Thermodynamics: Week 4

Posted by Travis Wimberly on November 23, 2012 under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Fire and Ice

Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy

A day late (blame the tryptophan-induced coma), but never a dollar short. It’s time for our weekly breakdown of the Mavs’ three hottest and three coldest performances.

This was an interesting week for the Mavs. They were blown out by the Indiana Pacers, but then bounced back the next night in Cleveland against a bad (though young and spry) Cavaliers squad. After a fairly woeful home loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Mavs proceeded to take down the league-leading New York Knicks on the strength of a (mostly) impressive second-half comeback.

So who was hot? And who was not? I’m glad you asked….

Week 4 (@Pacers, @Cavaliers, Warriors, Knicks)

FIRE

1) OJ Mayo

Make it three in a row on the hot list for Mayo. Once again, the Mavs’ starting shooting guard was excellent offensively. He shot 32-of-60 (53%) on the week, including 10-of-21 (48%) from long range. He led the Mavs in scoring all four games, dropping 19 points in each of the first two games and 27 points in each of the latter two. His assist numbers weren’t great (3.5 per game), but they didn’t need to be. With Dirk Nowitzki still on the mend, Mayo’s primary responsibility is to score. He’s doing just that, and he’s doing so quite efficiently. Mayo is currently 8th in the NBA in scoring (22.2 PPG), and among the top 10 scorers in the league, he has the lowest usage rate (25.3%) and the the highest effective field-goal percentage (61%). In other words, Mayo isn’t racking up points by dominating the ball. He’s being judicious, taking mostly good shots, and making them at a very impressive (though likely unsustainable) clip.

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Learn to Fly

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 3, 2010 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2010-09-02 at 4.40.09 PM

Whether wide-eyed, confident, or completely brash, all rookies share in their need to learn. Each first-year player earns a ticket into the big leagues by way of their physical skills, but from there, no rook is excused from the pursuit of basketball betterment. Needless to say, it’s a gradual process of refinement, familiarity, and growth, and each player moves at their own pace.

That said, don’t mistake player development for a solo endeavor. Even though nothing (and no one) can force a given player to put in quality time on the practice court or in the film room, professional athletes are blessed with coaches, trainers, and the most sacred of all, mentors.

The relationship between mentor and protégé is often assumed. Because Jason Kidd is experienced, Rodrigue Beaubois is not, and the two happen to play similar positions, Kidd must be his mentor. Kidd must take him aside to teach him the tricks of the trade, to coach him up on reads, to impart invaluable wisdom on how to succeed as a creator in the NBA. That could very well be the case, but the fact that we assume it to be is a bit problematic. Additionally, the fact that we treat these mentor-protégé relationships with any congruency whatsoever is pretty ridiculous. Just as each player has his own path, he too has his own choice in mentor.

It has nothing to do with position. As Kevin Martin mentioned in an interview with Kevin Arnovitz last week for TrueHoop, Brad Miller, a completely dissimilar player in nearly every regard, had a notable impact on the young Martin:

“With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn’t really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I’d be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, “Slow down! You’re faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!” He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads — when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.”

Jump to San Antonio, where George Hill credits Spurs’ assistant Chad Forcier for his development, even with an All-Star point guard in his midst. Ask Kevin Garnett who helped to shape him as a player and person, and he’ll answer with Sam Mitchell, Terry Porter, and Malik Sealy. Turn to Dirk Nowitzki’s career, and the clearest formative influences are Holger Geschwindner, Don Nelson, and Steve Nash. The relationship needs a unique fit to function properly, and though a positional senior might have a lot to offer from a technical standpoint, that doesn’t always make it a natural pairing.

But sometimes it all works out. Sometimes a grouping is just too obvious to not work, and Mavs fans should hope that to be the case with Jason Terry and Dominique Jones.

Jones is putting in some pre-camp work with Terry and Rick Carlisle, with a specific emphasis on getting into game shape and refining Jones’ shot. Carlisle and his staff have the development of players like Jones in their collective job description, but for JET to work with Dominique is a little something extra. It’s a neat match. Terry and Jones may approach the game in completely different ways, but that’s part of what makes JET an excellent mentor candidate. Terry can help to work on Jones’ weaknesses as a player. He can teach Jones how to create space for himself against taller opponents. He can teach Jones the value of jumper repetition. He can teach Jones how to navigate the rough waters that all “combo guards” are forced to sail.

Maybe nothing ever comes out of this, and Jones’ current work is classified as a nice, one-time clinic with a Mavs vet. Still, these workouts have the potential to create a fairly interesting relationship between a rookie with a lot to learn and a successful player with plenty to teach.

Game 5: Dallas Mavericks 103, San Antonio Spurs 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 28, 2010 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

The key to change…is to let go of fear.”
-Roseanne Cash

I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of hard-fought, Mavs-Spurs nail biters, but there’s nothing quite like a refreshing change of pace. For a moment, we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief, and find some comfort in knowing that when the Mavs’ options were limited to winning or facing a long, long summer, they fought to secure the former. There really is hope for this team yet, and though winning the next two games poses a significantly greater challenge than Game 5 did, winning the series remains a distinct possibility. It’s hardly probable, mind you, and would require more than a bit of luck, but after putting together the most dominant game by either team in this series, the Mavs’ chances seem decidedly better than they were just a few hours ago.

Rick Carlisle tweaked his rotation from opening tip, opting to start Brendan Haywood (eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks) over Erick Dampier (who received a DNP-CD). Haywood responded wonderfully, and though he failed to reach double-digits in points, his impact was profound. Brendan emerged from series invisibility to grab six offensive boards in 30 minutes, and went to the free throw line 12 times as a result. The Mavs fed Haywood down low early, and his focus and intensity never lagged. He was a force defensively, and held Tim Duncan to 3-of-9 shooting and just 11 points. He also made a tremendous difference as a weak side defender, and Haywood looks to be an entirely different pick-and-roll defender than he was when the series began. In Game 5, Haywood defended like a player who not only knew the team’s defensive game plan, but was completely comfortable in executing every aspect of it. Interior shots were challenged, screens were hedged, and four poor, unfortunate attempts were never the same again.

Caron Butler (35 points on 24 shots, 11 rebounds, three steals, zero turnovers) who famously rode the pine in the second half of Game 3, was the hero on offense. I wrote earlier in the day that “expecting Caron Butler to radically change his shot selection…is a bit ridiculous at this point,” but that’s precisely what he did.  Caron shifted from his late Josh Howardian isolation step-back jumper-heavy style to an aggressive all-out assault. He still took plenty of jumpers, but many of those looks were on open spot-up attempts rather than attempts to run a one-man offense. Plus, Butler’s nine free throw attempts were no fluke; Caron attacked the rim both in the half-court and in transition, and that approach was rewarded with several trips to the free throw line. Butler’s career playoff high couldn’t have come at a better time, and should his suddenly renewed interest in getting to the rim last through the end of the weekend, it could go a long way in pushing the Mavs to an improbable series win.

However, the most promising development wasn’t simply Butler seeing the light, but the improved flow of the offense on the whole. For the first time since Game 1, Jason Kidd (10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals) looked like a game-changing player, and it’s hardly a coincidence that Dallas’ ball and player movement improved accordingly. There was no settling and no stopping the ball, as the once smothering Spurs defense looked quite mortal when faced with the challenge of containing a multifaceted Maverick offense. Dallas moved to strike quickly and efficiently, and San Antonio had absolutely no answer.

Dirk’s offensive rhythm is almost a given at this point, but even his shot attempts were markedly more open than they were in the first four games of the series. Once the game opens up for Butler, Haywood, Jason Terry (12 points on eight shots, four rebounds, two steals), J.J. Barea (eight points, four rebounds, four assists, five turnovers), and Shawn Marion (10 points, four rebounds), a Dirk-centered defense seems to miss the point.

The Mavs defended as well as they had all series, and with Tony Parker (18 points, 6-of-15 shooting, six assists) as the lone scorer on a Spurs team that was giving up plenty, the Spurs had little chance to mount a serious comeback. Manu Ginobili struggled from the field for the third game in a row (.333 in Game 3, .250 in Game 4, .286 in Game 5) thanks primarily to the defense of Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd, though defending a player of Manu’s caliber is always a team effort. George Hill, who was very nearly cast as a statue outside the AT&T Center following his performance in Game 4, finished with a mortal 12 points. Half of those game late in the third quarter after the game had already been decided, which officially qualifies him as a non-factor. The open shots that Hill feasted on were gone due to the Mavs’ quicker rotations, and without the benefit of wide open shots, George shifted to a rather limited form.

There’s no way of knowing whether anything from Game 5 will carryover into Thursday’s game, but there’s no reason to think that it can’t. Everything that the Mavericks did to dominate the Spurs is very sustainable, Caron Butler won’t necessarily be dropping 35 again, but the ball movement, the pick-and-roll defense, the balance — all reasonable goals for Game 6. It’s just a matter of execution, and with all of the Mavs’ big hitters getting plenty of rest, there’s no reason to expect Dallas to fail.

A few closing thoughts:

  • Dallas looked to get into transition at every opportunity (23 fast break points to San Antonio’s eight), which ended up playing a huge part in the rebounding battle. San Antonio’s focus on transition defense is logical and effective, but in this case pulled the Spurs’ bigs back to protect their own basket rather than hitting the offensive glass. Dallas had five more offensive rebounds and 11 more total rebounds as a result.
  • DeShawn Stevenson shaved his beard for the first time in 18 months. The Mavs have gone undefeated since.
  • Game 6 will be at 7 PM (central time) on TNT.
  • Eduardo Najera was called for another flagrant foul for catching Tony Parker’s head on a downward swipe, though this time he was assessed a flagrant one rather than a flagrant two. If Eddie picks up another flagrant foul, he’ll face (at least) a one game suspension. That could end up being pretty influential, as Najera played all of the backup center minutes in Dampier’s stead.
  • On that note: no word on why exactly Damp received a DNP-CD. Rick Carlisle sat Haywood for an extended stretch in Game 3 and has generally limited Brendan’s minutes throughout the series, but went back to him in Game 5 and it paid off.

It’s Pressing: Post-Game Pressers from Mavs-Spurs Game 4

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 27, 2010 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images.

Hit the jump for the full post-game treatment courtesy of the press conference types (Carlisle, Pop, Dirk, George Hill) as well as  a number of other locker room interviews following Game 4:

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Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Sebastian Pruiti did a fantastic job at NBA Playbook of picking out the specific ways the Spurs were able to beat the Mavs’ zone last night. For starters, combining the three-guard lineup with the zone means that Jason Kidd is often guarding the likes of DeJuan Blair, which isn’t any fun at all.
  • Johnny Ludden continues his coverage of the series with another excellent game-specific piece: “Hill and Blair felt right at home in the middle of it. Young and hungry, both from hardscrabble backgrounds, they have given the Spurs an edge, a toughness, they haven’t always had in recent years. They look the part – between the two of them they have more tattoos than the Spurs’ past three championship teams combined – and also play it. With Duncan making just a single shot and Ginobili missing 12, with Tony Parker looking almost as ordinary, Hill carried the Spurs’ offense, shedding his defenders with a series of crossovers and step-backs, throwing in five 3-pointers on his way to 29 points, just two fewer than the Spurs’ three stars totaled. The Mavs couldn’t keep a body in front of Hill or Blair, who scrapped and fought, frustrating the Dallas big men with his limitless energy…Three minutes into the second half, the Mavs led by 12. By the end of the third quarter, they were down seven, losing their grip on the game and maybe the series. Over the course of a week, Gregg Popovich’s dog pound had somehow transformed from poodle to pit bull.”
  • Kelly Dwyer, peeking Behind the Box Score: “…[the Mavs] did play sound D on Duncan. Tim missed some chippies, but he only got nine shots off, clearly a function of the Dallas defense. The Mavs just didn’t have enough shot-makers running things in the second half, as Jason Kidd’s 3-10 mark actually raised his playoff shooting percentage to 28.6 percent from the floor. Even with all these nasty stats, this might be my favorite series thus far. Competitive basketball from two teams that just don’t seem to know any better. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle should be on the hot seat for some of his rotation choices, but I’m openly rooting for seven games. Rotate accordingly, Rick.”
  • Kurt Helin at Pro Basketball Talk notes that the Mavs’ salary situation won’t allow for an easy off-season overhaul should they bow out early from the playoffs. I agree, but with one clarification: that’s never stopped Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson before. If they want to make moves and there are pieces available, they will make moves.
  • Shawn Marion, via Marc Stein: “I’ve been in this situation. It can be done. I don’t see no fat lady.”
  • According to Wayne Winston’s lineup ratings, the Mavs’ two most effective lineups have been of the three-guard variety.
  • Apparently the Suns started focusing on their defense because of Jason Terry.
  • ADDED: More glorious photo captioning courtesy of Doc Funk.
  • ADDED: Dan Devine compiled a bevy of perspectives on Caron Butler’s poor play in Game 4 for Ball Don’t Lie. (H/T Phil in the comments.)
  • ADDED: Henry Abbott, reflecting on a Hill-Beaubois parallel: “Watching that same game, I couldn’t help but marvel once again the value of young legs. Of course, in the playoffs, you can’t play anyone who makes a lot of mistakes, as some young players — including Hill, last year — do. But if you have a player who makes good decisions and has young legs … that’s awesome. Then, if you’re in Dallas, you have to wonder about the magical, but benched, Rodrique Beaubois. Was there no way to have him groomed to be ready, right now, to do such things for Dallas?”
  • ADDED: Charles Barkley thinks that Caron Butler “is probably [the Mavs'] second best player and you’ve got to play him.” Really, Chuck? Really? (H/T Ben Q. Rock)

San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 25, 2010 under Recaps | 15 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by a competent historian.”
-Lee Simonson

Admittedly, I’m a bit tired of the Mavs being both incredibly predictable and uncomfortably surprising.

On the offenseive end, the Mavs’ limitations are the same old, same old: there aren’t enough players around Dirk who can create shots. Jason Terry’s pull-up game is nice but only when he’s hitting, Caron Butler’s ability to drive is comforting but he’s both resistant of it and can’t finish, and the rest of the Mavs are largely situational scorers that can only complete plays if put in very specific situations. For all of the moves, the money, and the hype, these Mavericks are more or less the same team that they’ve always been.

You can’t walk into every Maverick game knowing precisely what to expect, though. For one, it’s unclear exactly which opposing role player Dallas will allow to thoroughly demean them. Maybe it’s George Hill, like it was tonight, or Richard Jefferson, like it was in Game 2, or DeJuan Blair, like it was in the regular season finale. That’s one regard in which the Mavs will always keep their fans guessing, as you never know when they might give up 52 points to Andre Miller.

That’s the Dallas Mavericks in a nutshell: too predictable on offense, too unpredictable on defense. They have yet to find the magical balance where they can still bewilder their opponents without also startling themselves, and it’s that quality that separates the Mavs from the Spurs, much less teams like the Cavs or the Magic. It’s that quality that has Dallas on the brink of elimination, facing a seemingly impossible three-game gauntlet just to move on to the second round.

That fate is, of course, made even more depressing by a few factors. The Mavs led by 15 points in the first half, and looked to be responding well to the pressure of a “must-win” Game 4. Tim Duncan scored just four points on 1-of-9 shooting and Manu Ginobili shot 25% from the field despite tying the team high in shot attempts. Dallas was right there at the end yet again, despite playing one of the worst third quarters in the post-Greg Ostertag era. You’d think in a game where the Mavs held a substantial lead, the opposing Big Three totaled just 37 points, and their own shortcomings were remedied by a shot at greatness, that something would end up going Dallas’ way. It didn’t. The lead was an empty memory, the Spurs’ stars’ struggles were erased by an incredible game from George Hill, and the Mavs’ second-half struggles should haunt them long into the off-season.

This was a game Dallas could have won and should have won. They just didn’t, and while there is some consolation in knowing that all of the Mavericks’ losses have been close, that very fact also makes them incredibly heartbreaking.

I think it would be difficult to fully comprehend everything that happened in the third quarter. It was a bizarre intersection of turnovers, poor defense, and iffy shot selection, and the magnitude of that 12 minutes (or even the first six minutes, in which Dallas went completely scoreless) likely warrants a post of its own. Maybe the Mavs will miraculously climb out of the 1-3 hole they now find themselves in, and we can all laugh and reminisce about how dire it all seemed. But should the rest of the series play out as expected, Dallas won’t have died rolling over in Game 5, toughing it out in Game 6, or clawing to the last in Game 7. They’ll have fallen whiffing, caving, and settling in the third quarter of Game 4.

It’s a shame.

As I mentioned before, George Hill (29 points, 11-of-16 shooting) was beyond impressive. He was deadly from the corners, but just as efficient from mid-range. That’s what surprised me most about Hill’s performance: most of his damage came strictly from jumpers, as a loose ball found its way into his hands or he was left open off a pick-and-roll rotation. With Dirk (17 points on a measly 10 shot attempts, 11 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) held down by Antonio McDyess and shackled by the Spurs’ double-teams, no Maverick could even attempt to match Hill’s scoring production. Terry (17 points, 5-of-11 FG, six rebounds) tried, and Butler (17 points on 18 shot attempts, three turnovers) really tried, but it wasn’t enough. Haywood and Kidd managed to chip in 10 apiece, but where is the scoring option that can take advantage of the double teams on Dirk? Where is the scorer that will elevate the Mavs above their .416 mark from the field?

The Spurs, by contrast, won in spite of subpar performances by their stars. Duncan couldn’t hit a thing (1-for-9), but it didn’t matter. Hill provided the scoring, DeJuan Blair was so good that his mortal offerings on the stat sheet (seven points, seven rebounds) seem like a joke, and Richard Jefferson was both more productive and more efficient than Tony Parker. It turns out that this is what depth looks like, and though the Mavs would seem to have it in spades, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson seemed to have done nothing more than make the world’s most ferocious paper tiger.

This post honestly isn’t supposed to be an outright hit; there are still plenty of positive things to take out of Game 4 and the effort was there even if the execution wasn’t. But suffering another close loss by the Spurs’ hand doesn’t make this 1-3 deficit any less glaring or any more manageable. Dallas will need something truly remarkable to advance to the second round, and based on how the Spurs have answered the Mavs at almost every turn, deeming a comeback ‘improbable’ may be too kind.

Sing to Me of the Man, Muse, the Man of Twists and Turns

Posted by admin on April 21, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

odysseus

A seven-game series between two closely matched teams is one of the most fascinating spectacles in all of sports. Like in any epic tale, the plot thickens with every quarter of every game as the dynamic between the two teams shifts and the tension rises. The battle for series supremacy does not stop between games as even now, each coaching staff works furiously in a battle of wits. What plot lines did we see in Game 1 and what adjustments can we expect to see in the games to come?

Usually it’s the losing team that is most in need of strategic adjustments so we’ll start with the Spurs. Coming into the game, the biggest question faced by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich defensively was how to stop the unstoppable force known as Dirk Nowitzki. Pop only has two options. He can play ball denial and rush an extra defender to double-team Dirk every time he touches the ball or he can play Dirk straight-up with the likes of Matt Bonner or Antonio McDyess. In last season’s playoffs, Popovich went with the first option, double-teaming Dirk throughout the series, limiting him to 19 points per game. However, as the defensive attention shifted to Dirk, the supporting cast stepped up as the Mavericks rolled over the Spurs in 5 games. In Game 1 of this series, Popovich elected to cover Nowitzki with a single defender for the most part, allowing Dirk to erupt for 36 points on just 14 shots in one of the most efficient scoring performances in the history of the NBA playoffs. When a solitary Spur was left alone on an island, Dirk showed that he would bully them, steal their lunch money, and then drain the shot after for good measure. On the flip side, Popovich might be thinking that it’s unlikely that Dirk Nowitzki will continue to shoot 86% for the rest of the series, so the unanswerable question remains. In Game 2, I expect to see more double-teams mixed in, challenging the Mavericks’ supporting cast to hit open shots. Realistically, I don’t think there is a strategy in the world that can stop Dirk right now, but if there is, trust Coach Popovich to find it.

Carlisle also elected to play the Spurs straight-up, for the most part. The Spurs’ Big Three of had an impressive scoring night for a combined 71 points, but that’s something Rick Carlisle can live with when the teams other 7 players scored only 23 points on 41% shooting. While Duncan and Ginobili put up big scoring numbers, they also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with six and five turnovers, respectively. Credit goes to Jason Kidd and Caron Butler here for great anticipation in jumping into passing lanes and deflecting balls. The only adjustment I can see for the Mavericks defensively is how they play the pick-and-roll. The Mavericks, obviously concerned with containing Ginobili and Parker, showed hard on every pick and roll. While this helped stop penetration, it led to open rolls to the basket by the Spurs big men. For the most part, I expect the Mavericks to stick to their game plan: Ginobili and Duncan will get their points but they’ll have to work for them against quality defenders in Marion, Butler, Dampier, and Haywood and the rest of the Mavericks will stay at home on the Spurs supporting cast.

Offensively for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili took on the ball-handling and playmaking duties as Tony Parker took a backseat. This strategy produced mixed results as Ginobili recorded 26 points and six assists but with six turnovers. Parker had a decent scoring night with 18 points but was nowhere near the dominant offensive force he was in these teams’ previous playoff series. I expect to see Tony Parker having a larger role in dictating the offense when these teams come together for Game 2. Of the Spurs’ role players, only Antonio McDyess can be said to have played a quality game; Popovich was understandably upset and criticized his players for “playing like dogs”.

Young guard George Hill was essentially useless, perhaps because of a sprained ankle, but Pop clearly went away from him in the second half. It’ll be interesting to see what Pop does with the guard rotation. Richard Jefferson, Roger Mason Jr., and Matt Bonner continue to be Spurs fans’ favorite whipping posts as they contributed little or nothing to the Spurs’ cause. Coach Popovich is notorious for his distrust in rookies in the playoffs, and it showed with DeJuan Blair only receiving eight minutes even after his spectacular game against Dallas in the regular season finale. Still, if the other Spurs reserves (particularly Bonner) continue to “play like dogs”, expect Blair to get some extra burn in the upcoming games.

On the offensive side for the Mavericks, things went well for the most part. Carlisle has to be happy with the way his superstar dropped 36 and second banana Caron Butler took over (22 points) when Dirk needed a rest. The biggest concern is Jason Terry, who scored only five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Terry, however, came through in the fourth as usual, hitting two big shots after being held scoreless through the first three quarters. J.J. Barea was held scoreless in 15 minutes. If Barea is not effective, I (along with every other Mavericks fan in the world) would like to see Carlisle give Rodrigue Beaubois a legitimate chance. You have to believe that Beaubois will be given a chance to contribute in this series, and given the way he’s played this season, I think he earned it.

And so the story continues. With one chapter done, what should turn out to be an amazing series is underway and although we can guess at the twists and turns, unexpected heroes, and devious villains, nobody will know for sure until the final page. The only thing we do know is that it’s going to be good. Stay tuned.

Disarmed

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Three-point shooting is a huge part of what makes the San Antonio Spurs the San Antonio Spurs. They’re a pedestrian 11th in the league in three-point attempts per game (18.9), but in terms of approach, floor spacing is nothing short of crucial. Not only because having shooters on the floor gives Duncan the room he needs to operate in the post or Ginobili the lane he needs to get to the basket, but because without that spot-up threat, the number of useful players on the Spurs’ roster is woefully, woefully small.

Consider this: the Orlando Magic shoot far and away the highest number of three-pointers per game (27.3), and playing four shooters along with Dwight Howard is Stan Van Gundy’s schematic design. They swing the ball along the perimeter, work it in to Dwight almost as a distraction, and exploit aggressive defensive coverage against Howard (or on the pick-and-roll) by milking the added point value of the long ball. It’s a strategy that can be insanely effective, and one of the reasons why the Magic are among the most successful teams in the league despite a slightly unconventional roster.

Still, if you take away Orlando’s three-pointers by chasing them off the line — and good luck pulling that off — the players are still versatile and effective. Vince Carter, despite all of his faults, is still Vince Carter. Rashard Lewis is far more versatile than he gets credit for. Even J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Mickael Pietrus are far more than just designated shooters.

That’s just not the case with San Antonio. There are role players for whom this is less of an issue: DeJuan Blair obviously isn’t too reliant on the long ball, Richard Jefferson is theoretically a jack of all trades, and a healthy George Hill can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket (even if his ability to run an offense is largely overstated by his positional alignment). Other than that, who is San Antonio really relying on for supplementary offensive production? Keith Bogans (61.4% of scoring production from threes)? Roger Mason, Jr. (52.3%)? Matt Bonner (60%)? Those are one-trick ponies. Bogans is a fine defender, Mason can kind of handle the ball, and Bonner is another body to throw at Dirk, but these are not players that can contribute much offensively outside of the strict framework of the Spurs’ system. If you push them off the corners, what scoring are they really going to provide? The most reliable shot (after being chased off of the three-point line) any of those three is able to hit is probably a step-in two-point jumper, which would indicate a hugely successful defensive possession for the Mavs.

Richard Jefferson and George Hill are the two players that could make a significant difference without having to rely too heavily on threes. Unfortunately for the Spurs, it’s hardly so simple. Hill was a complete non-factor in Game 1, as his ankle injury and the Mavs’ defense on him removed any potential for a positive impact during Hill’s abbreviated night. Jefferson, on the other hand, is just stuck. He hasn’t been able to perform offensively all season long, and though one would think that he has the size, athleticism, and versatility necessary to be a significant piece for this Spurs team, he hasn’t lived up to his own name or his rather substantial contract.

That said, even Hill and Jefferson are less effective when chased off the three-point line. Check out the data for all five the aforementioned Spurs role players in strictly spot-up situations:

Player3FGAs/FGAsPPS (3FGA)PPS (2FGA)%TO Chased%TO Spot-Up
Bonner69.6%1.210.943.30%0.00%
Mason72%1.130.931.90%0.50%
Bogans85.6%1.060.745.90%0.00%
Hill60.6%1.350.92.70%0.50%
Jefferson51.50%1.040.755.80%0.00%

Data courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology.

3FGA/FGA – Percentage of used spot-up possessions that end in a three-point attempt

PPS (3FGA) – Points per three-point shot attempt

PPS (2FGA) – Points per two-point shot attempt

%TO Chased – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover after the player is chased from their spot

%TO Spot-up – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover without the player being chased from their spot (drop ball out of bounds, foot on the sideline, etc.)

Based on this data, you can glean a few things. Most notably, that every single one of these players is predictably less efficient once they’re chased from the three-point line (and in spot-up opportunities within the arc) than when they’re allowed to fire after spotting up. Particularly surprising is that George Hill, who would easily seem to be the best ball-handler of the bunch (save Mason, maybe), exhibits the most dramatic drop in points per shot between three-point spot-ups and other plays. Those other plays not only include spot-up opportunities for two-point jumpers (which are Hill’s most likely sandbag), but consist mostly of possessions in which George is run off of the three-point line by a closing defender. 2.7% of those chase-off possessions alone ended in turnovers, and even when he didn’t turn the ball over, Hill was a far less effective scorer.

Also worth noting is how similar Keith Bogans and Richard Jefferson turned out to be statistically-speaking in these situations. Both were markedly more efficient as spot-up three-point shooters (1.04 PPS vs. 0.75 PPS for Jefferson, 1.06 vs. 0.74 PPS for Bogans), to an almost identical degree. They also both turned the ball over nearly six percent of the time after being chased from the perimeter, in part due to traveling violations on their first step. That’s an aspect of scrambling defense that’s vastly overrated; the far right column of the chart, which represents the percentage of spot-up opportunities ending in turnovers if the player was not chased from their spot on the three-point line, displays drastically lower turnover rates than if the player puts the ball on the floor even for a single dribble. There’s not much opportunity to turn the ball over if a player is simply catching and shooting, and scrambling to contest three-point shooters seems to cause a fairly significant (and understandable) bump in turnover rate.

Taking away spot-up threes for these kinds of role players isn’t quite the equivalent of taking out the Spurs’ legs from under them. It’s more like cutting off both arms. They’ll still be able to function in the same basic ways (Duncan will still work the post, Parker will still attack off the dribble, etc.), but things get awfully difficult when the actions start to get a bit more complex. Open a door? Tough, but okay. Brush your teeth? Very unnatural but manageable. Pour yourself a glass of milk? Incredibly difficult, very gross, and remember not to cry. Use the bathroom? Ay, caramba.

If the Mavs can reduce the Spurs’ offense to the production of three players — even three great ones –  they’ll stand a very good chance of taking the series. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were responsible for 71 of the Spurs’ 94 points on Sunday night. Jefferson, Hill, Bonner, Mason, and Bogans combined for just nine points, and a single made three-pointer (on just four attempts). Dirk credited the Mavs’ ability to scramble defensively after the game, and he was right to do so. If Dallas continues to rotate quickly not only on the pick-and-roll but to open shooters as well, this series could be fun, hotly-contested, and extremely short-lived.

It’s Pressing: Post-Game Pressers from Mavs-Spurs Game 1

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 19, 2010 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

DIRK NOWITZKI

On the Spurs’ different defensive approaches between last season’s playoffs and Game 1:

“Well, I think on my first couple of catches in the first half I wanted to see what they were doing and what kind of schemes they’ve got going. They played me pretty much straight up for the whole first half, [and I] had some good looks there. [I] took my time and was able to knock some shots down. Then in the second half, they were coming [at me] a little bit again from the low side [and] made me pass the ball some, but I thought we had some great cutting going on. When I caught the ball at the elbow there in the fourth quarter, [there were] two cuts: JET had a big floater and Marion had a big cut for a layup. That’s what you’ve gotta do, you can’t just sit there and watch, you’ve gotta get everybody involved and we did a great job of getting open.”

On the performances of Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood:

“They were great. [They were] really battling Timmy. I think Timmy still had 27 just because he’s a Hall-of-Famer, but the guys make him work for everything — made him work for his points, really battled him in there. Damp actually blocked one or two of his jump hooks, so I think they did a fantastic job — battling for us, keeping some balls alive on the offensive end. They were definitely big for us tonight.”

On the importance of winning Game 1, and his evaluation of the Mavs’ play:

“We turned the ball over a couple of times too many for our liking, but we ran back [on defense and] didnt give them too much in transition. That’s big. [We] forced them into a half-court game. That was definitely a big win, but really, that win means nothing if we lose on Wednesday, so we’ve gotta come out with the same focus. When you play San Antonio you’ve gotta guard two things, and that’s Duncan on the block and a lot of screen and rolls. With Ginobili and Parker. we did some decent stuff on the pick and rolls. We still made some mistakes, but we were scrambling for each other and we made stuff happen. Even though we made mistakes, we tried to run their three-point shooters off and to give them only four threes is a heck of a job.”

On whether or not he was surprised at being defended straight-up:

“I’m going to take whatever they give me. When they came at me in the second half, I was able to pass out [of the double teams] pretty good and we made some shots when they mattered. JET hit a big three there in the corner for us out of the double team. We’ve just gotta make plays. Caron made some timely, big shots. I’m just going to be patient, and when they do come, I’ll hopefully make the right play out and not try to force anything or make a bad play out of the double team. I’ve gotta take the double team sometimes and move the ball and let other guys make the play, and when I have single coverage, I’ve still gotta be aggressive and try to make things happen.”

On his confidence in his shot right now:

“Well, you know I thought early I made a couple of lucky shots: the one where I thought I got fouled and I threw it up and it went in off the glass and there was another shot where McDyess was all over me and I was able to make a tough turnaround. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both — you feel good about yourself, but you need a little bit of luck. Sometimes the ball goes in, so sometimes you have one of those nights where the basket looks big and some other nights you can’t make a layup…Tonight was definitely a good night.”

On Caron Butler’s contributions, and how vital Butler was to the Mavs’ victory:

“Especially with the way they played Jason Terry, [the Spurs] really took the ball out of his hands on screen-and-rolls and they’re trying to take him out of the game. He did have a couple of good looks, but he never really got into a rhythm. So we definitely needed some scoring somewhere else and Caron was big. He’s a great guy playing the mid-range [game]: facing up, step-backs, posting up. He had the full repertoire going from 14-15 feet. I think Kidd made some big threes, some timely threes. Like I said, with JET not having a great shooting night, we needed scoring somewhere else.”

On the sloppiness of the game relative to the Mavs-Spurs standard:

“I don’t think it was a great game on both ends of the floor. Definitely gotta look at some film. There were a lot of turnovers for a Mavs-Spurs game, but I think sometimes you’ve gotta grind it out. Even if it wasn’t a pretty game, you’ve gotta find a way to win. You know with the way they play and the way they’ve grinded [sic] things out over the years, they’re going to keep coming even if they’re down ten. They’re going to get some stops and they’re going to make some big plays, [and] that’s what they did tonight. We made some runs at them and they still kept on coming. It’s going to be a tough, long, grind-out series and we’ve gotta be ready for it.”

On playing the Spurs in the playoffs again:

“It seems like every year we see them sooner or later. [It's] definitely a tough matchup…With them being healthy, it’s definitely one of the best seven seeds there is, but it is what it is, and we’ve gotta find a way to grind this out. [It was] definitely a good win for us, but they’re going to keep coming and they’re very very good at home so we need to make sure we get this one on Wednesday as well.”

On the Spurs shooting 50% from the field:

“They’re tough, like I said. They’ve got Duncan on the block and all of the other guys — Ginobili and Parker — in their pick-and-rolls. They make stuff happen: they get into the paint, get to the basket, [and] if you cut them off they’ve got a lot of shooters out there spreading the floor with Bogans and Bonner and all of those guys shooting the ball well. You’re going to give up something in there, but I thought we did a decent job [of] scrambling and sometimes we did make mistakes in our coverages, but you’ve gotta fight for everything in the playoffs and you don’t assume anything. You don’t assume that anyone is going to make a shot, you’ve gotta run out and contest the shots and that’s what the playoffs are all about: you’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve gotta make them aggressive[ly].”

On Pop’s Clamp-a-Damp strategy:

“I was surprised, but I think Pop — he’s just like Nelly. I played for Nelly for a long time and you’ve gotta be ready for everything with him. He’s liable to do anything at any time and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks or says. He’s going to do whatever he thinks is right at that moment. I actually thought Damp stepped up and made some big free throws. Some of them didn’t go in but he made those two timely ones in a row in the fourth quarter, so like I said I feel Damp really stepped up and played a good game for us.”

—–

RICK CARLISLE

On Erick Dampier’s defense against Tim Duncan, which likely won’t get the credit it deserves:

“Damp was a real presence for us on the inside. Duncan had a big game offensively, he scored a lot of points, but Damp made his job harder. He [Dampier] got his hands on a lot of balls, got us a lot of rebounds, and when they went to the fouling tactic he made 4 out of 6, which was great for us.”

On Jason Kidd’s excellence and influence:

“Kidd played great. He was sensational in really all areas. In the second half he gave us a spark defensively—on Ginobili and when he was guarding their point guards. He’s been great all year and it’s no surprise that he carried it into tonight.”

On Gregg Popovich’s surprising decision to cover Dirk with a single defender for most of the game:

“There were some double teams and we’re going to see everything before it’s over. Butler got double teamed, but he got going. Marion got double teamed a couple times. They’re going to give you different looks and we’re going to give them different looks, too. We’ll have to adjust when those things happen, and we’ll have to be ready to make plays.”

On the Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense, and how it improved throughout the game:

“We struggled a little at the beginning of the game, and then when we finally got our bearings we did a better job. It’s very tough because such a high percentage of their plays are pick and roll plays, and they’ve got really great facilitators and good screeners and rollers and a bunch of three point shooters out there. It’s going to be challenging. The important thing is five guys are engaged in it defensively, even though it’s a two man game. Everybody’s got to be involved because so many different things happen on their screen and roll.”

On Caron Butler’s (22 points, 8-19 FG, six rebounds, three steals, five turnovers) impact:

“He got it going in the first half and a lot of his early points were not necessarily out of plays we were running for him, but out of just playing basketball. Then we started to run some stuff for him and he delivered. There was a period in the third quarter where he really carried us for a three or four minute stretch. They adjusted and double teamed him and we got other guys the ball. But he’s a guy that’s not afraid; he wants the ball in those situations. He’s been in the playoffs multiple times and he played well for us.”

—–

CARON BUTLER

On Popovich’s “Clamp-a-Damp” strategy:

“That’s something we’ve seen before in the past with Pops.  He’s a great coach and has a great basketball mind that does a lot of things on the fly.  Damp was ready, stepped up and made most of his free throws during that stretch and that was a key factor.”

On Dirk Nowitzki going absolutely bonkers from the field:

“That’s just what he does.  When you got so many guys around him to keep the double-teams coming for the most part and making it difficult for the defense he’s going to have his way.  He did a great job of making decisions, creating for others and at the same time hitting shots.”

—–

JASON KIDD

On the constitution of the win:

“Our defense really played a part tonight even though we missed a lot of wide open shots.  We never got discouraged on the defense end and we deflected a bunch of passes and we were active and we tried to limit them to one tough shot and if they made we had to come down on the other end and make those guys work. We were able to get out a little and run and really eliminate them from double-teaming Dirk or Caron.  Everybody pitched in and it was a good win.”

On the performance of San Antonio’s Big Three, and how the Mavs responded:

“Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili put a lot of pressure on us on the defensive end and when you’ve got a guy like Tim Duncan setting screens our bigs our going to have their work cut out defensively and you just try to make it tough on those guys because they are all all-stars and no how to play at a high level especially this time of year.  But I thought our bigs did a good job.”

On the Mavs’ shot selection:

“We want to be aggressive on the offensive end.  I think the scouting report on us probably says that we rely on the jump shot, but I thought tonight was a great example of us not doing that and coming out and being aggressive, driving the ball to the basket and getting to the free throw line.  That got us off to a good start and from there we just started driving the ball and guys started to get some wide open looks and we made some big shots in the third and fourth quarter.”

—–

GREGG POPOVICH

On the difference between the 2008-2009 Mavs and the 2009-2010 model:

“I’m not going to compare their teams. I only care about the team they have now. So it’s not much interest to me to compare how they are now to Josh. I know what they are now and that’s who we have to play. They played better than we did, they played very well. I felt the first half was just a killer, half their points, 27 points off boards, putbacks and turnovers. That’s just a sloppy game. There’s no reason for that, so I was very disappointed in us not being very sharp. I think we’ve got to have a few more people step up and play worth a damn. I thought we had a lot of guys that played like dogs.”

On the Clamp-a-Damp strat, and why he employed it:

“We wanted to put him at the line because and hoped he would miss free throws rather than Dirk killing us the way he was.”

On Dirk’s “special” performance:

“There are many nights when Dirk is not special. He was special tonight, but he had a lot of help. A lot of other guys played really well. Butler killed us and both big guys were really good on the boards defensively. Jason [Kidd] was a gnat. He was a focused, driven individual, as usual. They had a lot of people play well. They played sharper than we did.”

On why his coverage of Dirk shifted from his pressure-heavy approach last season to single coverage this season:

“They had scorers last season too. You pick your poison and whatever you pick you try to do it well. Dirk got the best of whatever we tried to do with him tonight. We tried a lot of different things, but he beat them all.”

On whether the Spurs sloppy play was preventable:

“Sure. Some turnovers were caused for good reason. But there a good number that were unnecessary, and I felt we did a poor job on the boards as far as team defense is concerned.”

—–

RICHARD JEFFERSON

On the on-going process of defending Dirk Nowitzki:

“He’s a former MVP, at the peak of his game right now, with a lot talented teammates around him. We’ll figure it out, that’s why fortunately it’s a best-of-seven, not a best-of-one. You’ve got to stay even-keel through your wins and your losses.”

On what positive things the Spurs should take away from this game:

“Nothing. You give them all the credit, but there wasn’t too much positive. We’re not going to go blow smoke up our butts and say that we did this well, we did that well. We’ve got to play better.”

On whether or not injuries and resting the starters down the stretch had an effect on the number of turnovers:

“There wasn’t anybody that was rested down the stretch. The only game that we sat out was the last game. Outside of that, Manu [Ginobili] and Tim [Duncan] and myself were pretty much in the entire time. You give them all the credit. We made some mistakes but also they capitalized on them.”

On whether Jason Kidd seems to be playing “younger” than their days together in New Jersey:

“Jason is a very talented player. He’s a future Hall of Famer. And he’s going to continue playing at a high level. He’s one of those guys that can make people around him better. And he has a lot of talent around him right now. And the way he’s shooting the ball right now is impressive and it’s something that you really have to try and key in on.”

On why the Spurs couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter:

“They hit shots. At the end of the day, they hit some tough shots. Dirk hit some good shots, he put up some rotations and some other guys hit shots. Sometimes it’s not too much of a science, and tonight was one of those nights.”

—–

GEORGE HILL

On why the Spurs could only seem to get scoring out of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker:

“I don’t know. It’s something we’re going to have to go look at on film, and see how other people can get involved and help this team win a basketball game.”

On whether or not this is some of the best basketball he’s seen Dirk play in his career:

“I’ve only been in the league for two years, so I’ve only seen two years. He’s Dirk, he’s 7-foot and can shoot it. It’s a tough match-up for anybody. Other than, Dirk is Dirk.”

Game 1: Dallas Mavericks 100, San Antonio Spurs 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2010 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.
-Henry Matisse

[ED. NOTE: This post has been updated with additional analysis.]

Every time I watch Dallas and San Antonio play, I feel that they were made to do this. The Spurs’ mission statement may be to win championships and the Mavs’ destiny may lead them toward continued yet flawed excellence, but how can you witness another incredible game between these two and not feel that their purpose on this planet and in this league is simply to out-do one another for our own amusement? Basketball fans are treated to a gladiatorial game in which both competitors occasionally lay defeated, but neither ever die. Two elite teams — both alike in dignity — forced by fate, and chance, and playoff seedings to play each other over and over for their playoff lives, and the fruit that competition bears is brilliant, even if the basketball is not.

Neither the Mavs nor Spurs were particularly proficient in their execution. The pair combined for 32 turnovers, and even some of the successful possessions were busted plays, second-chance points, or lucky bounces. That didn’t stop San Antonio from matching Dallas almost step-for-step until the fourth quarter, where Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on an insane 12-of-14 FG, seven rebounds, one turnover) capitalized on a Spurs defense that was finally paying him the attention that he deserved.

There aren’t many nights where Nowitzki’s performances are the concerns of Mavs fans. Those problems seem to arise periodically, and they’re typically variations on the same themes: perimeter defense, contributions from the centers, reliable supplementary scoring. Little of that involves Dirk, as he’s not only the most productive Mav, but the most consistent as well.

Last night wasn’t merely a night where Dirk’s play wasn’t a concern, though; Nowitzki performed at a phenomenal level. The kind of night where a Spurs fan can’t help but shake their head, because what else is one to do when Dirk is nailing turnaround after turnaround, banking in jumpers while fouled, and brutalizing every defender placed in front of him? You can pick apart Gregg Popovich’s gameplan all you’d like, as Pop chose to do a complete 180 from his strategy in last year’s series, and played Dirk almost exclusively with a single defender. There were double teams on occasion, but for the majority of the contest Nowitzki faced up and shot over Antonio McDyess (who looked absolutely silly biting on pump fakes), Matt Bonner (who loved to send Dirk to the free throw line for extra points) and Keith Bogans (who for all of his defensive strengths, is still 6’5”).

That was clearly a mistake, as Dirk missed two shots in total out of 14 field goal attempts and 12 free throw attempts. By the time Pop finally started throwing additional pressure on Dirk when he set up at the elbow, Nowitzki displayed an incredible willingness — who gives up the ball when they’re 12-of-14? — and skill to find open teammates cutting down the lane or setting up at the three-point line. You’ll find just one assist on the stat sheet for Dirk, but the offense ran through him during winning time, and win he did.

No recap of this game would be complete without a thorough and explicit praising of Jason Kidd (13 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals, four turnovers). Kidd actually had a rough go of it at times, and stepped outside himself to make some uncharacteristically sloppy plays in the half-court offense. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around however, Kidd’s power was in full effect, and not only was he finding his teammates with greater accuracy and consistency as the game progressed, but he established a flow to the offense that ended up being the deciding factor down the stretch. You could point to a number of things that won this game for the Mavs: Dirk’s incredible play, Erick Dampier’s defense on Tim Duncan, the Mavs’ ability to chase the Spurs’ three-point shooters off of their spots, etc. None of those things had as much of a literal and obvious impact as Kidd’s fourth-quarter orchestration. Nowitzki undoubtedly deserves player of the game honors, but Kidd is a worthy asterisk and footnote.

The Mavs also fall way short without Caron Butler, who finished with 22 points. Butler wasn’t efficient (19 shots to get to 22, five turnovers) so much as he was productive, and he was the go-to offensive option for the Mavs with Dirk on the bench. He drove to the basket and milked his mid-range game, but I was most impressed with Caron’s work on the block. He posted up Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson for some beautiful turnaround jumpers. Pop opted not to double-team Nowitzki for most of the game, but he wasn’t shy about throwing doubles Caron’s way. That’s…odd. Maybe his thinking is that Butler is more easily flustered than Nowitzki and that unlike Dirk, Butler doesn’t have the height to see over the double teams. That’s reasonable, but it doesn’t make doubling a far more inefficient scorer the right move on a night where Dirk is going crazy from the field.

Butler’s contributions were made even more valuable by Jason Terry’s extended silence (five points, 2-9 FG, three assists), as the Spurs keyed in defensively on JET. Terry (as the ball-handler) was blitzed on many a screen-and-roll, and to his credit, he made the right play. Only a few of those shots were forced, and though he made little impact on the game as a whole, he didn’t turn the ball over once and was an essential part of the late-game offense as per usual. Terry ran two beautiful sequences late in the fourth with Dirk as the screener, in which he once found Jason Kidd for a wide open three when Tony Parker had cheated off of him and also hit Damp right under the basket to draw a foul. Then with 1:54 left in the game, the Spurs pressured Dirk to give up the ball, and he responded with a pass out to the open Jason Kidd on the perimeter. Kidd pump faked to draw the rotating Parker and then kicked it to Terry in the corner, who connect on just his second field goal make of the game. That three put the Mavs up 100-88, and they coasted to a victory.

Only talking about the offense wouldn’t be giving the Mavs the proper credit, though. Erick Dampier did a terrific job of defending Tim Duncan. TD still had 27 and eight on 60% shooting, but that’s just about the most difficult 27 points on 60% shooting that I’ve ever seen. For whatever that’s worth. Damp forced Duncan to work for every inch of positioning down low, but his night was perhaps best captured by two spectacular plays. With 7:03 left in the first quarter, Dampier flat-out stripped Duncan as Tim faced up. He just swiped the ball away from Duncan at the hip and even chased down (lumbered toward?) the loose ball to complete the play. Equally impressive was Damp’s play at the 6:18 mark of the third quarter, when he blocked Tim Duncan’s jump hook at its apex. Duncan still got his throughout the night, but Dampier did plenty.

Just as impressive was the Mavs’ ability to cover three-point shooters. San Antonio averaged 18.9 three-pointers per game, including 4.7 per game from Manu Ginobili. That means that on average, the Spurs’ designated shooters (Bonner, Bogans, Hill, Mason, Jefferson) shot 14.2 three-pointers per game. Last night that group combined for just four three-point attempt and converted just one. Dallas was scrambling like crazy in their rotations, and the Mavs’ ability to cover every shooter on the floor was a big reason why the pick-and-roll defense was so successful. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair each broke free on the pick-and-roll for impressive dunks, but for the most part Dallas was able to keep San Antone’s screen game in check by showing hard on the pick, recovering quickly, and relying on lots of rotating help from Mavs on the weak side.

There are a few ways you can look at this game. On one hand, the Mavs played better than the Spurs throughout, even though the margin of victory was close. They won without much scoring help from Jason Terry, and they survived 71 combined points from San Antonio’s big three. The Mavs shot 34 free throws and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which helped to counter the Spurs’ 50% shooting night.

Then again, look at everything that went wrong for San Antonio, and they were still within striking distance for the entirety of the game. George Hill and DeJuan Blair, the purported x-factors of the series, combined for four points and five rebounds. They turned the ball over an uncharacteristic amount, lost the battle on the boards, and still shot 50% to nearly win this thing. Game one is in the books but this series is far from over. Just stay tuned for the next gripping installment.

Closing thoughts:

  • In the second half, Gregg Popovich employed the “Clamp-a-Damp” strategy (trademarked by Russ Bengtson), in which Roger Mason intentionally fouled Damp three times in a row as a way to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands. That’s certainly one way to deny Nowitzki the ball. Damp converted four of his six attempts during the stretch, and with the way Dirk was shooting (and getting to the free throw line), that was probably two points less than the Mavs would have gotten otherwise. Win?
  • Rick Carlisle actually swapped out Dampier for Shawn Marion with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter just to avoid Pop from employing the strategy again. Carlisle indicated that he thought Pop was calling for another intentional foul on Dampier, and quickly pulled Damp for a short period before the final two-minute “safe zone.”
  • J.J. Barea did not play well, but this is hardly the time to throw Rodrigue Beaubois into the fire at point guard. Beaubois could be a bit of a wild card (in the good sense), but he’s not reliable enough running the point to warrant going away from Barea right now.
  • George Hill played just eighteen minutes, because Pop “didn’t like what he saw.” Not sure whether that was regarding Hill’s ankle (which George insisted was fine) or his play (which was poor and ineffective), but either way I’d expect him to play more minutes and more effectively on Wednesday.
  • Hands down the best in-arena atmosphere all season. The intensity of Mavs fans at the AAC comes and goes, but that place was rockin’ last night.
  • The down side to Erick Dampier’s big defensive night: Brendan Haywood played just 18 minutes. He played very well in those 18 and put up 10 and six (including three offensive boards), but his limited minutes (and situational matchups) didn’t give us a good opportunity to gauge his defensive abilities against Duncan.
  • Not a great night for Shawn Marion (nine points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks), but he helped. Shawn’s effectiveness will ultimately be determined by how efficiently Ginobili is scoring, as that’s Marion’s primary focus. On the bright side is that Manu only took 17 shot attempts when he could have done much more damage, and though Marion (and Jason Kidd, who played excellent defense on Manu in the fourth) couldn’t stop Ginobili from shooting a good percentage from the field, he was influential in causing some of Manu’s five turnovers.