The San Antonio Spurs visit the Dallas Mavericks
With everyone’s favorite Maverick (and I mean EVERYONE), Erick Dampier, on the shelf for tonight’s game, Drew Gooden will have his first real go as a starter against a quality big. Drew is coming off of back-to-back double-doubles against the Pistons and the Bucks, and in both games he was indispensable. Here are Gooden’s stats over the last two:
But Andrew Bogut is no Tim Duncan. Ben Wallace is no Tim Duncan. Hell, Ben Wallace is barely Ben Wallace these days. That could translate to some big trouble for the Mavs, who are forced to start Drew Gooden in a situation in which they would normally start Erick Dampier. But this is also a case where Drew can prove his value to this team, and hopefully demonstrate some versatility.
In this test run, Drew Gooden is playing on borrowed minutes. Duncan is precisely the type of center that the Mavs would counter with the strength of Erick Dampier, but tonight they have no such luxury. Gooden is the choice to start by default, which, and forgive me for oversimplifying here, essentially means that there will be one of two possible outcomes:
Drew Gooden plays well. He holds his own on the defensive end, making Tim Duncan work for his points and rotates well to contest penetration. Gooden scores on some Dampier-esque garbage buckets as well as dropping a few buckets when left to his own devices in the post. He uses up minutes at the 5 without being a liability on the floor, and he takes full advantage of this free opportunity.
Drew Gooden falls in line with expectation. He allows Duncan, Blair, and McDyess to bully him in the post and on the glass. Gooden floats on defense, not committing to any particular man or system, but feigning activity. He uses up shot attempts at the 5 when there are better offensive options on the floor, and he stops the offense in order to maximize his own opportunities.
I would say it’s up to Drew, but it’s hardly that simple. Still, the fact remains that this is a free opportunity for Gooden to gain some ground on Erick Dampier for a consistent starting gig. If the Mavs’ starting center job really is a meritocratic endeavor, then Drew has nothing to lose tonight, but a lot to gain. A big night tonight would likely translate to more opportunities against a greater variety of opponents, and would shift the chips in Gooden’s favor as a default starter. Unless Gooden is content to let Damp ride shotgun, he should try his damnedest to prove himself against the very breed of center Drew was never supposed to prove himself against.
It looks as though our pals down in San Antone will be without some of their key cogs tonight. Hooray for the Mavs’ chances of snagging another win, but boo on the likelihood of a competitive game. I know all wins count the same, but these games are just too much fun when both teams are firing on all cylinders.
Two big game sevens today, and both should be great games. Here’s to hoping for a Rockets’ upset (don’t mess with Texas) and that the Magic actually show up to play. It’s practically illegal to root for the Lakers or Celtics if you have another team.
Bethlehem Shoals of The Sporting Blog had a great post during my mini hiatus on Jason Kidd’s confusing status as quality, underrated point guard/aging star in decline: “Fine, when Dallas acquired him it was a calculated risk. Kidd wasn’t long for this league, and at first, didn’t mesh well with Dirk and especially Josh Howard. Then eventually they worked together, at least to the point where the Mavs could upset a Manu-less San Antonio and for a couple of games, trouble a Nuggets team that has “juggernaut” written all over it. Yes, it shows that Rick Carlisle is an excellent coach. But it’s also a testament to Jason Kidd’s abilities — and at the same time, quite possibly the last time we’ll get to see him make any meaningful use of them. Like Tas said, this might be the last hurrah. Why doesn’t anyone care about Jason Kidd anymore? It’s not because the media doesn’t love to dote on veterans, especially the great ones, when they’re at the tail-end of their primes. In fact, that’s when they somehow warrant the most superlatives. No, in this case, there are just too many young(er) point guards making noise in these playoffs for anyone to put on airs about an aged master. Heck, the league itself is too rich with point guards, and Chris Paul has not only already laid claim to Kidd’s mantle, but arguably has a chance to be the best ever. For Kidd, it’s just bad timing.”
Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “The Great Free Agent Summer of 2010 is a backup plan at this point. Mark Cuban wants to strike now instead of letting another year of Dirk’s prime go by without the supporting cast he needs to make the Mavs legit contenders. The likelihood of convincing Jason Kidd to return also increase significantly if the Mavs can make a major deal early on this summer. The Mavs, according to Cuban, will be aggressive and opportunistic this summer. He has three significant expiring contracts to dangle: Josh Howard (team option for 2010-11), Erick Dampier (2010-11 not guaranteed) and Jerry Stackhouse, who is an especially valuable trade chip in these economic times because his $7 million salary can be bought out for $2 million.” Regardless, some salary will have to be moved around if the Mavs intend on being players in this summer’s trade market or the 2010 blowout. The numbers just don’t add up, otherwise. Damp and Stack appear to be prime candidates for relocation, but don’t be surprised to see Josh Howard and Jason Terry’s names in the trade buzz as well.
ESPN’s John Hollinger (insider): “There probably isn’t much Dallas could have done against the Nuggets, and Rick Carlisle squeezed about all he could from the Mavericks’ limited roster. But one thing he may kick himself for is not giving Brandon Bass a more extended run. Bass only averaged 19 minutes a game in the playoffs, but his production was monstrous — he ranks 11th among all players in postseason PER, right behind 10 rather prominent NBA stars. Bass closed things out with arguably his best performance, contributing 17 points and seven boards in 25 minutes off the bench. It was his third straight double-figure effort after being used sparingly in Games 1 and 2.” Here’s to hoping that Rick’s conservative use of Bass early in the series doesn’t come back to bite us in free agency.
David Stern will be looking into the possibility of more replay in the NBA, as well as a different system of stadium security for friends and family of visiting players. Obviously both are products of the Mavs-Nuggets series. Look, we’re making a difference!
Dirk Nowitzki, via AP: “After I played here for 11 years — played hurt, played sick, whatever they needed me to do, basically playing my heart [out] for the last 11 years — I don’t think it would feel the same way somewhere else,” Nowitzki said. “It’s always been my dream here to finish my career and win a championship. I think my window has not closed yet and I’ll still see what we can do.” The possibility of trading Dirk is so difficult to dissect because he really hasn’t done anything to warrant the speculation. That means that the onus is on others within the organization for failing to do their jobs. Professional sports are a strange beast in which players are asked to express undying loyalty to their teams, with no such guarantee of a team’s loyalty to a player. That said, I’d love for Dirk to retire a Maverick. I don’t know how anyone who has watched this team for an extended period could argue otherwise, given what he’s been able to accomplish as a player and a leader when given the short end of the stick.
Dirk may have made the official All-NBA 1st team, but according to a wide variety of statistical measures, Tim Duncan actually had a slight edge. Even more interesting though, is that those same statistical measures voted Jason Kidd to the 3rd team, over his playoff opponents Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups.
The first round is in the books, and the Spurs are no more (for now). There have been a lot of micro-level observations about the Mavs’ play and their responses to the Spurs’ specific strategies, but it’s about time that we make a good, honest appraisal of where this team is.
The Mavs have some fight in them. In the regular season, the Mavs could gut it out with contenders one night and then blow one against Milwaukee another. But we’ve seen a completely different look from the team in the last five games (well, four of the last five games). Where the old Mavs would roll over and hit the snooze button, the new Mavs leap out of bed fully energized and karate chop the alarm clock in half. They’ve been able to leap gaudy offensive efficiency numbers in a single bound, and their defense has been passable enough to secure wins. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan took their turns going on mini-runs in this series, and the Mavs built on the resilency they showed in the final games of the regular season and fought back. Call it experience, call it better offensive execution, or call it mental fortitude, but when the Mavs get hit they’re hitting back. That’s pretty huge progress from a squad that tended to fold like origami when faced with the slightest coercion a few months ago.
The Mavs are not an elite defensive team, but they’re also not a bad one. They currently rank 8th among playoff teams in defensive efficiency at 102.9, which for comparison’s sake would have ranked 7th in the regular season. They’re notably better than Houston (104.0), one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs. The sample size is hideously small, but there is a pretty big piece of anecdotal evidence that goes in the Mavs’ favor: against the Spurs, the Mavs were able to stop the Spurs from doing what they wanted to do. Poppovich wants to use Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as a mechanism to open up three point shooters, which can kill teams from the corners. Parker and Duncan are obviously still big-time contributors, but San Antonio’s offensive strategy hinges on those shooters. I’d be lying if I said the Mavs completely took away that strategy. Parker’s deep penetration still allowed plenty of open looks. But as the series went on and the team resigned itself to the fact that Tony Parker’s going to be able to get his, the approach shifted. Kidd and Barea began playing the angles, hoping to limit Parker and funnel him into the help rather than stop him. And on the perimeter, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and even Dirk were locked in place on the shooters, either expecting the kick-out or rotating perfectly. The defensive rotations and shot contesting in Game 5 was some of the best we’ve seen from the Mavs all season. Don’t discount that, especially when this offense only needs a little breathing room to win.
Josh Howard is back. We all had our fingers crossed that throwback Josh wasn’t a mirage, and we lucked out. Frankly, he deserves a post all to himself, and he’s going to get one. But for now, it’s worth noting that there are four players that are legitimate stars on this team, even if the stat sheet isn’t in their favor every night.
The bench seems deeper than ever, and the mob is ready to contribute in a big way. J.J. Barea was pegged as a potential X-factor for the Spurs series, but Brandon Bass’ and Ryan Hollins’ contributions were nearly as valuable. The ability to throw a variety of defensive looks at Tim Duncan to keep him on his toes while also having a safety net for Erick Dampier’s foul trouble was indispensible. James Singleton has been lost in the shuffle of Josh Howard’s return, but he could be a piece of the puzzle to defend Carmelo Anthony (supposing Denver guts out another win). The success of Barea and Bass make stopping the offense that much more difficult, and they’ve eased the burden on the big guns by playing smart, gutsy basketball. Plus, Antoine Wright was a non-factor in the last series, but he’ll be an important defensive piece in a series against either the Nuggets or Hornets. At various points throughout the season, I’ve worried that a bench consisting of Barea, Hollins, Bass, and Singleton was akin to loading up your pistol with peanuts when you ran out of bullets. Not only did they each prove me wrong individually, but on the whole this bench is stronger than I’ve given them credit for.
Blocking out a star won’t stop its light from shining through. The bench was so successful in part because of all the attention Dirk and JET received. The Spurs were clearly ready to let Kidd, Josh, and the rest of the bunch decide the fate of this series, but those open shots and clear drives don’t happen unless Terry is getting trapped on the wing or Dirk is doubled at the free throw line. Both of their shot attempts were down, but their floor presence was unmistakable. Dirk showed off his much-improved passing game, and both he and Terry patiently waited out the defense. Yet even with both shooting significantly fewer shots, the Mavs’ offense looked unstoppable at times. The ball is moving to the open man, the turnover rate is as impressive as ever, and Dirk and JET are still making their mark despite their point totals. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still openly weep when Dirk goes for 50, but every time he makes a bullet pass to a cutter, an adorable little angel puppy gets its wings. Aww.
Jason Terry, with a pretty strange post-game comment (emphasis mine), via Mavs Moneyball: “Over the last three years we’ve obviously been through a lot of adversity — not getting out of the first round. But that’s not our goal. Our goal is to win a championship. Obviously there is some urgency, with Jason Kidd probably not going to be with us next year. The time is now. We feel we are still under the radar. Nobody expects us to win. We are definitely not going to be favored in the next series, so we all have to continue to play and keep it going.” We can fret all day about this one sentence, but who is to say with any certainty what Kidd’s plans are? Obviously Kidd himself is leaving the issue for the summer, as he focuses on this playoff run. I thank him for that. His head has clearly been in the game, and as long as he continues to play at such a high level, you won’t hear any complaint from me. It’s an off-season issue that’s going to be answered one way or another over the summer, so rather than read between the words, let’s just ignore it for now.
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Jason Terry declared before the playoffs began, before he knew San Antonio was the opponent, that the Mavericks would get out of the first round. Terry believed the emotional baggage that had dragged down the Mavericks in the last two postseasons had been shed. It looks like he was right. These Mavericks have always been at their best when expectations are lowest. They have shown us this side of their personality time and time again.” I know the idea of only succeeding when expectations are low can seem like an insult, but try not to think of it that way. Rather than A, the Mavericks are B. One’s no better than the other, they’re just different.
Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “Dirk was dominant. He was really, really good. Once again, if there were coaching errors in this series, they appeared to come from the San Antonio bench, and this time they decided to start the game with Bruce Bowen on Howard, Parker on JJB, Finley on Kidd, and Bonner trying to defend Dirk 1-on-1? Ummmm. Dirk scored 11 of the Mavs first 16, and the Mavs were up 16-6. Time out, Spurs. Change your strategy, but was the damage already done? The margin for most of the rest of the game was about 10 points. Dirk had 31 points, 9 rebounds, 3 sneaky-nice assists, and some solid defense on Tim Duncan in spurts. Well done, big man.”
Tony Parker, in an interview (translated) with TP9.com via 48 Minutes of Hell via SpurtsTalk: “I’m disappointed but I’m not angry. Dallas was stronger. You had to accept it. Their win was logical. Now, I hope that San Antonio will make good job this summer to improve the team. Maybe that this elimination will bring something positive. Spurs wanted to continue with this team until 2010. Now, if we want to stay competitive next year, we have to make big changes.”
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “If Dallas plays Denver in Round 2, Erick Dampier’s role might be completely different. (Give me some time to research the thing, OK? Damp-vs.-Nene doesn’t sound all that fun at this moment.) But for now, props to Damp, who in Games 1 and 2 was the most consistent Mav out there, was pretty close to as good in Games 3 and 4, and in G5, was all about guarding Duncan one-on-one. Duncan scored 30 to go with eight rebounds. Good. But Damp – with little rest due to his 41 minutes…was good for 11 points and 12 rebounds. His second double-double of the series. And that, ladies and gents, is as close to negating Tim Duncan as you’re gonna get.”
Make sure to get your tickets ASAP if you’re planning on boogieing on down to the AAC. They go on sale today.
Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: “There are several other, more microscopic issues I had with tonight’s game, the most glaring of which was Popovich’s decision to have Ime Udoka cover Dirk Nowitzki. I know a lot of Spurs fans disagree but I think Ime is a decent role player. Nonetheless, he possesses nowhere close to the height or savvy required to cover Dirk. Kurt Thomas did a far better job against Nowitzki while on the floor.”
Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News: “Now, the Mavericks may not exactly be poised to make a championship run, either, but in beating San Antonio rather handily, Rick Carlisle has them peaking at the absolute right time. They will need it in the next series when they almost certainly will face Denver, which is just carving up the New Orleans Hornets in record-setting fashion. And they will need much from Dirk Nowitzki, which is what the Mavericks finally got from their 7-footer in Game 5.”
“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”
The Mavs’ victory last night was significant for a variety of reasons, but catharsis was not one of them. There is hardly the emotional closure of that fateful 2006 series; the Mavs aren’t wrestling with big brother or with their own identity as a contender. There are no subplots of revenge or validation. Rather, the emotion that fueled the Mavs to victory in five games over the Spurs is the very same that I feel right now: pride. This is a veteran team with a lot to prove, but also one with enough invested in themselves to fight and fight hard. And, for the first time in years, this is a Mavericks team you can be proud of. We haven’t seen the end of this playoff run, but as of right now, I feel nothing but pride for the boys in blue, the quasi-underdogs considered down for the count all season long.
The Spurs simply could not get a defensive stop to save their playoff lives, a testament to both the Mavs’ ridiculous offensive output and just how far SanAn’s D has fallen. Dirk (31 points on 17 shots, 9 rebounds, 3 assists) was tremendous, and pulled a vintage performance out of his bag of tricks to absolutely smoke the Spurs. San Antonio was doubling harder than ever off of screens, but rather than pressure Dirk, they opted to trap the guard (either JET or Barea in most cases) and stop the ball movement. Barea was bottled up at times by taller defenders, but Terry saw the floor well and didn’t make any careless passes. So more often than not, you’d see a wide open Dirk standing at the elbow, while two Spurs chased around the little guys. If you’ve seen the Mavs’ ball movement in this series, it should be no surprise that Dirk found himself with the ball on quite a few occasions.
In the first quarter, I should’ve known that Tim Duncan (30 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) was dialed in when he score on two tough and one’s in a row. Obviously Duncan brought the circus with him. But while the first quarter was all Barnum and Bailey, the fourth was business time. Tim took full advantage of single coverage, and went right at both Erick Dampier and Dirk to score 12 points in the final frame without missing a shot. A noble effort to be sure, but ultimately, a futile one. In fitting fashion, the Spurs’ final game was a microcosm of the series: if Tony Parker (26 points on 11-21 shooting, 12 assists, 7 turnovers) had been spectacular instead of just pretty good (in a role reversal with Duncan), if the Spurs had just gotten a few stops, and if just ONE Spur had really picked up their scoring…
Call Josh Howard (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block) an X-Factor, call him the birthday boy, call him whatever you want; I’ll call him a damn good basketball player. The Mavs don’t win this game or this series without a healthy Josh Howard and a motivated Josh Howard, and to his credit he has been both. Maybe Josh isn’t at 100%, but he’s playing tough and scrapping every minute he’s on the floor. He’s scoring from all over the floor, he’s running in transition both ways, and he’s playing very intelligent defense. If you want a reason why Parker didn’t go nuts, credit Kidd and Barea, of course, but also Howard for providing the help D or cutting off the passing lanes to the corners. If you’ve been confused as to what the Mavs needed Howard to do in last season’s playoffs or in the early regular season, look no further than his contributions in this series. He’s scoring without trying too hard to be the man, he has become a more willing passer, and he’s working harder than ever on the defensive end to be in a position to make plays.
I said that Terry didn’t need to score 20 to help the Mavs win, and that was true…because he scored 19 and appeared to be back in the act. Somebody shined their flashlight under the JET’s bed to show him that no Bowens were waiting for him under there, and he responded by scoring 19 points on 7-14 shooting (and 3-5 from deep), notching 4 assists, and no turnovers. Virtually every Mav had a great game to close out Game 5, hopefully a wonderful omen of things to come in the Western Conference Semis.
This is one of those games where I could just go on and on down the roster, and thank them profusely for playing a fantastic game. Jason Kidd played solid defense as always, hit 4-9 on threes, and orchestrated the offense beautifully, even if his assist total (5) doesn’t show it. As far as I’m concerned, Kidd will never get enough credit for what he does offensively and defensively for this team, and fingers crossed that we won’t have to find out next season. Erick Dampier (11 points, 4-6 FG, 12 rebounds, including 4 offensive) was absolutely awesome, never stepping outside of himself but making his presence felt. Plus, if you factor in all of Damp’s tap-back rebounds, his night was just that much more productive. And while the Spurs’ reserves struggled (to make everything crystal clear, Pop chose not to even play Drew Gooden, and only played Roger Mason Jr. 12 minutes), J.J. Barea was as brilliant as ever, and he and Brandon Bass decided to make the second quarter their own with big play after big play to beef up the lead.
More specific thoughts on this series to come, but first, some closing thoughts:
Even though Dirk was able to score big, his passing was as impressive as ever. Big ups to an unselfish superstar who doesn’t feel the need to force things, and big ups to a team that makes it so their superstar doesn’t have to.
I would’ve loved to see Hollins bounce around the court, but he only got in the game for thirty seconds in the third quarter. Frowny face.
If you’re a Spurs fan, and you didn’t like the calls in this game, I feel you. Some of those calls were a bit odd, and some were just bad. But it’s something that every team faces at one time another, and blah, blah, blah, you know the drill. Not having Manu is a legitimate excuse. Not having the refs’ favor, that’s something else.
Umm…WE WON. YES.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Erick Dampier. Out of all the Mavs, he may not have had the biggest scoring contribution or the most versatile contribution, but Damp set up down low, drew some fouls, finished strong, and hit the boards with all of his burly bear-like might. I like what I saw, and I’m giving him the star. Congrats, Damp.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “You already know that the Mavs feel like they did some things right in defending Parker in the second half of G4 when Frenchie scored just 12 points. But here’s an insider angle for ya: The Mavs and defender Jason Kidd also feel they did some things right in the first half when Parker scored an astounding 31 points. Much of Parker’s success came from the perimeter. He didn’t kill the Mavs with layups, as he did earlier in the series. In the first half, he made 11 perimeter jumpshots. Good for him. But better he shoot jumpers than shoot layups. The Mavs will take their chances on Parker from 20. It beats Parker from 2.”
The Spurs are apparently refusing to sell tickets to tonight’s game to anyone living more than 50 miles from San Antonio. I understand the point, but come on. Not cool. If that’s what it takes to protect an artificial homecourt advantage, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “They have three chances to get it done. But that’s a fool’s way of looking at it. ‘We can’t think like that,’ center Erick Dampier said Monday. ‘We got an opportunity to end the series. They’re going to put up a fight. We’re going to put up a fight…We know it’s going to take a hard defensive effort on those guys. It’s potentially their last game of the season. They’ve been in this position before. Tim [Duncan] has four rings. We don’t want to let this linger.’” ‘Attaboy, Damp. If there was ever a time to show some killer instinct, it’s here and now. The Spurs are world-famous for their walking dead act, and though the certificate of death has been signed and dated dozens of times, they’re still in this series and have an unsolvable riddle in Parker.
Missed this one yesterday from John Hollinger (Insider), via TrueHoop: “The most shocking thing about Saturday’s loss was seeing Tony Parker run out of gas so visibly down the stretch. He had a breakaway with just less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter when Jason Kidd and Jason Terry both caught up to him. He missed both free throws, and his only shot the rest of the way was a tired-looking 3 off the dribble into the front rim. Parker played 41 minutes and scored 43 points but had only 12 after the break and none in the final 7 minutes, 33 seconds. His teammates mustered only eight points during that stretch, allowing the Mavs to win despite getting diddly from both Dirk Nowitzki and Terry. This reinforces the dominant theme of the Spurs’ season: not enough help. Parker rarely played 41 minutes during a playoff game in past seasons, let alone 41 minutes of handling the ball for 15 to 20 seconds on nearly every possession. San Antonio got 68 points from Parker and Tim Duncan, but only 22 on 6-of-28 shooting from the others. Once Dallas clamped down on those two after halftime, the Spurs scored only 35 points in the second half.”
Tim Duncan, via Art Garcia of NBA.com: “We haven’t lost too many in the first round…and to be down this big is obviously different, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this hole. It’s either stand up and try to win these games or we go home. We face reality.”
Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “…allow me to say why the abrasive Carlisle is more appealing to me right now than Avery ‘08; I saw this team out-coach its opponent in a playoff series (to this juncture). I saw a Mavericks coach deploy a bench player (JJB) who gave the opponent’s coach fits (You may recall Avery had the opposite done to him in the Golden State Series). I saw a Mavericks coach require the opponent’s coach – who has 4 rings – to counter his adjustments by starting Bruce Bowen in Game 4. I saw a Mavericks coach push the Spurs coach to run up a white flag in Game 3 with 20 minutes of basketball left. And, most importantly, I saw a Mavericks coach figure out a plan when the opponent took away what the Mavs like to do offensively. That means the Mavericks have a coach in ‘09 that can do something that their coach could not do in ‘07 or ‘08; adjust to the series when the series is not adjusting to him.” Damn straight. Those who questioned Carlisle’s ability to coach this team coming into the season need watch nothing more than his strategic battle with Pop, or more truthfully, with his players’ psyches. It’s tough to keep your cool and not get discouraged when Tony Parker is getting into the lane at will, but Rick has kept everyone focused, played the right counter in Barea, and deserves a lot of credit. I have no idea how long Carlisle will be the coach of the Mavs, but for right now, he’s doing a wonderful job.
Quick announcement right off the bat: Graydon and I will be back today with another live chat at 1 PM CST, so drop by here or 48 Minutes of Hell with your questions and comments about Game 4 or the series.
Bethlehem Shoals of the Sporting Blog: “The Spurs have turned into a total enigma over this series with the Mavs. For the team whose strategy over the past decade has involved a healthy dose of consistency and professionalism, this isn’t a good thing. You’d think that bringing the series back home might give them a chance to swing the momentum and maybe start to dig their way out a 3-1 hole. But teams don’t just casually dig their way out of 3-1 holes. Especially not ones as all over the place as these Spurs. Between Manu’s absence and Duncan not really looking himself, maybe it’s best to let them bow out gracefully, and applaud the Mavs for something between an upset and a lucky draw.”
Something that isn’t mentioned much but deserves a headline: Antoine Wright has been contributing in a variety of ways all season long, and hasn’t griped once over his role with the team or his place in (or removal from) the starting lineup. JET’s been lauded for his unselfishness and willingness to come off the bench, but Wright has endured just as much, if not more. In spite of all the lineup changes, alterations in the rotation, and seemingly random drops in minutes, Wright has kept his head and his play up.
Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “If Pop decides to single-cover Jet with Roger Mason, as he did early in G4, I think Jet will break out of his slump. The Mavs believe that, too.” Objections? Fingers crossed that Pop sticks to his latest strategy of choice.
I know it’s just athletes talking to the media, but how can you read quotes from the Spurs and not get that unmistakably professional vibe? (And more here.)
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Gush all you want about J.J. Barea. Focus on what Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have been unable to do. Not nearly enough has been said about what Howard has done. The small forward has been the lone, consistent offensive force for the Mavericks in this series. He’s made the Spurs pay for their stubborn attachment to Nowitzki and Terry. San Antonio has thrown double-teams at Howard along the way, but he’s been able to slip through the defensive cracks to average 19.2 points. His 25 points in the team’s Game 1 victory help set the tone of this series.”
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: “Outside of the Spurs’ All-Star twosome, no Spurs’ player is averaging more than eight points this postseason. Game 4 was the low-water mark: Parker set a career playoff high with 43 points, Duncan tap-danced with a triple-double — and the Spurs still couldn’t outscore the Mavs. Parker was 18 of 29 from the field, Duncan was 7 of 13. The rest of the team was 6 of 28. ‘Tony and Tim had a huge night, and a lot of us didn’t step up to help out,’ swingman Ime Udoka said. ‘We all felt we let the team down.’ Duncan says there will be no change of plan heading into Game 5 on Tuesday at the AT&T Center. The Spurs can only hope for a change of luck.”
“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”
-Arnold H. Glasgow
Regardless of how you dress yesterday’s game up with requiems for the Spurs, tie-ins for near-Spurs Jason Kidd and Josh Howard, or woeful depictions of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as isolated heroes, one singular fact reigns supreme over all else: the Mavs are 3-1 against the Spurs. Oh, happy day.
Tony Parker (43 points 18-29 FG) and Tim Duncan (25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) were nothing short of spectacular, and for once, it wasn’t enough. Throughout the regular season, the Mavs seemed to lack the firepower to stay competitive without big nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. But in this game and in this series, Dallas has done just that. A complete performance from a supporting cast rumored to be limited…the Mavs may no longer be the Spurs by design, but this type of balanced performance has Spurs written all over it.
Due to my, shall we say, unique viewing experience, it’s probably best to defer to the wise words of others.
“The Spurs led the Western Conference in 3-point precision this season, but in a playoff game in which point guard Tony Parker and power forward Tim Duncan needed some help at the offensive end, the team’s ordinarily accurate long-range shooters came up short, long and sideways. The Spurs made only 6 of 23 3-pointers Saturday. Parker made two, and George Hill went 2 for 2. Matt Bonner, who finished eighth in 3-point accuracy at 44 percent, missed all three shots from beyond the arc. Roger Mason Jr., 15th in regular-season accuracy at 42.1 percent, missed both of his. Ime Udoka launched two and missed both. Michael Finley, who shot 41.1 in the regular season, missed four of five. His final long-range attempt, with the Spurs trailing by seven with 36.5 seconds left, got wedged between the basket and the backboard, a fitting, frozen moment that epitomized the long-distance frustration. ‘Me, personally, they all felt good and looked good,’ said Bonner, scoreless for the second time in four games of the series. ‘I felt they were all going in, but they all rattled out.’”
-Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express-News
“I was very disappointed with [the Spurs'] shot selection during the closing stretch. After Michael Finley made a technical free throw with 4:20 left on the clock, the Spurs were down 92-87. After Tony Parker missed 2 free throws with 3:47 left on the clock (and still down by 5), the Spurs took 8 field goal attempts. All 8 were 3-point attempts. Only 1 was made. It was completely unnecessary for the Spurs to begin heaving up outside shots. [The Spurs] needed stops on the defensive end and penetration on the offensive end. [They] produced neither.”
-Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell
“Dirk Nowitzki is nearly 10 points below his season scoring average in the playoffs – and the Dallas Mavericks are still on the verge of easily advancing. ‘People may say Dirk’s not scoring enough, but Dirk is playing the game the right way. Playing patient, not taking any bad shots,’ Dallas guard Jason Kidd said. ‘I don’t think he has to score 30 for us to try to win. You can see that in this series.’ Or even 20.”
“Tony was unstoppable for most of this game, on offense. He was 18-29 for 43 points, and had 4 steals. And that’s what went right for him. As the game went on, however, Tony became something of a liability. He had 31 points and 3 assists at the half. He finished the game with 43 points and 3 assists – that’s right, ZERO assists in the second half. What’s more, he started to turn the ball over. This is not to say it was all Tony’s fault, though. He set up Ime, Findog, Mason and Bonner multiple times, but they couldn’t hit the 3. If those guys are making shots, Tony probably gets a double-double and doesn’t have to wear himself out trying to win the game on his own. Also, in the second half, he wasn’t even trying to get a hand in Kidd’s face on 3-point attempts. Kidd was 3-7 on those tonight, and at least two of his makes(by my count) were in that second half with Tony just standing there and watching.”
-rikkido, Pounding the Rock
“But it wasn’t just The Others who created a situation that puts the Mavs up 3-1 in this best-of-seven series (with a Tuesday road chance to close this out and advance to Round 2 for the first time since the 2006 Finals). It was The Everybodies. Josh Howard drew plaudits from both locker rooms for his assertive path to 28 points. He made seven of his 14 shots and three of his six 3’s. But the proof of his style in is his other path, the one to the free-throw line. Howard plowed his way to the basket with enough frequency that he earned 13 visits there. And he made 11 of those. ‘Josh was great,’ Jason Kidd said.”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com
“Jason Kidd was superb. I have said it before and I will say it again. There are two ways to look at trades, and one is ‘the future’. But the other, ‘the present’ should not be completely ignored. And in the present, there is no question in my head that he has made this a better Mavericks team. I know that won’t help you feel better about 2011, but Jason Kidd has provided such a higher basketball IQ for the squad it is not even funny. He is a basketball genius from the way he thinks the game. He defends with his head, he takes the ball away, he sees passes you don’t see, and I have really found it shocking how he well he shoots the wide-open shots. In this sports age where we only see what a guy doesn’t do, I would like to speak up for Jason Kidd and appreciate what he does do. I swear I have not seen a smarter player in a Mavericks uniform. He just doesn’t ever hurt you with his decisions. And when you have him, all of the sudden, some of your other players who may be less than brilliant between the ears do seem to get smarter.”
-Bob Sturm, Inside Corner
“Popovich had started Bruce Bowen in place of Roger Mason in an effort to counteract the spark J.J. Barea has given Dallas as a starter. Now Popovich is running out of games and options. The Spurs have to hope Parker and Duncan can carry them. ‘It’s obvious that’s what we need to do,’ Popovich said. ‘Those guys have to have the ball as much as possible to score. Sure, we hope that other people step up and make shots and make plays. It didn’t happen enough tonight, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.’”
-Brad Townsend, Dallas Morning News
“Ryan Hollins guarding Tim Duncan. For 19 minutes. I know Mavs followers liked the idea, and we’ve reported that Jet liked it so much he begged Carlisle to give it a shot before the start of the series. But for Carlisle to give him 19 minutes? Against Duncan? Brass ones. ‘Was I surprised?’ Duncan said, repeating a postgame question and then noting that Hollins ‘is a young buck and he is very athletic and he was all over the place.’ So. … ‘No, I was not surprised.’”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com
“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.”
The fires of the fourth quarter may forge championship mettle, but the finale was hardly the most important frame in Saturday’s Spurs-Mavs showdown. What Dallas was able to do in the fourth is remarkable and noteworthy in its own right, but we’d be looking at a very different outcome if not for a fantastic display of Maverick resiliency to finish the first half.
With almost nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, Dirk Nowitzki picked up his third foul, and immediately subbed out. The Mavs trailed by nine, and things were going from bad to worse. But a decidedly Dirk-less lineup didn’t seem to mind; Brandon Bass, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Jason Terry managed to not only jack up Dallas’ defensive intensity, but actually trim the lead against the likes of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. The Mavericks forcibly removed the Spurs’ boot from their throats, rose to their feet, and started swinging. Every punch didn’t connect, but the fact that the Mavs sans Dirk were able to stand their ground and then some against a clicking San Antonio squad is very indicative of how this Maverick team has evolved. A few months ago, maybe the Mavs folded in that second quarter. Maybe the sight of their own shots clanging off the rim would discourage them from bringing the appropriate defensive focus, and the Spurs would go hog wild on a team crippled by the loss of its star due to foul trouble. That nine minute stretch would be the kiss of death.
Yet here we are, and here the Mavs are, standing tall on their 1-0 series lead. That second quarter (and, in turn, what it represents) doesn’t mean everything, but it certainly means something.
It’s way too early to judge what will work and what won’t work over the course of this series, but there is one thing I feel very comfortably saying: J.J. Barea defends Tony Parker (24 points, 9-22 FG, 8 assists) more competently than I ever could have imagined. We know that Barea has the quicks. The man runs around like his shorts are on fire. On offense, that typically translates into creative drives and open looks, and on defense, that typically translates into…well, not all that much. Barea has been a bit of an irritant as a defender, but I don’t know that we’ve seen him truly inhibit a legitimate scoring threat in a meaningful way. After last night, I can say that no more; Barea didn’t lock down Tony Parker as much as he got under his skin, staying with him step for step, getting all up in his business, and putting those amateur acting lessons with Carl Weathers to work by putting on a one-man show for the zebras. Does Barea flop? Oh, most definitely. He exaggerates the contact, and he does what he has to to sell the call and compensate for his height. But to angrily classify J.J. as a ‘flopper’ is to ignore the effectiveness of his defense. He’s not creating contact where there is none, he’s simply putting a flashing neon sign on his back that says “OFF ARM PUSH-OFF!” or “LOOK, A LOWERED SHOULDER!”.
On top of it all, Barea (13 points, 3 assists) came up big on the offensive end. He was so effective in fact, that he stole fourth quarter minutes away from Jason Kidd and Josh Howard. As far as I’m concerned, every second was well deserved. J.J.’s shortcomings were practically invisible, and he confidently drove to the basket at will. He finished his drives well, but those plays dwarfed in comparison to Barea’s decision making and creation for his teammates. By the time Barea was more than a blip on the Spurs’ radar, he was taking advantage of all the extra attention by setting up Antoine Wright in the corner or Brandon Bass at the free throw line. Just beautiful, beautiful basketball.
I don’t expect Barea to hinder Parker consistently, and I don’t expect his bag of tricks to always come up roses. Parker will bounce back, and with help from the tape and his coaches, he probably won’t fall into the same traps. But J.J. was able to make Tony overdribble and indecisive, and that tickles me a bit. Maybe it won’t work every night, but on a night where Dirk and JET aren’t scorching, it was exactly what the Mavs needed.
Brandon Bass (14 points, 7-9 FG, 4 rebounds) was nearly as brilliant, but succeeded without drawing too much attention. His defense and rebounding were exactly what we’ve come to expect from Bass, and his offense anchored an important stretch for the Mavs in the second quarter. He played foil to the Spurs’ Drew Gooden, and I’d say that he succeeded greatly in that regard, despite Gooden’s contributions.
Dirk (19 points, 8 rebounds) was good, but was unexpectedly limited. Some of that credit goes to the Spurs’ defensive pressure, some of it goes to Dirk’s random off half, and the remainder can be chalked up to shot selection. All kinds of Spurs lined up against #41, and Bruce Bowen and Drew Gooden each had some success. Like Parker, I wouldn’t necessarily count on Dirk being limited to these numbers again. But it’s good to know that the Mavs are no longer damsels in distress, waiting for Dirk to put on his cape and save them from the cold, cruel world.
Erick Dampier (10 points, 11 rebounds) showed exactly how valuable he can be in a series against a player of Tim Duncan’s skill set. Duncan’s line was far from shabby (27 points, 13-24 FG, 9 rebounds), but Damp bothered Duncan just enough to cause a few of those misses, and his aggressive board-work earned him more than a few buckets and earned his team a few possessions. On some nights it’s hard to appreciate Dampier, and on others he is completely infuriating. But he usually shows up to play against the biggest of the big, and though the box score may not agree, Dampier was very effective against Duncan and co. last night.
I’ll end it with one more player note: Josh Howard (25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) has officially found himself. Some of his shots were hunted and a few jumpers were clearly forced. Still, Josh took over the third quarter (in case you didn’t get the memo, the third quarter is the new first quarter) offensively and displayed his wonderfully high activity level on defense. The “X-Factor” was exquisite, and Josh’s ankle troubles seemed a distant memory. Just to make sure, Josh took an early seat on the bench, sitting for the entire fourth quarter.
More to come later today on the surprising (Barea’s defense) and disturbing (Spurs’ three pointers) trends from Game 1.
Michael Finley was unbelievable. He finished with 19 points on 5-5 shooting from three, and several of those attempts were from well beyond the line. Fortunately for the Mavs, Fin seems destined to fall back down to Earth. It’s just the way he is. But, it’s more symptomatic of the real problem: the Mavs simply were not sticking to the Spurs’ shooters. That could be a problem.
Jason Terry turned in a subpar night with just 12 points. I think it’s safe to say that he has Gregg Popovich’s attention, because all kinds of Spurs were playing denial D on Terry all night long.
One game down, and still no sign of George Hill, the Spur who has the best chance of limiting Barea. If Pop continues his hard stance on not playing Hill and the Spurs lose the series, he could be facing a summer of annoying, repetitive questions.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…come on, man, it’s J.J. He was a stud in the fourth quarter, and was actually the most effective point guard on the offensive end. That’s right, better than Kidd. Barea’s willingness to set up his teammates made the game easy, and his ability to finish in the lane with fakes and floaters kept the defense on their toes. Keeping my fingers crossed that this is only the beginning.