lead, but the Spurs reserves — capable though they may be — never should have been in a position to win. In basketball, a game can only go by the script for so long before the final pages begin to write themselves, and this season, that self-scribing tends to happen without much regard for theme or continuity. Ultimately, this wasn’t a game of lessons for either team; after 53 minutes and a thrilling conclusion, all we’re really left with is a fitting tribute to a zany regular season that is predictable only in its unpredictability.
San Antonio shot 3-of-15 from deep in the first three quarters only to begin the fourth quarter with a stretch of unbeatable long-range offense. Dirk Nowitzki struggled from the field all night before hitting a crucial layup over two Spurs defenders and then fading into the background. Dallas’ offense was neither incendiary (as it was on Friday night against the Jazz) nor implosive (as it has been for much of the season), as the Mavs somehow executed to the frequency of white noise. James Anderson, just days from being deemed an inessential element of a San Antonio team that declined his option for next season, became a vital part of an improbable comeback. A typically strong-handed Mavericks team bobbled four uncontested defensive rebounds out of play. Lamar Odom supposedly turned a corner on Friday, but played 18 unspectacular minutes on Sunday evening. Tony Parker, San Antonio’s surest creator, was halted completely from getting into the lane and held to just nine points in 27 minutes. Vince Carter, in just his second game back from injury, continued to aggressively pour in points in impressive — and efficient — fashion. Tiago Splitter had just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, but was crucial in a way that both exceeds — and yet was still well within — the box score. The oft-disregarded Brendan Haywood thrived, while the mid-renaissance Shawn Marion struggled. Jason Terry did what Jason Terry often does, but some of his most heroic makes were predicated on hitting shots he really shouldn’t have been taking in the first pace.
After recounting all of this, I ask you, dear reader, with bated breath: What do we really know about the dynamics of this game and this matchup after watching Sunday’s events unfold? What is there to be gleaned from an outing of truly entertaining basketball so random as to be uninstructive?
Then again, maybe the answers to these questions are irrelevant. Maybe, in this particular case, there is nothing to do but nod to one another, knowing nothing more than the fact that we were all there — at the American Airlines Center, in front of our television sets, or hunched over our computers — eagerly awaiting improbability after improbability. That may not be enough to satisfy the most hardened basketball empiricist, but on this occasion, I suppose it’s good enough for me.