Quoteboard: San Antonio Spurs 111, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on December 31, 2012 under Interviews | Read the First Comment

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The Dallas Mavericks are now in the midst of a full-on funk as they are on a six-game losing streak after suffering a 111-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio began the game on a 14-2 run and never trailed at any point. While the game was much more competitive as opposed to the game a week ago, the Mavericks just couldn’t sustain enough energy and effort to withstand the Spurs.

In his fourth game back, Dirk Nowitzki had another rough outing as he had eight points while shooting 3-of-9 from the field. He simply hasn’t looked like the same Dirk everyone knows and loves as he has made 11-of-34 shots (32 percent) since his return. He is averaging 7.5 points a game. His situation, trying to get back into basketball shape, definitely makes the challenge that much more difficult for the Mavericks as they try to find their way.

Elton Brand recorded his third double-double of the season (399thcareer) with 14 points and a game-high-tying 10 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. He scored in double figures for the sixth time this season and grabbed 10-plus boards for the fourth time this year. Darren Collison recorded a team-high 18 points to go along with five rebounds and a team-high eight assists in 33 minutes. He’s averaging 18.8 points per game over his last four games and has led the team in scoring in three of Dallas’ last four contests.

Here is the quoteboard for the loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

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The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 104, Dallas Mavericks 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 24, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Screen Shot 2012-03-24 at 1.04.48 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-Play Shot Chart Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas92.0115.253.631.623.112.0
San Antonio107.656.322.811.412.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This game was a demonstration of how incredibly simple basketball can be at times; although intense basketball observers attempt to break the game down into dozens of very complicated, interrelated factors, Dallas was ultimately bested by effort, the extra pass, and the open three-pointer. And now, I will proceed to give you 16 more bullet points that are by no means arbitrary, but nonetheless seem rather silly in a game like this one.
  • Manu Ginobili — as a defender — was two or three steps ahead of Rodrigue Beaubois for this entire game. It’s not uncommon to see a young playmaker be stifled by an older, craftier defender, but Ginobili’s ability to peg and deflect Beaubois’ moves was downright uncanny. It’s to Beaubois’ credit that he still managed to notch 10 points and five assists, but even that passable stat line doesn’t convey just how thoroughly marked Beaubois was throughout this particular game.
  • It was certainly noteworthy that even with Shawn Marion’s return to the lineup — and after expressing some concern about Rodrigue Beaubois’ minutes inflating as a product of being in the starting lineup — Rick Carlisle elected to keep Beaubois in the opening set. Lineup variants involving Marion, Beaubois, Jason Kidd, and Dirk Nowitzki haven’t really played enough minutes together this season to be judged for their merits, but matchups depending, this could be a very sensible starting five (save Ian Mahinmi’s substitution for an injured Brendan Haywood) going forward.
  • Dirk Nowitzki had an absolutely horrific game, in which he provided little impact aside from his willingness to seek out contact and put up shots. It was weary legs, it was San Antonio’s active, dynamic defense, and it was a stark contrast just to highlight Nowitzki’s usual efficiency, but most importantly from a game-specific context: it was an outright disaster. There’s simply no other way to look at his 5-of-21 shooting mark, his inability to make an impact on the defensive end, and his noncommittal work on the boards. I’m not saying Nowitzki wasn’t trying, but next to the exemplary effort that the Spurs put forth, it sure seemed like it at times.

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The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 93, Dallas Mavericks 71

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 6, 2012 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2012-01-05 at 11.36.24 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas89.079.835.720.825.016.9
San Antonio104.548.810.518.09.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The Mavs have certainly wasted no time this season in rattling off some truly awful losses. The opening night thud against the Miami Heat was practically expected, even if the magnitude of the beatdown the Mavs suffered was a tad surprising. Hitting a terrific Denver Nuggets team on the next night was a recipe for disaster as well, and the fact that Dallas ran out of gas — especially after struggling in their track meet against Miami in the opener — was fairly predictable. And most recently: though the Mavs were lucky enough to play a Spurs team without Manu Ginobili, they’re struggling against a brutal schedule that practically demands inferior basketball at some points. That doesn’t excuse the loss — much less the blowout — but it does meet a game like this one with a bit of a shrug. Requisite patience, yadda yadda yadda, but the clock is only kind for so long, Mavs.
  • Jason Kidd left in the first quarter with a lower back injury, and did not return for the rest of the game. Though the offense certainly could’ve used his help, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; Kidd started the game by leaving Gary Neal (12 points, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds, two steals) — one of the league’s most prolific outside shooters — open on virtually every possession. That’s never sound policy, and Neal’s quick start was a big reason why the Spurs were able to decimate the Mavs in the first half.
  • Now, if Kidd’s injury becomes a lingering problem and forces him to either miss court time or play through considerable pain, that’s a huge setback. Send him your well wishes, painkillers, and ice packs if you have any interest in the Mavs playing well this season.

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Clear(er) Skies

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 5, 2012 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Friends of The Two Man Game Graydon Gordian and Andrew McNeill were kind enough to have me over to their place — the excellent Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell — to preview tonight’s festivities. A peek:

1. Both the Spurs and Mavericks stumbled out of the gate a bit this season, which team is in more trouble in the long run?

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: A week ago it would’ve been the Mavs, but now I’m inclined to pick the Spurs. San Antonio came into the season with some built-in continuity, but Manu Ginobili’s injury — which could honestly derail the Spurs’ offense entirely if the wrong dominoes start falling — puts SA in an incredibly tough spot. They’ll still have time to try to work Ginobili back into the lineup upon his return, but what losses will San An have suffered in the meantime, and what kind of momentum can they establish while he’s working his way back?

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: On Monday I would have said the Mavs. The Spurs looked sharper initially. Between an underachieving Lamar Odom and the absence of Chandler and Barea, the Mavs seemed listless. But the Spurs took a huge hit when they lost Manu. The Mavs have reasons to be worried, but the Spurs are in for a rougher ride.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Given the Manu Ginobili injury and the nature of this season’s schedule, I’d have to say the Spurs. Though a championship hangover and a not-so-subtle focus on the upcoming free agent class, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mavs slip a lot this season.

It’s official: the Mavs’ season is suddenly looking pretty rosy, if only because they’ve managed to win a few games (a novel concept, that) and things are much, much worse for a San Antonio team that just lost its most important player. Be sure to venture over to 48 Minutes of Hell to read the preview in its entirety.

The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 97, Dallas Mavericks 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 19, 2011 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-03-19 at 1.36.08 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The Mavericks used to be a low-turnover team, but this season has featured a startling number of giveaways (Dallas ranks 17th in turnover rate, far from the elite status they’ve held in that category over the last few years) and last night stood as a comical representation of the team’s inability to control the ball. There were passes to no one in particular. By my count, Maverick players dribbled the ball off their own feet at least three times. So it was for the entire evening, as Dallas committed unforced error after unforced error. San Antonio obviously deserves credit for capitalizing on the Mavericks’ mistakes, but the home team dug their own grave in many respects.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, 4-11 FG, three rebounds, three turnovers) may have been an effective defender against Andre Miller and Monta Ellis, but Tony Parker (33 points, 14-22, four rebounds, three assists) had a field day against him. It didn’t help that Tyson Chandler was in foul trouble throughout the game and that Brendan Haywood only decided to play effective D in the second half, but Beaubois just couldn’t stick Parker in half-court settings nor did he — and this is one of the weaker elements of Beaubois’ defensive game at this point — get back in order to adequately defend in transition. Parker is dangerous in any context, but particularly so when given a full head of steam. He had that on the break, obviously, but Parker was also able to drive effectively after shedding Beaubois around screens. Guarding either Parker or Manu Ginobili seems like a miserable task, but Beaubois — and his help — will need to be better in that area if Dallas has any chance of topping San Antonio at some point in the playoffs.
  • This game seemed a bit familiar. Dirk Nowitzki was incredible, but lacked the high-volume scoring help necessary to put Dallas over the top. The Mavs had their moments on offense and defense, but always seemed a step behind. Tim Duncan (22 points, 8-13 FG, eight rebounds, two steals, three blocks) still scored efficiently, even though Dallas had capable defenders in front of him at all times. San Antonio put a lot of pressure on the Mavs’ ball-handlers, and they buckled. The margin between these two teams really isn’t that large, but over the last two seasons the Spurs have held a definite edge. I’m not sure how likely that would be to change if these two clubs were to meet in the postseason, as this game seemed like a natural extension of last year’s first round playoff series.
  • Shawn Marion suffered a right wrist injury that kept him from playing in the second half. X-rays on the wrist were negative — which is great news, because Dallas can’t afford to lose anyone at this point — but the Mavs certainly missed Marion over the final 24 minutes. Frequent double-teams deterred the Mavs from working through Nowitzki as much as they should have in the first half, but Marion carried the offense in the meantime. San Antonio doesn’t really have a good defensive counter for Marion, so he went to work in the post against Ginobili and a cast of smaller guards, and drove into the paint from the weak side after some nice ball reversals. His runners and hooks won’t fall every night, they did on this one, and the Mavs sure could have benefited from his offensive production in the second half. That said: Marion wasn’t exactly at his defensive finest, as he completely blew his coverage of Ginobili on multiple occasions. It’s nights like these that make one wonder how Dallas was ever an elite defensive team at all.
  • To those who still cling to the fourth quarter as all-important, take a look back at the tape of the first quarter from this game. Sure, the Mavs could have played better in the fourth, but this game was lost in the first frame.
  • Good to know that using Dirk in high screen-and-roll action at the top of the key still works as an antidote to double-teaming. Nowitzki created a mismatch almost every time he set a high pick for Kidd, Terry, Barea, or Beaubois, either by causing the guard to switch onto him or baiting another defender to slide over in order to help. From that point, Nowitzki would simply begin backing down his defender, and turn to fire over them (while spinning away from incoming help on some occasions) from the free throw line. Dallas lost, but this approach (in addition to Marion’s post-ups, the shots created from Beaubois’ penetration, and other stratagems) does offer some hope of how the Mavs might counter a team like the Spurs in the future. There were blunders aplenty, but it’s not as if this game didn’t give Dallas something to work with.

The Difference: San Antonio Spurs 99, Dallas Mavericks 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 31, 2010 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2010-12-31 at 12.39.37 AM

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas92.0101.148.815.98.510.9
San Antonio107.653.323.718.415.2

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • It would be unfair to lump the weight of a loss on one player in any game, but Jason Terry (eight points, 3-16 FG, four assists) makes the idea awfully tempting. Last I checked, JET was supposedly the Mavs’ most efficient non-Dirk scorer, and yet his shooting stroke was lost but never found. There were no late-game heroics (aside from a pair of three-pointers swished after the game had been decided) from Terry, only well-intended attempts each flawed in their own special way. He drove to draw fouls rather than score. He took a three from a good foot-and-a-half behind the three-point line, just for kicks. He pulled up and pulled up and pulled up in the hope that something would go down. Whatever pixie dust JET has benefited from in the past seems to have disappeared over the last two games, so if anyone knows a good supplier of magically enchanted performance-enhancing goods or potions, Terry might be interested.
  • The Mavs’ defense wasn’t sterling, but it was surely competent. In man and zone alike, Dallas put forth a strong defensive effort, and though the execution was hardly pitch-perfect at every turn, the Mavs did about as well as one could ask — while throwing two deep bench players into the regular rotation — against San Antonio’s impressive offensive front. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to shoot 10-of-27 from the field, and though Ginobili’s three-pointers were pretty crucial, I think the Mavs can live with that shooting mark.
  • If one Maverick lived up to expectation and then some, it was Caron Butler (30 points, 10-21 FG, ). The oft-maligned wing was an efficient scoring machine, and the one stable aspect of the Mavs’ offense all game long. Jason Kidd started off hot but faded fast, Jason Terry sputtered throughout, and Caron worked his way into good attempts. The Mavs’ offense isn’t sustainable without Dirk, but Caron did his part to keep the team afloat. Toss in plus performances by Tyson Chandler, Brian Cardinal, and Alexis Ajinca (who leapfrogged Brendan Haywood in the rotation, if only for this game), and the Mavs almost stole a win. They competed, but their offensive limitations combined with Terry’s struggles were too much to overcome. (Also: the Spurs switched every 1-4 pick-and-roll, pitting George Hill and Tony Parker up against Shawn Marion in the post. The Mavs found some success going to that match-up, but they never attacked it. Why?)
  • All hail the vaunted zone. It broke down at times (as any D is ought to do), but the match-up zone again keyed substantial runs for the Mavs that helped them overcome the Spurs 14-point first-half lead. It continues to amaze me how seamlessly Dallas can transition from zone to man and back again, as if each didn’t require a distinct mentality and its own approach.
  • Three-point shooting seems a popular theme, but it’s not as if the Spurs were the only team hitting their looks from beyond the arc. Gary Neal hit a dizzying 5-of-8 threes en route to 21, but Cardinal hit all three of his attempts, and Jason Kidd nailed 2-of-5 from deep. It’s a point of separation in a close game, but even the Spurs’ blistering shooting was countered. Plus, if we’re looking to long-range shooting as a distinction between the Mavs and the Spurs, then offensive rebounding should surely be taken into account; San Antonio bested Dallas by nearly 10% in offensive rebounding rate.
  • Jason Kidd (12 points, 5-15 FG, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) notched a triple-double, which deserves note. Like much of the Mavs’ efforts though, it was a bit empty. Dallas never felt like they were ready to actually win the game, instead seemingly content to have fought hard and ceded in the final act. It’s a commendable loss if such a thing exists, but I’ll be damned if there didn’t seem to be a bit of destiny involved. Caron Butler may not have gotten the memo, but Dallas wasn’t scripted to be the plucky underdog.

The Difference: Dallas Beats San Antonio

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 26, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

Dallas Mavericks 103, San Antonio Spurs 94

  • Dirk Nowitzki scored 26 points and his scoring average will still drop a tick or so. That’s the kind of season (and month; Dirk is putting up 27.1 a night in November) that Nowitzki has had, and yet his overall production — 26 to go along with eight rebounds and five assists — pales in splendor next to Nowitzki’s sterling shooting. Dirk shot 12-of-14 from the field, good for a pedestrian 85.7% from the field.
  • From the essential @mavstats: “Mavs have ended 4 teams’ streaks of 5 wins or more (SA -12, NO – 8, BOS – 5, OKC – 5).”
  • Manu Ginobili finished with 31 points, four assists, and three rebounds, but things could have been much worse. Ginobili went absolutely bonkers in the first quarter, and had he continued on his torrid pace of threes, drives, and step-back jumpers, he would have been carried out of the AT&T Center on the shoulders of giants.
  • Dallas turned the ball over more often than anyone on this side of the fence should like to see, but they balanced those troubles with aggressive defense (that pushed San Antonio to an even higher turnover rate), a higher free throw rate than usual, and a nice boost from offensive rebounds. On most nights the Mavs can’t afford to give up too many turnovers, but by creating possessions and scoring more efficiently, Dallas was able to post a 115.7 offensive efficiency.
  • Tyson Chandler was again tremendous, and his offensive impact has been an unbelievably pleasant surprise. Chandler will never be a back-to-the-basket threat, but as long as his teammates are conscious of his movements and presence around the rim, he’ll continue to pour in the points. On the other end of the center rotation, Brendan Haywood missed this game due to a team-imposed one-game suspension, but Ian Mahinmi did a decent job in his place. Mahinmi showed that he has no business being a second center at this point in his career, but he was reasonably effective in his reserve duties against some pretty tough competition. Three points, four rebounds, and a block wouldn’t cut it for Haywood, but from a guy normally considered a project — in addition to some solid defense — I’d say it warrants a thumbs up.
  • Shawn Marion was tremendous. He can partially be accredited with the the taming of Manu Ginobili in the second half, but it was Marion’s scoring that really boosted the Mavs in the fourth quarter, and cold theoretically boost the Mavs through the season. Dallas still doesn’t have reliable secondary scoring alongside Nowitzki, but between Terry, Marion, Butler, along with bit contributions from Kidd and Chandler, the Dallas has a number of ways to reach the necessary scoring output. More to the point, though: this Marion — just like the early season JET or a dream world Butler — makes Dallas a strong, strong team.
  • J.J. Barea had a fine game. He wasn’t exactly a Spur-killer, but he racked up seven assists without committing a single turnover, which is more than satisfactory.
  • In the second quarter, Jason Terry had one of the worst layup attempts I’ve ever seen in an NBA game. On a fast break opportunity, Terry drew his dribble a half-step too early, forcing him to adjust and stretch past his defender to have his desired look at the rim. JET opted to go with a finger roll finish, and though his touch was soft, it was too soft…and too errant…and too embarrassing. Airballed layup attempts are one of this game’s many wonders.
  • Caron Butler committed four turnovers, all of which came in the first half  as Butler tried to make his move from the wings in half-court sets.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by admin on April 29, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Eduardo Najera doesn’t want to be considered an enforcer. He’d rather be called an energy guy. Most Spurs fans probably just want to call him an annoyance, though, as Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News writes: “Bothersome, he is. And that’s the way he and the Mavericks like it. But he doesn’t want to be known as an enforcer in this series, even if he’s one flagrant foul away from being suspended for a game.”
  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News points out that when Manu Ginobili plays Dirk Nowitzki, Manu normally gets hurt: “…At least this fits into a pattern. In 2002, in the World Championships, Ginobili collided with an opponent, severely sprained his ankle and missed the rest of that tournament. The opponent? Nowitzki.”
  • Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell previews Game 6 and writes about the mounting pressure on the Spurs and why some people see tonight as a must-win for the Spurs: “Here’s a riddle for you: lots of folks are saying that the San Antonio Spurs need to win Game 6 tonight in San Antonio and end the series, because if it goes to Game 7 in Dallas, all the pressure will be on the Spurs. But by saying that, aren’t they putting all that pressure on the Spurs to win tonight instead?”
  • No Maverick made the Top 15 in jersey sales this year, and the Mavericks were not in the top 10 in team merchandise sold.
  • Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas writes one of the keys to Game 6 is for the Mavericks to keep their cool: “The Mavs didn’t handle the pressure and a deafening crowd well here in Games 3 and 4. They know they have no choice tonight in do-or-die Game 6.”
  • Enjoy watching the game tonight, wear your lucky shorts, sit in your lucky chair and hopefully this will not be the last Mavericks game we see until November.

This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by admin on April 28, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Rick Carlisle’s job isn’t threatened regardless of the outcome of this first round series. Cuban on Carlisle (via MacMahon): “I mean, it’s not something we’ll evaluate now, it’s not something we’ll evaluate this summer. I don’t see what would change anything.”
  • Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie: “It’s an immutable truth of the online world: If you write something about Caron Butler that skews negative — like I did, like Mike Prada did on Bullets Forever, like Kyle Weidie did on Truth About It, and on, and on — you will have your ugly craw crammed with humility walnuts within the space of 48 hours… It was a dominant performance in a game the Mavs had to have, the kind of game that tantalizes the Dallas faithful with visions of that one more big-time scorer that can aid Dirk Nowitzki and push their team over the top. Of course, it was also the kind of performance that leaves longtime watchers shaking their heads, saying things like “If only it was every night,” and being skeptical that Butler can turn in reasonable facsimiles in likewise must-win sixth and, if the Mavs get that far, seventh games.”
  • Skeets and Tas of The Basketball Jones like the way Dirk attacked the basket early and the play of Brendan Haywood.
  • From mavstats: “for the 15:14 that Shawn Marion defended Manu Ginobili, Marion was +19 and held Ginobili to 7 points on 2-7 FG.”
  • Jason Terry has a new pregame ritual that symbolizes the coming-back-from-the-dead of the Mavericks’ playoff hopes… I guess. “I’m not big on death, but I was in a casket, and when they bunched me up, I fell up out of the casket and said ‘we’re not done yet.’ We’re going to have to do that again.”
  • Rick Carlisle didn’t play Erick Dampier in garbage time out of respect for the veteran center: “By the time late in the game, with veteran guys in those situations, I have too much respect to put him back in, unless he wants to.”
  • Former Mavs stats man Wayne Winston talks adjustments and lineups in his Game 5 recap.

This post was written by Mark Kao. If you’d like to contact Mark, drop a comment or email him at mark.kao[at]gmail[dot]com.

Game 5: Dallas Mavericks 103, San Antonio Spurs 81

Posted by Rob Mahoney on 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.