- Kelly Dwyer ranks Dirk Nowitzki as the fourth best power forward in the game, behind Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Feel free to be angry, if that’s how you feel about these things. I will say this: when you get to the top of a positional ranking, you’re often going apples to oranges. Gasol, Duncan, Nowitzki, and Stoudemire are all great players. I happen to think Nowitzki will best Stoudemire in the upcoming season, New York’s offensive freedom be damned, but then again, I’m more of a citrus fan than most.
- On a related note, Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell compared Gasol and Duncan in response to Dwyer’s rankings. A great place to start if you’re really into battling this out.
- And because we can never get enough rankings, Dwyer also sorted out the top 30 centers in the NBA next season. Erick Dampier ranked 30th, Tyson Chandler 24th, and Brendan Haywood 19th. Chandler’s ranking I can understand, but Dampier and Haywood’s seem a bit harsh. Then you look at those listed above Haywood (Or below? Rank orientation always confuses me.), and it’s hard to find some unthinkable error.
- Statistically speaking, defense does win championships. A certain Celtics dynasty skews the results a bit, but even exempting that team (and all teams prior to 1976) from the statistical sample yields a significant result in favor of prominent defensive squads.
- Tyson Chandler on how it feels to be traded, the significance of having a role as a defense-first player, and the secret to playing good D (via DOH on Mavs Moneyball).
- Another smart organization hiring quality personnel to run their D-League team.
- Alexis Ajinca didn’t quite make the French national team, though Ian Mahinmi is on their final roster in spite of a minor hand injury. (via DallasBasketball.com)
“The key to change…is to let go of fear.”
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.
- Impetus of a physical object in motion.
- Impetus of a nonphysical process, such as an idea or a course of events
(definition from dictionary.com)
NBA games are all about momentum. In Game 4, the Spurs not only seized momentum when they came back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter, they also managed that momentum effectively and didn’t allow the Mavs to take advantage of what appeared to be giant momentum shift in the fourth quarter.
Let’s take a look at the course of the game’s momentum shifts, including the woulda-coulda-shoulda moments in the fourth quarter when the Mavs couldn’t seem to regain the momentum despite a late-game push.
Momentum Shift #1: Shawn Marion made a layup on a pass from Jason Terry to put the Mavericks up 25-24, after being down 20-24. Immediately after, Matt Bonner missed a three and Brendan Haywood was fouled in the act of shooting. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan re-enter the game, but didn’t accomplish much, and the Mavs took advantage of poor shooting by both of the Spurs’ stars to go up 15 with 2:33 remaining in the half.
Momentum Shift #2: With two minutes remaining in the half, Jason Terry rolled his ankle on a fast break layup attempt, which was blocked, and the subsequent Spur fast break ended in a Richard Jefferson dunk. The home crowd got back into the game in one sequence. Jason Terry went to the bench and the Spurs took control, outscoring the Mavericks 38-16 from this point until the start of the fourth quarter.
Should-have-been Momentum Shift #3: Dirk was called for a technical with 1:34 left in the third. On the very next play, Richard Jefferson was called for a flagrant foul for karate chopping Dirk as he went up for a shot. Normally, this course of events would cause a team to rally around their best player, start a run and not look back. Not in this game, though. By this point, the Mavericks had lost the lead and were trying to fight their way back into the game. When Dirk went to the line, the Mavericks were down 57-62. Dirk made both free throws, followed by a Terry missed jumper a George Hill corner three. Any chance of the Mavs gaining momentum was thrown out the window.
Should-have-been Momentum Shift #4: Eduardo Najera got ejected from the game after just 43 seconds of play for a flagrant 2 foul on Manu Ginobili. The Spurs should have completely blown the game open right here, and it looked like they were going to, when Manu made both free throws, then DeJuan Blair got a tip-in on the ensuing play, which made the score 61-70. But no, the next Mavericks possesion was……
Kind-of-was Momentum Shift #5: Blair was called for a flagrant on Jason Kidd (the third flagrant of the game, for those of you counting at home). This play was a small momentum shift, and it allowed the Mavs to get right back into the game, but they never could take back the lead.
All season long, we’ve heard Rick Carlisle and different members of the team talk about focus, or lack thereof. Even after Game 3, we’ve heard the same song and dance from Carlisle and Dirk about the team’s need to focus. I’m sure that for many, the notion that the Mavs would pull it together for the playoffs seemed like a given considering their veteran status. The team may have thought the same, because they look like they’re expecting the focus and drive to just come to them naturally. It hasn’t. Meanwhile, the Spurs are playing like the vetrans they are and are squelching the Mavs opportunities and confidence at every turn.
Basically, in Game 4, whenever the Mavericks should have taken control of the game due to their veteran leadership, instead they instead expected someone else on the team (Dirk) to carry them to victory.
In order for this series and season to be saved, the Maverick veterans need to take advantage of every opening the Spurs give them. Dirk is going to have to become as agressive as he was in Games 1 and 3, especially if the rest of the team is content to stand idly by while expecting Nowitzki to carry them to victory.
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.
- 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)
“Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by a competent historian.”
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.
Tons of quotes here from the locker room and post-game press conferences, so dig in. I’ve bolded items of interest for various reasons, but if nothing else, at least check out Damp’s comments about the officiating.
See the Mavs and Spurs BARE ALL after the jump.
- Jesse Blanchard from 48 Minutes of Hell discusses how the Spurs adjusted to contain Dirk: “Given the same looks he has gotten in the first two games, and they have been the same despite the vastly different outcomes, on most nights Nowitzki will produce a stat line that looks like 8-17 from the field and four to five free throw attempts. A great line, but hardly unmanageable.”
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie notes that the Mavs’ Game 2 offensive performance was atypical: “Dallas was stinko, in that regard. Save for the late comeback mentioned above (after trailing for double-digits for most of the contest, the Mavs got it down to five points before Duncan and Ginobili put it away), Rick Carlisle’s team consistently failed to connect on shots that, I’m sorry, they’ve consistently made for years.”
- Apparently, DeJuan Blair has a new nickname.
- Spurs owner Peter Holt responds to Mark Cuban’s comments regarding “hating” the Spurs: “Listen, there might be some people in the league that are mad at him, but I’m not mad at him. Anything that raises the awareness is only good for us.”
- Johnny Ludden of Yahoo explains Tim Duncan’s post-season focus, and with Duncan turning 34 on Sunday, Ludden spotlights the implications of Duncan’s age: “As much as anyone, Duncan settles into a rhythm in the postseason, which spares him the grind of back-to-back games. He’s at the age where any day off is a good day. Popovich’s decision to hold Duncan out of the season finale afforded him five days to rest before the playoffs. He received another two days before Game 2. ‘I’m feeling a lot better and I’m re-energized,’ Duncan said. That’s why it was imperative for the Spurs to win one of these first two games. The series now shifts to an every-other-day format, which should favor the deeper Mavs. The Spurs can’t ignore that reality, nor do they pretend Duncan is the same force he was seven seasons ago, when he won his second MVP award. Last year’s knee problems spurred him to lose 15 pounds during the summer, and no longer does he command a double team as often as he once did…But this, too, is also true: ‘He’ll never lose his skill set,’ Dirk Nowitzki said. Come Sunday, Duncan will have another birthday to celebrate, another game to play. And if the Spurs’ season needs saving again? Yes, Tim Duncan is both older and wiser. No one should think he is done.
- As usual, Rick Carlisle kept his cool during the post-game interview.
- Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas writes that when Kidd isn’t playing well, neither are the Mavericks.
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.
“Wait until the next big rain, you will see the trees fall down.”
Teams become the things they do. So it shouldn’t surprise you that after an entire season of climbing out of substantial holes, the Mavs were going to make a run at some point. After giving up plenty of ground in the second and third quarters, Dallas’ deficit hit rock bottom at 20, was whittled down to 10 in three minutes, and was brought within five points in the fourth. It just wasn’t enough. The Mavs have had so many comeback victories this season that it’s easy to forget about the nights where they came up a little bit short, and this game serves as a bit of a heartbreaking reminder. All of those regular season games counted, just like this one did, and all of the habits and tendencies formed during those games invariably resurface at some point. Though Dallas is certainly improved, they can’t escape who they are or who they’ve been, and unfortunately that’s a team that’s given up leads to their opponents before attempting to claw back.
It almost worked, but the Mavs’ defense was too accommodating early, the shooting was too bad for too long, and Tim Duncan clubbed Dallas’ comeback hopes repeatedly with improbable shot (floating baseline hook while leaning out of bounds) after improbable shot (deflected hook shot that ended up back in his hands, allowing Tim to train a push shot from close range just before the shot clock expired).
Dallas finished the game shooting 36.5% from the field, which makes the fact that they were within five points of San Antonio in the fourth quarter all the more impressive. Some of that is shot selection: the Mavs are still a jump-shooting team, and Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Terry missed their fair share of jumpers. That doesn’t even come close to telling the full story, though, as Dallas had a lot of good looks that simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net. This was an absolutely frigid shooting night for the Mavs, who were only able to stay competitive thanks to their 19 makes on 20 free throw attempts and a huge night from Terry (27 points, 9-of-19 FG, 3-of-7 3FG, three assists).
Aside from Terry, the Maverick offense was stagnant and ineffective. Solid ball movement still created plenty of open looks, but there wasn’t enough in the way of player movement. There were far too many isolation plays even for Dallas’ iso-heavy offense (I’m looking at you, Caron), far too many passes caught while standing still. Guys like Butler, Marion, and Terry are good enough to make plays in those situations, but they really shouldn’t have to. Not to the magnitude they were asked to do so on Wednesday night, and that’s a big reason why Dallas finished the evening with just 88 points (104.4 offensive efficiency). The Spurs defense was solid, but not suffocating. The worry isn’t that San Antonio is going to lock down the Mavs, even if they were far more successful on Dirk in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. The worry is that Dallas will freeze up offensively like they did last night, and that when the shots stop falling the defense won’t be able to hold ground.
The defense really didn’t. Dallas finally increased their defensive intensity over the game’s final 15 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to make up for plays like this one:
Or this one, that happened just moments later:
That’s pretty much exactly what happened in Game 2. The Mavs made their own mini-runs in the first and second quarters, but flurries of offensive success could only barely cover up for how dismally Dallas performed the majority of the time. The Spurs’ lead had already hit double-digits going into halftime, and the Mavs were really struggling to put points on the board with Dirk Nowitzki (24 points on 24 shots, 10 rebounds, four assists) suddenly mortal.
There were a number of differences between Game 1 and Game 2, but the most notable was the play of Richard Jefferson. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s an NBA player. After putting up a four-point (on 1-of-4 shots), two-turnover stinker on Sunday night, RJ finished with the same two turnovers, but a far more palatable 19 points (7-of-12 FG) and seven rebounds. Throw in another nice performance from each of the Spurs’ three stars (a combined 64 points), and that’s a tough game to win…especially when the Mavs are only making 36.5% of their shots. The first question that should come to mind over Jefferson’s performance is a valid one: can it be replicated? Based on RJ’s inconsistency this season, it’s hardly a given. I wish this was an area in which I could offer insight, but how could anyone say with any certainty what Jefferson will do in Game 3?
Jefferson will justly get his due as the game’s difference-maker, but San Antonio doesn’t pull out this victory without their breadwinner. Tim Duncan (25 points, 11-of-19 FG, 17 rebounds) was fantastic, and even though Brendan Haywood made Duncan’s looks as difficult as possible in the fourth, sometimes that’s not good enough. Tim is, at absolute worst, the second most effective “traditional” offensive post player in the league, and one of the best of all-time. There are going to be nights where he’s blocked by Erick Dampier (especially as Duncan gets older and older), but there are certainly going to be nights where he wins games outright with his ability to score down low. Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood worked hard defensively, Duncan was just on another level last night.
Dallas just didn’t play very well on either end. The Mavs couldn’t stop Duncan, gave Jefferson too many opportunities to get to the rim, and allowed Parker and Ginobili to make an even bigger impact than their already impressive box score contributions suggest. On offense, Dallas just couldn’t connect on their open looks, played sub-par (but not irredeemable) defense, and were completely Duncanized in the middle of their crucial fourth-quarter surge. A bit more could have gone wrong for the Mavs, but so, so much more should have gone right. Chin up, Mavs fans; Dallas displayed flukey, Stormtrooper-like accuracy, JET is alive and kicking, and all the Mavs have to do is win a best-of-five series starting on Friday. It’s not going to be easy, but you shouldn’t have expected it to be.
- San Antonio’s spot-up shooters are quite important. In Game 1, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, Keith Bogans, and Roger Mason combined for nine points and made just one three-pointer between them. In Game 2? Bogans received a DNP-CD and Mason went scoreless in six minutes, but Bonner, Jefferson, and Hill combined for 31 points (12-of-25 FG) and four made three-pointers. That’s a huge difference in role player production, and in truth, it could have been much worse. Dallas wasn’t contesting San Antonio’s three-pointers particularly well at all, and dodged a few bullets on completely uncontested Spur threes that just didn’t go down. On the occasions that Dallas did contest, they were pretty successful. For comparison’s sake, take a look at this first clip, in which George Hill gets a wide open look at a corner three:
And this one, in which Jason Terry scrambles to deter Hill from taking the shot. George ends up settling for a tough, two-point leaner, which is a micro win for the Mavs’ defense:
- Dirk shot 4-of-7 from within six feet of the basket, but once he stepped outside that six-foot radius, he was 5-for-17. Ouch.
- I’ve read in several places that Popovich’s defensive strategy entailed maintaining one-on-one coverage on Dirk, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. San Antonio also seemed to be doubling Nowitzki when he put the ball on the floor, just like Dirk saw in the 2007 series against Golden State. Video on that to come later.
- J.J. Barea isn’t doing to well defensively, but his five points and three assists in 10 minutes of play weren’t too shabby. The Mavs’ net production with him on the floor was +1, which tells us what we already know: Barea is a decent stop-gap point, and his marginal offensive contributions can help to balance his defensive lapses. Related: another DNP-CD for Rodrigue Beaubois.
- Brendan Haywood looked pretty bad on pick-and-rolls, though a more thorough analysis should be made before giving a declaration one way or another. Whereas most of the other Mavs were still showing strongly on screen-and-rolls, Haywood simply hung back to cover a potential roll man. I’m not sure whether that was a Duncan-specific assignment or Haywood botching the game plan, but either way it opened up opportunities for Tony Parker to penetrate into the lane and for Manu Ginobili to hit the dagger three. Otherwise, his help defense was excellent in halting penetration, and his D on Duncan, while ultimately unsuccessful, was still solid.
- A rough shooting night for Jason Kidd, who went 1-of-4 from three and 1-of-7 overall. A few of those threes go down, and we’re looking at an entirely different game.
- DeJuan Blair had another empty night with four rebounds and no points in 11 minutes. Spurs fans should be thankful that Antonio McDyess (four points, but nine big rebounds) has been playing some effective minutes at center.
- Caron Butler is a hard guy to criticize sometimes, because he plays extremely hard. From his first game as a Maverick, effort has never been a question. The downside is that he often is so focused on trying to score on his man that he puts blinders on. It’s something we saw often from Josh Howard, as well. Sometimes Butler’s focus ends up with him hitting a tough step-back jumper or getting to the rim for a layup, but often he ends up hoisting up a tough, contested jumper when he should have passed to the open man.
- Not only was Jason Terry shooting the ball much more efficiently last night, but he was much more aggressive. Freeing up JET was clearly a Carlisle point of emphasis between Game 1 and Game 2, and you could tell from early in the first quarter that Terry was looking to attack the San Antonio defense:
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.
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.
Sunday night, the Mavericks attempted 34 free throws to the Spurs 14. If you’ve been a Mavs fan since before 2006, you know how it feels to be on the short end of this stick.
The game was called very close, which was surprising knowing the previous battles between these two teams. This is a long-standing, heated rivalry that is typically very physical. The referees haven’t been known to call ticky-tack fouls when these two teams meet. They’ve usually just let the players play. Last night that wasn’t the case, as almost every small touch foul was called…on the Spurs.
It’s hard to argue that the game was called fairly, because the Mavericks still hadn’t committed a foul yet in the 3rd quarter when the Spurs were in the bonus. And this was before the “Clamp-a-Damp” technique thrown out by Popovich.
By no means am I complaining about this. Sometimes teams just get the calls, and it can happen on any given night. I highly doubt Bennett Salvatore said to himself before the game, “You know, I feel bad for the way I’ve treated the Mavericks before, so I kind of owe them one.” Things like this just happen every once in a while, and it’s fairly normal for playoff games.
Looking at the season series, the Mavs attempted 96 Free Throw Attempts to the Spurs 84. In games one and four, the Mavericks had more FTA (27 to 19 in game one and 28 to 20 in game 4). In games two and three, the Spurs had more (24 to 21 in game two and 21 to 20 in game three). The only game the Spurs won was the first game, where the Mavericks shot 8 more free throws than the Spurs. On the season, though, the Spurs have been better at getting to the line. The Spurs finished the season tied for 18th in the league with 1,969 FTAs and the Mavericks were ranked 25th with 1,870 FTAs. Bascially, neither team has been spectacular at getting to the line, which is suprising considering Tony Parker’s driving game and Dirk’s knack of getting fouled on jumpers.
How does this affect the players? Well, the whole reason Popovich called for intentional fouls on Dampier was to get the ball out of Nowitzki’s hands, to take the Mavericks out of the flow of their offense. It didn’t quite work, but with the Mavs aiming to push the tempo, having to stop and inbound or shoot free throws would technically take them out of their game, and made Dallas run more half-court offense. The Spurs may have been cautious defensively due to the frequency of foul calls, but they maintained their focus and energy on the offensive end. San Antonio shot 50% from the field as a result, but they didn’t seem to adjust to how closely the game was being called. Matt Bonner drove a few more times than Spurs fans probably wanted him to, but Parker and Ginobili didn’t drive as much as they normally do. A more aggressive approach by the Spurs’ guards would have almost forced the referees to call more fouls on the Mavericks.
Basically, Game One was an anomaly to how these teams have played all season. Between the two teams, the free throw attempts are very similar, so don’t expect this to become a trend, particularly after the Spurs have had a chance to revise their approach. If anything, expect Game Two to be loosely called, with the referees allowing a lot of contact. After having a chance to review the film from Game One, it’s likely that the officiating crew will give both teams more leeway on defense.
That being said, here are some points to look at moving forward:
- Dampier played very good defense on Tim Duncan Sunday night. Haywood had 10 points on 4-5 shooting. In close games during this series, don’t be surprised if Carlisle does offense/defense substitutions between these two.
- Caron Butler (22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) had his best game as a Maverick. It is absolutely essential for him to keep playing that well if the Mavs are to make a deep playoff run.
- Jason Terry had another off night, though he did hit a jumper and a corner three late in the fourth that could boost his confidence going into the next game. For a streaky shooter, a little confidence is all he needs to go from a slump to a monster series.
- Gregg Popovich is one of the all-time best at making adjustments. Expect an entirely different game plan Wednesday night (especially against Dirk), because that’s just how Popovich works.
- As Rob said, I doubt we’ll see Beaubois this series, he’s just too inexperienced and Barea has had some great games against the Spurs in the past. I do think Najera will make a couple of appearances, especially if Popovich tries the Clamp-a-Damp again.