San Antonio Spurs 94, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 24, 2010 under Recaps, Roster Moves | 14 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end.
-Harry Emerson Fosdick

The conclusions of the past two games have been shockingly similar given their vastly different contexts. The features of Game 3 were greatly exaggerated in Game 2, with the highs even more impressive and the lows even more debilitating, but remarkably enough, both exhilarating contests wrapped up in more or less the same capacity: the Mavs overcame a slow start to put themselves in position to win, but the formula that brought Dallas their crucial, game-changing run had become stale by late in the fourth. A bounce of the ball here, a turnover there, and Tony Parker from everywhere, and the Mavs’ hopes of taking a 2-1 series lead completely dissipated.

Dallas stayed competitive thanks to an incredibly successful stint by the three-guard lineup, with J.J. Barea (14 points, four assists, four rebounds), Jason Terry (17 points, 6-of-15 FG, two assists), and Jason Kidd (seven points, 1-of-6 FG, five assists, seven rebounds) completely erasing Shawn Marion (seven points and two turnovers in 17 minutes) and Caron Butler (two points and three turnovers in 15 minutes) from the rotation. Aside from a three and a half minute stint from Marion in the beginning of the third quarter, neither Shawn nor Caron played in the second half. Barea certainly earned his playing time, as he put together his most impressive game of the playoffs and complemented his much-needed offense with solid defense. Kidd and Terry, however, were present for the Mavs’ crucial third quarter run, but uncomfortably silent for large stretches of the game.

The Spurs defense was just too strong, and they worked the Mavs into 24-second violations and late-clock shots with alarming frequency. Dallas seemed rattled in getting into their offensive success, which is as much a credit to the Spurs’ excellent defensive coverage as it was their physicality. Blowing the whistle on whistle-blowing is pretty useless, but if nothing else I should at least point out the differential in foul calls (25 called on the Mavs to 16 on the Spurs) and free throw attempts (26 for the Spurs to 15 for the Mavs). Those differentials are obviously distorted by the shot attempts taken by the two teams, and particularly so by the Mavs’ reluctance to drive to the basket in the fourth quarter, but it should still be noted. And it is so noted.

Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic again (35 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds), but he was but one man against an army. Manu Ginobili rebounded from a scoreless first half and a nasal fracture to finish with 15 points, Tim Duncan (25 points, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) was as terrific inside as you’d expect him to be, and Tony Parker (26 points on 13 shots) came off the bench to three tough shots in a row to finish off the Mavs. All three were long, two-point jumpers, and at least somewhat contested if not heavily so. Parker knocked them down without hesitation, and each ensuing fist pump was a punch in the gut to the Mavericks’ cause.

Also, get this: the Spurs didn’t make a single three-pointer. Not one. Dallas had eight makes out of 20 attempts (40%), but even that wasn’t quite enough to make up for the Spurs’ superior defense and Parker’s resolve. There were stretches of this game where the Mavs looked rather terrific defensively, largely thanks to the effectiveness of the zone. Kidd roamed within the zone D to add even more pressure on San Antonio’s ball-handlers, and the Spurs were forced into turnovers and difficult shots. It was that defense that had Dallas up by nine points in the third quarter, but Manu’s penetration, the threat of Duncan around the rim, and Parker’s shooting were ultimately the Mavs’ undoing.

Maybe having Caron Butler or Shawn Marion in at the end of the game helps, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea played essentially the entire second half, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry not far behind. There was a lot riding on what had to be tired legs, and despite what was, at times, a rather resilient effort, the Mavs fumbled this one away. They had a win in their grasp, but couldn’t seal it, and should the series end up going to the Spurs, Games 2 and 3 will be the ones that got away.

More analysis to come, along with closing thoughts.

San Antonio Spurs 102, Dallas Mavericks 88

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2010 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

Wait until the next big rain, you will see the trees fall down.
-Billy DeCosta

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.

Closing thoughts:

  • 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:

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

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

odysseus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foul Ball

Posted by admin on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images
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.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2009-2010 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 16, 2010 under Commentary, Previews | 11 Comments to Read

It’s a date: the Mavs savor the thought of playing the Spurs, and the Spurs apparently aren’t too intimidated by the Mavs. That much was certain based on how each coach chose to play the regular season’s final game, and now everyone gets what they want.

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

This series is going to be excellent. I’m talking 2006 Western Conference semifinals excellent. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not this series is going to go the distance, but based on how Dallas and San Antonio match up, I’d honestly be shocked if there was a single blowout. We’re looking at at least six games of stellar, well-executed, well-coached, and entertaining basketball.

Let me get this out of the way early: if you’re a Mavs fan and you think this series is going to be a cakewalk, you’re sadly mistaken. Many a MFFL fancied this match-up over a series with the Thunder, (healthy) Blazers, or Suns, but a lot of that is familiarity. The Spurs are so familiar to Mavs fans because of their status in the Southwest division, their location, and their frequent playoff battles with Dallas. So in this case, I think the fans (and possibly the Mavs) prefer the devil they know…even if they don’t know him all that well.

The Spurs that we’ve saw in last season’s playoffs barely resembles this model, largely because a healthy Manu Ginobili is capable of making an MVP-level impact. He’s certainly one of the top shooting guards in the game, and not only has he been out of his element a bit over the last few seasons, but he skipped last year’s playoff series with Dallas entirely due to injury. As a result, the Mavs won in 5 and the games honestly weren’t as competitive as precedent would have predicted. Dallas’ 2006 win over San Antonio was a huge step in the evolution of the rivalry, but the 2009 series between the two teams had a completely different dynamic. Even though both series fell well short of the Spurs usual title aspirations, the 2009 playoffs brought something new to San Antonio: shame. They can excuse away the loss with Manu’s absence, but never before had the Spurs been so thoroughly embarrassed by the Mavs.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

The storylines from San Antonio are primarily concerning those two elements: Manu’s renaissance and the Spurs’ revenge. Understandably so, as Ginobili should be both feared and respected, and the same should go for this entire San Antonio team. They’re quite formidable. If the Mavs’ offensive and defensive ratings for the season are a bit misleading due to the trade and — Dallas hopes — a legitimate mini-surge to close the regular season, the the Spurs’ are even more so. Tony Parker missed 26 games this season due to injury, and while he isn’t quite up to his 2008-2009 scoring level, he looked more than capable against the Mavs in the regular season finale.

That’s significant. If Parker is as ready as he seems, he could end up causing a lot of match-up problems for the Mavs alongside Ginobili. If it’s just Manu doing considerable damage, then the Mavs are well-equipped to contain him. Shawn Marion’s perimeter defense has been superb this year, particularly against elite opponents. Ginobili certainly qualifies. Caron Butler also has shown himself to be an aggressive defensive alternative for highly productive wings as well, with perhaps his keynote performance coming just five games ago against Brandon Roy. Like Ginobili, Roy is an atypical cover; he’s not a 2 that’s reliant on incredible athleticism, and his strength lies in his ability to change speeds and confuse defenders. I wouldn’t say that Ginobili is an extremely similar player, but he and Roy are similar in their deviance from the 2-guard norm. That doesn’t prove that Butler is a great option for defending Manu, but it does at least show that Caron can defend unconventional off guards. Beyond that, Jason Kidd is terrific defender at the two, and DeShawn Stevenson has done fine defensive work over the last two weeks.

Unfortunately, it’s never quite as simple as locking in one defender on one opposing player and calling it a day. The Mavs’ general defensive strategy against teams such as the Spurs is to overload on the initiator of the offense, which in this case would be Manu. Even if Ginobili has technically been listed at the two, the team is in his hands when he shares the floor with George Hill. It’s not an issue of who plays what position but who takes on what roles, and Ginobili’s spot in the Parker-less Spurs’ offense is to initiate. He’s the one triggering plays and he’s the one making entry passes. As a response, not only does Dallas typically cover such a threat with a long-armed, athletic wing defender, but they throw all kinds of pressure at them. You’ll see the Mavs completely blitz the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll. You’ll see them trap the initiator as soon as he crosses half-court with the ball. You’ll see double teams coming from all over the place at various times, just to throw a stud like Manu off his game. The price of that is leaving Brendan Haywood or Erick Dampier to their own devices against Tim Duncan, but Rick Carlisle and the Mavs’ coaching staff have deemed that an acceptable risk.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

That strategy works pretty well, but if Tony Parker is as healthy and dominant as he’s capable of being? Trouble. Big trouble. Parker is the one player on the Spurs that the Mavs don’t have a good match-up for. Should Tony start feeling like his former self, it’s likely that Dallas would be forced to go with speed without considerable defensive skill (J.J. Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois) or size without considerable speed (Butler, Marion, Stevenson). Both could work, as J.J. showed in spots in last season’s playoffs, but if you’re Rick Carlisle, do you feel particularly great about those players trying to handcuff a fully-effective Tony Parker?

Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier are thus far more useful than simply acting as the large bodies between Tim Duncan and the basket. Don’t get me wrong, their post defense is still important. Really important. But should Parker start revving up, Haywood and Damp’s ability to protect the rim will be fairly essential. Neither has to be Dwight Howard, but having some kind of deterrent in the middle will be Dallas’ best shot at curtailing Tony’s production.

Then again, Tony Parker hasn’t been himself this season. He isn’t playing like the player that torched the Mavs a year ago, and even if he is, Dallas is a better team than they were then. The Mavs aren’t a great team, don’t get me wrong. I still stand firmly committed to the fact that this team has, on the whole, played mediocre basketball, regardless of whether you want to look at their season-long or simply post-deadline performance. But Dallas knows and matches-up with San Antonio so well, that the only thing putting the Spurs way over the top is a suddenly resurgent Parker.

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Otherwise, we’ve pretty much got a coin flip on our hands. No one on the Spurs’ roster can really cover Dirk, and he’s not going to be flummoxed by Popovich’s defensive pressure. Tim Duncan will likely be prevented from completely dominating, though he’ll still be very productive. Jason Kidd will hit big spot-up threes and run the offense expertly, but the Spurs defense will be ready and waiting. Jason Terry and Caron Butler can combine to eclipse Manu Ginobili’s scoring, Shawn Marion can cancel out Richard Jefferson’s production, and the Mavs’ bench offers more versatility than the Spurs’. Rick Carlisle is an excellent coach, but Gregg Popovich is an all-time great coach. It’s point-counterpoint all the way up and down the rosters, and while that’s not likely to let MFFLs sleep easy over the next few weeks, it’s absolutely brilliant for this series’ entertainment value.

The only conclusive fact that anyone should have to say about this series is that it’s going to be close. If you’re resolved that either team should win outright, you’re probably wrong. Every game will be a battle, but I’ll take Dallas in seven. I’m picking the Mavs because I think Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are in a great offensive rhythm right now, and I trust in the Mavs’ ability to contain Manu Ginobili. I think home court advantage matters, and a playoff atmosphere should remedy Dallas’ woes at home. I don’t trust Tony Parker’s ability to dominate the series like he did a year ago, but I do trust the balance of the Mavs’ offense. As good as George Hill and DeJuan Blair are, I don’t think they’re going to step out of themselves to become x-factors. This Dallas team is in a good place right now, is brimming with confidence, and knows they can beat the Spurs.

All that’s left is for them to go out and do it.

Dallas Mavericks 112, San Antonio Spurs 103: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 9, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by AP.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas93.0120.453.422.530.88.6
San Antonio110.857.227.615.612.9

How long should you try? Until.
-Jim Rohn

  • I don’t know how you could possibly look over the last decade of Mavericks basketball and not find Mavs-Spurs as the epic, enduring narrative. The Mavs have had plenty of individual heartbreaks, but no other opponent has provided the shear number of intriguing contests, in the playoffs and otherwise. There are almost too many good games between the two, and last night was no exception.
  • The defensive key against San Antonio is to take away the threes from the wing and the corner. When healthy, Tim Duncan (31 points, 12-19 FG, 12 rebounds, five assists) is going to get his, just as he did against Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden. But if the Mavs can prevent Tony Parker from walking to the rim and put some pressure on the Spurs’ shooters, they’re infinitely beatable. San Antonio outscored Dallas 26-19 in the third quarter behind 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc. But in the fourth quarter, when the Mavs’ offense exploded for for 42 and held the Spurs to just 23, the Spurs shot just 1-5. It’s no coincidence.
  • On that note, Jason Kidd may be one of the best close-out artists in the league. He’s not a threat to block many shots, but he does a great job closing out on shooters without fouling and without sacrificing his defensive position. Somehow, Kidd is still in the picture even after a mad scramble to the perimeter, and it’s those subtle defensive maneuvers that make Jason a completely underrated defender at this stage of his career.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois actually got some burn in the third quarter opposite Tony Parker. It took Roddy a few possessions to get in his groove defensively, but he did a great job of preventing TP from getting where he wanted and needed to go. Also some great pick-and-roll coverage by Roddy and the Maverick bigs over that stretch, which is kind of important against a combination like Duncan-Parker. Beaubois also showed some intermediate touch, nailing a midrange jumper and a floater in the lane.
  • Jason Terry (21 points, 7-13 FG, eight assists, two steals) had an absolutely incredible game, and showed shades of villainy. One of the things I’ve never understood about the Mavs-Spurs rivalry is complete hatred of Jason Terry on the San Antonio side of the fence, but last night brought some clarity. After diving for a loose ball but losing it to George Hill, JET stuck out his leg to trip Hill for both utilitarian and vindictive reasons. Then, for good measure, he stood up to jaw with Hill before the two had to be separated. Terry hits big shots, isn’t shy about celebrating, and jaws with the best of them. Part of being good is being hated, and Terry is certainly that.
  • Drew Gooden’s greatest asset as a Mav is his offensive rebounding (he had four last night). The scoring is nice, obviously, but Drew needs to continue to put in work on the offensive glass and get the Mavs more and more scoring opportunities. It’s the perfect way for Dallas to compensate for their low number of forced turnovers, which has long been a Maverick weakness (though they’re currently 17th in the league in opponent’s turnover percentage, which isn’t terrible).
  • Oh, and by the way, the Mavs completely demolished the Spurs in the fourth quarter behind huge performances from JET, Dirk (26 points, 10-28 FG, five rebounds), and oddly enough, Erick Dampier (14 points, 6-6 FG, five boards). Terry (11, four assists), Nowitzki (16, two blocks), and Dampier (eight) combined for 35 of the Mavs’ 42 fourth quarter points, and dismantled the San Antonio D with a barrage of clutch threes (Dirk, JET, and yes, Damp) and back-breaking buckets. Tremendous quarter and game for those three, who put nails in the coffin, possession by possession.

Good News for People Who Like Good News

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2009 under News | 4 Comments to Read

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.

Let’s not jinx this, though. Crazier things have happened.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Draft Ranges

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 30, 2009 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003.  But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets.  This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.

It’s tough, but hardly impossible.  Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft.  The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.

Here are the picks at 22 this decade:

2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey

Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops.  Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals.  In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.

Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :

2008
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)

2007
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)

2006
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)

2005
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)

2004
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)

2003
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)

2002
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)

2001
Brendan Haywood (20)
Gerald Wallace (25)
Jamaal Tinsley (27)
Tony Parker (28)

2000
Morris Peterson (21)

It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round.  Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.

Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team.  Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League.  As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.

Lazy Sunday Reading

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 17, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • 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.
  • A cool video, via Mavs Moneyball:
  • 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.

So, Children, What Did We Learn Today?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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.