Game 1 – Sun May 3 Dallas at Denver 2:30PM ABC
Game 2 – Tue May 5 Dallas at Denver 9:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Sat May 9 Denver at Dallas 4:00PM ESPN
Game 4 – Mon May 11 Denver at Dallas 8:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Wed May 13 Dallas at Denver TBD TNT
Game 6 * Fri May 15 Denver at Dallas TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Sun May 17 Dallas at Denver TBD TBD
Denver it is. The good news is that I’ll launch into full preview mode soon. The bad news is that even after New Orleans kept the game close for a half, they were still thoroughly trounced by a Denver team that was clearly ready to rock. It’s gonna be a great series.
Jason Kidd, on what I believe to be the mantra of the neo-Mavs (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “Patience,” Kidd said. “That’s the key for us. “As much as we wanted it to happen last year, it didn’t. It shows the character of this team to be patient and come back and put ourselves in this position. We got four big wins and now it starts over.”
The Nuggets-Hornets series all boiled down to toughness. Here’s to hoping the Mavs all go tough guy on the Nuggets, and refuse to let the physicality get to them.
Bill Simmons (it’s a long one): “To be clear: The Mavs still gave up waaaaaaaaay too much and should have fired their coach before shaking things up; there’s an 81 percent chance they’d be just as unstoppable with Devin Harris in Kidd’s place. But you can’t deny Kidd’s effect on Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Dirk — he lives to make them better and they are better. Beyond that, the Mavs have excellent chemistry for the first time I can ever remember. Part of that might be Nowitzki emerging as a leader, but again, maybe that doesn’t happen without Kidd.The most interesting wrinkle to me: Of any “former great,” with the possible exception of Karl Malone, Kidd did the best job of accepting his weaknesses and accentuating his strengths. He can’t defend good point guards anymore, and he always shot a poor percentage. Fine. But he can run a team. He can make 3-pointers as long as he’s wide open. He can advise and lead. He can run fast breaks as well as anyone. He can still jump passing lanes and swipe a dumb pass. He has recreated himself as a still-effective complementary player. That’s something that Gary Payton couldn’t do, or Chris Webber, or Allen Iverson, or Charles Barkley, or Larry Johnson, or Mitch Richmond, or Glen Rice, or Penny Hardaway, or Jermaine O’Neal. … I mean, it’s hard to say, “I can no longer do everything from A through Z, but I can still do A, D, F, J, K and M, so that’s what I will do.”In a stroke of luck, Kidd might make it the rest of the playoffs — a postseason that featured a remarkable slew of penetrating point guards — without facing anyone else who will chew him up like Tony Parker did. In Round 2, Chauncey Billups is a perfect matchup for him, a herky-jerky, physical jump-shooter who Kidd can bump and grind. In Round 3, he’d go against Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and the Artist Formerly Known As Jordan Farmar, or as I like to call them, the Poop Club Sandwich. In the Finals, he’d get Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson. That’s why I see Kidd gaining steam as the playoffs keep going, this rejuvenated Dallas team making the Western Conference finals, and even the Lakers sweating out that Finals berth more than people anticipate.
You know what else? A reader (can’t remember his name) pointed out something to me that I passed along in a podcast and now I will mention here: Kidd is the only guy who can defend LeBron and Kobe. Why? They respect him too much. They don’t want to kick his butt. It doesn’t make them feel good. They settle for jumpers instead of just destroying him off the dribble in a goofy display of guilt and respect. Back in the ’60s, Wilt rarely unleashed against Russell because he liked him so much. … In fact, that was Russell’s ploy, to make Wilt like him so he wouldn’t annihilate him. I don’t think Kidd thinks that way; the situation is what it is. Those guys love him from their Redeem Team days and have no interest in eviscerating him now. But as strange as this sounds, Jason Kidd’s advanced age and declining defensive skills might be Dallas’ best chance against the Lakers and Cavs. Call it the Pity Theory. Just wait.”
Another nugget from Simmons: “Q: I love the NBA’s new playoff commercials, so what would be the funniest slow-motion, black-and-white commercial to see with that piano music playing?A: I thought of this idea myself and then a few readers sent in similar thoughts. The funniest ever would be Bennett Salvatore’s bogus call from 40 feet away of Dirk’s slight shove on Wade in Game 5 of the 2006 Finals, followed by the crazed reaction of Dallas’ bench. This would be the funniest one ever. It just can’t be topped. I would laugh and laugh.”
The first round is in the books, and the Spurs are no more (for now). There have been a lot of micro-level observations about the Mavs’ play and their responses to the Spurs’ specific strategies, but it’s about time that we make a good, honest appraisal of where this team is.
The Mavs have some fight in them. In the regular season, the Mavs could gut it out with contenders one night and then blow one against Milwaukee another. But we’ve seen a completely different look from the team in the last five games (well, four of the last five games). Where the old Mavs would roll over and hit the snooze button, the new Mavs leap out of bed fully energized and karate chop the alarm clock in half. They’ve been able to leap gaudy offensive efficiency numbers in a single bound, and their defense has been passable enough to secure wins. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan took their turns going on mini-runs in this series, and the Mavs built on the resilency they showed in the final games of the regular season and fought back. Call it experience, call it better offensive execution, or call it mental fortitude, but when the Mavs get hit they’re hitting back. That’s pretty huge progress from a squad that tended to fold like origami when faced with the slightest coercion a few months ago.
The Mavs are not an elite defensive team, but they’re also not a bad one. They currently rank 8th among playoff teams in defensive efficiency at 102.9, which for comparison’s sake would have ranked 7th in the regular season. They’re notably better than Houston (104.0), one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs. The sample size is hideously small, but there is a pretty big piece of anecdotal evidence that goes in the Mavs’ favor: against the Spurs, the Mavs were able to stop the Spurs from doing what they wanted to do. Poppovich wants to use Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as a mechanism to open up three point shooters, which can kill teams from the corners. Parker and Duncan are obviously still big-time contributors, but San Antonio’s offensive strategy hinges on those shooters. I’d be lying if I said the Mavs completely took away that strategy. Parker’s deep penetration still allowed plenty of open looks. But as the series went on and the team resigned itself to the fact that Tony Parker’s going to be able to get his, the approach shifted. Kidd and Barea began playing the angles, hoping to limit Parker and funnel him into the help rather than stop him. And on the perimeter, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and even Dirk were locked in place on the shooters, either expecting the kick-out or rotating perfectly. The defensive rotations and shot contesting in Game 5 was some of the best we’ve seen from the Mavs all season. Don’t discount that, especially when this offense only needs a little breathing room to win.
Josh Howard is back. We all had our fingers crossed that throwback Josh wasn’t a mirage, and we lucked out. Frankly, he deserves a post all to himself, and he’s going to get one. But for now, it’s worth noting that there are four players that are legitimate stars on this team, even if the stat sheet isn’t in their favor every night.
The bench seems deeper than ever, and the mob is ready to contribute in a big way. J.J. Barea was pegged as a potential X-factor for the Spurs series, but Brandon Bass’ and Ryan Hollins’ contributions were nearly as valuable. The ability to throw a variety of defensive looks at Tim Duncan to keep him on his toes while also having a safety net for Erick Dampier’s foul trouble was indispensible. James Singleton has been lost in the shuffle of Josh Howard’s return, but he could be a piece of the puzzle to defend Carmelo Anthony (supposing Denver guts out another win). The success of Barea and Bass make stopping the offense that much more difficult, and they’ve eased the burden on the big guns by playing smart, gutsy basketball. Plus, Antoine Wright was a non-factor in the last series, but he’ll be an important defensive piece in a series against either the Nuggets or Hornets. At various points throughout the season, I’ve worried that a bench consisting of Barea, Hollins, Bass, and Singleton was akin to loading up your pistol with peanuts when you ran out of bullets. Not only did they each prove me wrong individually, but on the whole this bench is stronger than I’ve given them credit for.
Blocking out a star won’t stop its light from shining through. The bench was so successful in part because of all the attention Dirk and JET received. The Spurs were clearly ready to let Kidd, Josh, and the rest of the bunch decide the fate of this series, but those open shots and clear drives don’t happen unless Terry is getting trapped on the wing or Dirk is doubled at the free throw line. Both of their shot attempts were down, but their floor presence was unmistakable. Dirk showed off his much-improved passing game, and both he and Terry patiently waited out the defense. Yet even with both shooting significantly fewer shots, the Mavs’ offense looked unstoppable at times. The ball is moving to the open man, the turnover rate is as impressive as ever, and Dirk and JET are still making their mark despite their point totals. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still openly weep when Dirk goes for 50, but every time he makes a bullet pass to a cutter, an adorable little angel puppy gets its wings. Aww.
Jason Terry, with a pretty strange post-game comment (emphasis mine), via Mavs Moneyball: “Over the last three years we’ve obviously been through a lot of adversity — not getting out of the first round. But that’s not our goal. Our goal is to win a championship. Obviously there is some urgency, with Jason Kidd probably not going to be with us next year. The time is now. We feel we are still under the radar. Nobody expects us to win. We are definitely not going to be favored in the next series, so we all have to continue to play and keep it going.” We can fret all day about this one sentence, but who is to say with any certainty what Kidd’s plans are? Obviously Kidd himself is leaving the issue for the summer, as he focuses on this playoff run. I thank him for that. His head has clearly been in the game, and as long as he continues to play at such a high level, you won’t hear any complaint from me. It’s an off-season issue that’s going to be answered one way or another over the summer, so rather than read between the words, let’s just ignore it for now.
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Jason Terry declared before the playoffs began, before he knew San Antonio was the opponent, that the Mavericks would get out of the first round. Terry believed the emotional baggage that had dragged down the Mavericks in the last two postseasons had been shed. It looks like he was right. These Mavericks have always been at their best when expectations are lowest. They have shown us this side of their personality time and time again.” I know the idea of only succeeding when expectations are low can seem like an insult, but try not to think of it that way. Rather than A, the Mavericks are B. One’s no better than the other, they’re just different.
Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “Dirk was dominant. He was really, really good. Once again, if there were coaching errors in this series, they appeared to come from the San Antonio bench, and this time they decided to start the game with Bruce Bowen on Howard, Parker on JJB, Finley on Kidd, and Bonner trying to defend Dirk 1-on-1? Ummmm. Dirk scored 11 of the Mavs first 16, and the Mavs were up 16-6. Time out, Spurs. Change your strategy, but was the damage already done? The margin for most of the rest of the game was about 10 points. Dirk had 31 points, 9 rebounds, 3 sneaky-nice assists, and some solid defense on Tim Duncan in spurts. Well done, big man.”
Tony Parker, in an interview (translated) with TP9.com via 48 Minutes of Hell via SpurtsTalk: “I’m disappointed but I’m not angry. Dallas was stronger. You had to accept it. Their win was logical. Now, I hope that San Antonio will make good job this summer to improve the team. Maybe that this elimination will bring something positive. Spurs wanted to continue with this team until 2010. Now, if we want to stay competitive next year, we have to make big changes.”
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “If Dallas plays Denver in Round 2, Erick Dampier’s role might be completely different. (Give me some time to research the thing, OK? Damp-vs.-Nene doesn’t sound all that fun at this moment.) But for now, props to Damp, who in Games 1 and 2 was the most consistent Mav out there, was pretty close to as good in Games 3 and 4, and in G5, was all about guarding Duncan one-on-one. Duncan scored 30 to go with eight rebounds. Good. But Damp – with little rest due to his 41 minutes…was good for 11 points and 12 rebounds. His second double-double of the series. And that, ladies and gents, is as close to negating Tim Duncan as you’re gonna get.”
Make sure to get your tickets ASAP if you’re planning on boogieing on down to the AAC. They go on sale today.
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: “There are several other, more microscopic issues I had with tonight’s game, the most glaring of which was Popovich’s decision to have Ime Udoka cover Dirk Nowitzki. I know a lot of Spurs fans disagree but I think Ime is a decent role player. Nonetheless, he possesses nowhere close to the height or savvy required to cover Dirk. Kurt Thomas did a far better job against Nowitzki while on the floor.”
Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News: “Now, the Mavericks may not exactly be poised to make a championship run, either, but in beating San Antonio rather handily, Rick Carlisle has them peaking at the absolute right time. They will need it in the next series when they almost certainly will face Denver, which is just carving up the New Orleans Hornets in record-setting fashion. And they will need much from Dirk Nowitzki, which is what the Mavericks finally got from their 7-footer in Game 5.”
“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.
But I think the Mavs just won themselves a playoff series.
It’s over, it’s finished, and the Spurs have been properly buried and staked through the heart. There will be no more fears of Zombie Duncan eating out your brains, and no more moments of panic when San Antonio’s role players appear to be turning things around. Your Dallas Mavericks officially defeated the San Antonio Spurs on April 28, 2009, and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2006.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Josh Howard, Rick Carlisle, J.J. Barea, Dirk Nowitzki, and last but not least Michael Finley, the man who sealed this matchup with his clutch-as-hell three in the final game of the regular season.
The full recap treatment coming shortly, but in the meantime, put on your dancing shoes, crank up those speakers, and blast this puppy:
Jason Terry has averaged 12 points per game on 35% shooting in this series. His PER is down a full 10 points (from 19.3 to 9.3), his true shooting percentage is down 12 points, and his effective field goal percentage down is down 12 points. Under any normal circumstances I’d send in a police report for JET’s sudden disappearance. Big games are Terry’s thing, and his heroics have been a complete non-factor in this series.
Bruce Bowen did a number on JET, but in doing so left Josh Howard and J.J. Barea free to spread their wings. But then, something strange happened: when Bowen’s talents were needed elsewhere, Terry’s jumper didn’t come back. It could have run off to elope with Matt Bonner’s, or maybe it’s still hiding under the bed from big, bad Bruce. Regardless, the one Mav that oozes confidence no matter the occasion seems to have lost it in his stroke. The numbers say that Jason Terry is long overdue for a big game, but I just don’t see it happening against the Spurs. I don’t know if anyone can fully understand why his shot has abandoned him, but Terry isn’t hitting on wide open looks from midrange and long range, virtually automatic shots for him this season.
Jason Terry has garnered an awful lot of defensive attention over the course of this season, but he’s never encountered anything quite like this. For once, Terry is being doubled off of the two man game (name drop!). For once, Terry had drawn the Spurs’ top perimeter defender. I wouldn’t say Terry’s in a shooting slump, because these events are largely explainable: San Antonio is playing some great defense on Terry. So good, in fact, that they don’t even have to guard him to guard him.
If the Mavs are able to make it to the next round, we won’t have to worry about Terry’s shooting. The percentages will pick up, he’ll show up in a big way, and he’ll make sure that the folks in Denver (or, as a formality, New Orleans) remember his name. But for the rest of this series, I wouldn’t count on the JET taking off.
Luckily for Terry, he doesn’t need to score 20. The Spurs are going to try to claw their way out of this 3-1 hole. Dirk, Josh, Kidd, the bench, and maybe even the Spurs’ own shooters will do their best to bury them. All the JET needs to do is bide his time, chip in when he can, and be there to put one final shovel of dirt on the Spurs’ grave.