Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2009 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • 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.
  • Art Garcia investigates Kidd’s plans for free agency.
  • 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.”
  • Josh Howard finds redemption.
  • 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.”

Dallas Mavericks 106, San Antonio Spurs 93

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by AP.

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Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.
-Ralph Marston

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.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 28, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • GAME 5.  LET’S GO.
  • 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.”
  • Howard sat out of practice yesterday, but is expected to play tonight.”
  • 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.”
  • This could be the last we see of Bruce Bowen.
  • 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.

Tony Parker, The Spurs’ Main Butter and Egg Man

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 27, 2009 under xOther | 4 Comments to Read

The fact that I only saw this video in the last few minutes is a travesty. I am a failure.

(H/T TrueHoop.)

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • 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.
  • Matt Moore does a little diddy on the Spurs and usage rate.  Parker’s usage and production were expected to jump coming into this series, but Moore’s charts reveal something we’ve been learning slowly over the course of this series: aside from Duncan, he’s been getting absolutely no help.
  • 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.”

Dallas Mavericks 99, San Antonio Spurs 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez.

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“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.”
-Associated Press

“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

Dallas Mavericks 88, San Antonio Spurs 67

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 24, 2009 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez.

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Of course life is bizarre, the more bizarre it gets, the more interesting it is. The only way to approach it is to make yourself some popcorn and enjoy the show.”

We’re 144 minutes into this series, and the Mavs have played catch-up to gut out a tough win, had their egos taken behind the barn and shot, and completely obliterated the entire Spurs roster.  Three very different games, and three very different impressions that have all asserted one thing: we’ve learned nothing about this series that we didn’t know coming in.

But last night, that nothing sure was fun to watch.

It’s hard to expect the Mavs’ epic defensive performance to have any kind of staying power.  The Spurs won’t be psychologically scarred by the thrashing they took last night; if anything, they’ll be as motivated as ever to control Game 4.  But in a vacuum, playoff performances don’t get much more dominant than the thorough smackdown the Mavs laid down on the Spurs.  Dallas held the lead throughout, and appeared focused on grooming that lead early.  A five point lead wasn’t enough.  An eight point lead wasn’t enough.  A fifteen point lead wasn’t enough.  And as the differential kept climbing and climbing, it was easy to see that Dallas’ weapon of choice wasn’t killer offensive execution, but rather a defense with fangs, claws, talons, horns, and fully automatic machine guns.

If you’d like a face for the Mavs’ exemplary defense, I’ll give you three: Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Erick Dampier.  Tony Parker was obviously in the Mavs’ crosshairs, and they successfully held TP to 14 points on 5-14 shooting with 3 turnovers.  If that surprised you, then brace yourself: that defense on Parker was keyed primarily by Jason Kidd.  Kidd hardly guarded Parker exclusively, but he provided the groundwork and a point of reference for J.J. and Parker’s other defenders.  He hustled to get into position, tried his damnedest to slow Parker even half a step, and used timing and hustle to irritate Tony into turnovers or misses.  Essentially, Kidd succeeded in doing everything Barea had done previously, but the defense’s accomplishments were even more pronounced because of shot-blocking from the weak side.  Enter Howard and Dampier.  On Howard’s best nights, he’s a good on-ball defender and a great off-ball one.  This was one of those nights.  Howard played the passing lanes and forced his share of turnovers, but cemented the Mavs’ defensive gameplan by coming out of nowhere for huge blocks.  Dampier followed suit, protecting the rim from Parker and Duncan (who finished with just 4 points and 2 rebounds while shooting 2-9 from the field) without fatally injuring anybody.  Parker wasn’t knocked flat on his back, but he might as well have been.  Also, Dampier was much improved in defending the screen and roll, showing strong on the screen to halt Parker’s progress and block the easy passing angle.  It may not seem like much, but it means the world.

The best defensive strategy the Mavs employed all night was strictly a preventative one: run up the score as quickly and demonstratively as possible, and force Pop to start thinking about Saturday.  The turnover between last night’s game and the game early on Saturday afternoon is shorter than you’d expect in the playoffs, and I’d wager Tim Duncan’s knees don’t much like the notion.  As such, it seems perfectly reasonable for Gregg Poppovich to have an ear trained to the wailing of Timmy’s joints.  With the game clearly out of reach, Duncan and Parker took a seat.  Not only did that make their box score output look even dimmer, but it significantly curbed the risk of any San Antonio comeback.  I am not afraid of Jacque Vaughn.

Maybe the point total doesn’t wow you, but Dallas’ offense was tremendous as well.  J.J. Barea (13 points, 7 assists, just one turnover) got the start in place of Antoine Wright, and the Mavs reaped instant dividends with his 9 points and 2 assists in the first frame.  Throwing Barea into the fire early not only helps facilitate the offense with a player who is a superior shooter and ball-handler to Wright, but also poses virtually no risk defensively with Roger Mason Jr. and Michael Finley on the floor.  Barea also relieves Kidd and gives the Mavs another transition defender to pick-up Parker, a luxury that cannot be discounted.  Carlisle made a big adjustment in giving Barea the start, and he deserves all the credit.  One can only hope that the the adjustment’s impact mirrors Avery Johnson’s sub of Devin Harris into the starting lineup in 2006, a chess move that provided the basis for a Game 7 checkmate.

As Barea goes, apparently so too does Brandon Bass (10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks).  Both were instrumental in the Mavs’ victories, lending further legitimacy to the thought that this battle won’t be won in the stars, but in the trenches.

It needs to be said that the Spurs shot atrociously.  Part of that was a renewed interest in defense from the Mavs, but even the best D can’t force a team into shooting 2 of 17 from three.  But with the way the Spurs were shooting, it only made defending Tony Parker that much easier.  Parker’s drive always come with the threat of a kick-out to the corner, but with those threats neutralized by sound defense and an off night to balance SanAn’s white hot shooting in Game 1, the Spurs best playmaker developed a bit of tunnelvision.  All the easier to block, my pretty.

Dirk Nowitzki (20 points on 8-12 FG, 7 rebounds) has officially arrived at the 2009 Playoffs.  Welcome aboard, buddy.  His numbers are far from daunting, but Dirk put on a dominant shooting performance that gave us a taste of things to come.  Don’t expect 67% shooting every night, but you can’t count on Dirk to be more of an offensive factor from here on out.  Book it.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Spurs’ 67 points was the all-time low allowed by a Maverick playoff opponent.  Booyah.
  • If the bright side of the blowout for the Spurs was getting Tony Parker and Tim Duncan plenty of rest, then the Mavs have their benefits eclipsed.  Not only did the Mavs put together a completely dominant two-way performance on their home court and build up their confidence, but Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, and Jason Kidd all had comfy seats on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, and Jason Terry played just 24 minutes in the entire game.
  • Jason Terry (10 points, 4-9 FG, 2 assists, 3 turnovers) is facing some brutal traps whenever he and Dirk start up the two man game (name drop!).  It’s frustrating, but Terry’s not forcing it and is generally getting the ball to his open teammates.  I’d love for Terry to get open looks, but if trapping JET means a wide open Dirk is waiting at the free throw line, I think I’ll find a way to cope.
  • Josh Howard has added a great wrinkle to his game: passing to dive cutters after drawing extra attention.  Old Josh pulls up and lets the shot fly, regardless of the fact that its heavily contested.  But since his return, Josh has shown a willingness to dish to that wide open cutter, creating an easy as ABC bucket for Erick Dampier or Brandon Bass.
  • If you watched tape of Dirk dealing with double teams in 2007 and today, you’d see two completely different players.  The Spurs continued to throw doubles at Dirk from a variety of angles, and occasionally even attempt to play the angles on the swing pass to the perimeter.  Dirk was having none of that, and either hoisted a clear look, found Kidd to reset the play, or bypassed the passing lane pressure to find a wide open shooter in the corner.  Tremendous.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Rick Carlisle (0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists…but 0 turnovers).  Moving J.J. into the starting lineup seemed like an obvious move, but only because of Rick’s willingness to adjust and compromise his previous strategy in order to meet situational needs.  Carlisle is neither too proud nor too stubborn to make the big adjustment, a trait which the greatest coaches share and the tragic coaches lack.  This team came out ready to roll offensively, and the defensive strategy was completely overhauled.  The execution on both ends was spectacular, and there won’t be a whisper of motivational issues on Friday.  That’s obviously not all Carlisle, but it certainly starts with Rick and his staff.  Kudos.

A Post About the Post

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 23, 2009 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

The Mavs have to find a way to make Tony Parker work defensively.  The Mavs also have to keep Jason Kidd on the floor.  Put the two together, and you have a little bit of a problem.

J-Kidd isn’t the type to aggressively drive the lane with the intent to score, and he’s not a talented enough finisher to warrant that thought process.  He’s also not a pull-up jumpshooter, meaning his ability to score off the dribble is about on-par with Erick Dampier. Kidd’s true offensive strengths lie in his ability to make the passes no one else on this team can make, perfectly place the dishes that seem routine, and nail his spot-up looks.  But at 6’4” – 210, there is one other significant weapon at Kidd’s disposal: the post-up game.

This isn’t a novel concept.  Kidd has the strength and size to, in theory, punish the smaller quicker buggers that try to man up him.  That’s just the perk of being the only PG this side of Chauncey Billups with the build to get the job done.  But, what’s being overlooked in the assessment of Kidd’s frame is one, tiny, tiny issue: Kidd can’t score in the post.  He has exactly one post move, and that’s a little turnaround jumper that is far from automatic.  Most point guards, even those with ideal frames, have so much to focus on that they ignore the possibility of a post-up game.  It’s clear that Kidd’s inside moves are far from polished.  But unsurprisingly, he’s an incredible passer out of the low post, creating for cutters and shooters camped out on the perimeter.

Yes, posting up Kidd worked brilliantly against the Suns late in the regular season.  But unless Tony Parker channels his inner Steve Nash, the low post game won’t be a valuable scoring option for Kidd.  However, just because Kidd can’t actually score in the post doesn’t mean that he can’t at least create the illusion of being the threat.  When facing the bear, Kidd needs to wave his arms, jump up and down, and generally make his inside game look much bigger and stronger than it really is.  Threat construction is often more important than real danger, and it’s exactly the kind of misdirection that could open up the Mavs’ scorers.  It’s one thing for Parker to have the notion that Kidd’s interior scoring is a non-threat, but it’s another entirely for the entire defense to be aware and not succumb to the temptation of doubling Kidd.  Easier said than done.

Forcing Tony Parker to guard Kidd down low won’t wear him out like chasing J.J. Barea, but it will make him do a little work.  If Kidd can back Parker down and make himself look a bit dangerous, Dallas could simultaneously find a method to tire out Tony and a catalyst for their offense.

Words, Words, Words

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Made using wordle.net, which I’ve been aching to use since I saw it on the DMN Mavs blog.

A few sentences from the normally silent Erick Dampier, and the entire basketball world gets bent out of shape.

“Every time he drives the lane, we have to put him on his back,” Dampier said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “The first foul has to tell him he’s in for a long night.”…”My first foul Thursday night is going to put him on his back,” Dampier said. “I guarantee it.”

Dampier had every right to be upset in himself and his teammates after their performance in Game 2.  I’d challenge you to find me any professional athlete who wouldn’t be a little peeved after the way Tony Parker emasculated the Mavs’ defenders.  It was embarassing, and the players expect more of themselves on this level.  But what makes this quote newsworthy: the fact that Dampier is obviously apalled at team’s play and intends to play physically, or that he openly explained his intentions to knock Parker to the hardwood?

Throughout Erick Dampier’s career, there have been calls for him to play with more physicality and with more intensity.  We see passion when he throws down a tip dunk, but rarely see that inspiration when he’s fighting for his defensive position or boxing out.  I do believe the effort is there, but Damp’s inability to find consistent success in this league stems from that missing inspiration.  In theory, I see these comments as an outlet of sorts for the type of emotional investment that has long been demanded from Dampier.  He isn’t a thug.  If anything, Damp is frequently accused of the opposite; he’s just a big cuddly teddy bear.

That’s why the underlying sentiment hasn’t been critiqued so much as Damp’s methods.  The comments themselves were a bit uncalled for, if only because they served no purpose aside from macho posturing.  Telling Tony Parker you’re going to floor him won’t make him shake in his boots, not in a league where the offensive player is traditionally protected.  As useless as his comments were, Dampier provided the Spurs with a little something for the bulletin board, and he provided the league office with a telescope focused on solely him.  Every move that Dampier makes will be scrutinized, and even the most meaningless of hard fouls may be blown out of proportion due to a thoughtless blown fuse.

I thought Damp’s intentions were pretty clear: don’t allow any easy buckets.  Apparently, his quote actually reads as an emotional breakdown in which he openly threatens Parker’s personal safety, that of his loved ones, and possibly the national security at large.  The playoff hype machine took this one and ran with it.  Yesterday at practice, Damp had a chance to clarify what was said, and he did so without compromising his intent to defend with a little more tenacity:

“It’s just the game of basketball,” Dampier said after practice today. “It wasn’t said with the intent to go out and hurt anyone. Fouls happen in the game of basketball. We want to shut down the lane and not give him any easy layups.”

Nothing personal there.  Nothing malicious.  Hell, there isn’t even any action.  All of this commotion over words, words, words.  Just think about that.  Maybe Dampier goes through with his threat (unlikely), or maybe he doesn’t.  But can’t we wait until the game comes and goes before we make our judgements, hurl our accusations, and mount our high horses?

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: “Parker is playing in a different stratosphere. Those are Carlisle’s words, not mine. The Mavericks must throw everything at him in Game 3. Traps. Zones. Blitz him from different spots the moment he puts the ball on the floor. ‘We know how great he is,’ Carlisle said. ‘We’re going to have to be a lot better with our team defense. I don’t know if anybody ever stops a guy like Parker. He’s so good and so fast. But we’re going to have to do better on him.’ The coaching staff rarely consults me on these matters. OK, never is a better word to use than rarely. But here’s my suggestion. Open the game in a zone and start Jason Terry. The zone impedes Parker’s great straight-line speed. The pick-and-roll between Parker and Tim Duncan is also a little easier to defend out of the zone. Terry’s value is on offense. The Mavericks must attack Parker on defense. They can’t allow him to catch his breath against Jason Kidd or Antoine Wright. Parker would open on Kidd, not Terry. But the Mavericks can force Parker to switch off the pick-and-roll and bounce him off a few Dampier screens, something they have a better chance of doing with Terry than Wright.”  I couldn’t agree more.  The Mavs need a kick in the pants offensively and defensively, and the combination of the zone and the JET cover both fronts.  Eventually, the Mavs will need to show some accountability with their man defense, but hopefully the zone can slow Parker to a mortal point total.

  • Erick Dampier’s comments about Tony Parker don’t seem to bother the Spurs too much.
  • Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell, in response to my thoughts about Dirk’s mini-slump: “…Dirk Nowitzki is not Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or even Chris Paul. My reaction has never been, ‘he’ll get his points; let’s shut down everyone else.’ I believe we can control the scope of the damage he causes. In order to do so the intensity of our defensive effort needs to be more than sophisticated; it needs to be ceaseless.”  I hope we can say the same of the Mavs’ defense of Tony Parker.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News continues in a similar vein: “Guarding Nowitzki is not a one-man job. The Spurs have found success in crowding him on the catch, with players as disparate as Bonner and Bruce Bowen, then running other defenders at him on the dribble. The object is to coax Nowitzki to try tough jumpers from the perimeter or, better yet, give up the ball. Even then, the Spurs acknowledge there is only so much a defense can do against a 7-footer with 3-point range. ‘All we can do is make it difficult,’ Bonner said. ‘You can’t completely shut him down. You can only make him work for what he gets.’ The tactic of using a small army to hector Nowitzki isn’t exactly a reinvention of basketball strategy. The Mavericks deal with this close to 82 times a season. What is novel, in this series, is where some of the double-teams are coming from. The Spurs have been particularly aggressive in doubling Nowitzki at the high post, sometimes bringing an extra defender from under the basket. ‘I’ve never seen anybody do that,’ Nowitzki said.”
  • Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The Mavericks, after reviewing the film of Game 2, know they didn’t have the pep in that game to keep pace with the Spurs. And as well as the Spurs played, it may not have mattered. San Antonio was outstanding. But whether or not the Spurs repeat that execution and effort, the Mavericks know they must upgrade theirs. ‘When we rebound, we’re in the game,’ Kidd said. ‘It doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but when you’re not rebounding – giving those guys second opportunities – they’re going to kill you. You could tell they were ready to play from the start and we were a little relaxed. We’ve got to get back to being aggressive.’”
  • Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News: “Bottom line: These guys know Erick Dampier. They play basketball with him. And he is not the mouth that roared Monday. ‘Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody, and Damp certainly doesn’t have the reputation of being a dirty player,’ Nowitzki said, leading him to conjure an example of a dirty player, which he provided, unprovoked. ‘They got one,’ he said of the Spurs. ‘We don’t.’…Meanwhile, the Mavs must play out of character a little bit. They must at least attempt to look tough. Get in someone’s way, for heaven’s sake. Maybe even make a Spur pay for taking advantage of their good nature. The Mavs just can’t afford to announce their intentions beforehand, no matter how much fun it was to read about it.”
  • The Morning News has Q&A’s with Mark Cuban and Team President Terdema Ussery.  Both are wonderful reminders that regardless of you think of the Mavs as a team, they really are a top-notch franchise.  Cuban claims to have only made a profit in two seasons of his ownership, and yet the interviews are littered with talk of winning over profit, constant improvement of the fan experience, and building/maintaining the organization’s image.
  • It’s easy to forget, but this is Roger Mason’s first “serious” playoff teamI’m not even sure what that means.
  • Kate Hairopoulos of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Trying to get Dirk Nowitzki on track, point guard Jason Kidd said he won’t go out of his way to get him the ball. ‘I look for him less,’ Kidd said. ‘We’re not going to force it to him. There are other guys on the floor who can score. Work him into the game. He’s a veteran. He understands what he has to do.’ Nowitzki admitted having trouble with the high-post double-teams — with the Spurs essentially leaving the basket to help guard him — which he said he hasn’t seen before with the Spurs. He’s averaging just 16.5 points against San Antonio. ‘For a 7-footer, who’s non-athletic, it’s pretty hard to beat a double-team,’ he said. ‘I just have to take what’s there. … I think I’m going to have a few opportunities. But when I have them, I have to make sure I make the best out of them.’”