This one was for men only. There were bodies flying, pushes coming to shoves, and even blood flowing as the San Antonio Spurs snuck past the Dallas Mavericks 94-90 to take a 2-1 lead in their playoff series.
Some players were ready, willing and able, while others were AWOL.
The warrior category included:
Dirk Nowitzki, who was battered from pillar to post, but was still the Mavs’ only reliable scorer, shooting 13-for-23 for 35 points. For most of the game, Nowitzki was played straight-up, and here’s what happened when he was finally doubled:
• He drove, and despite being fouled hard, made the hoop and drew the foul. • Passed to Jason Terry, who bagged a pair of 3-pointers. • Passed to Jason Kidd, who missed a 3-pointer. • Passed to J.J. Barea who missed a triple, and also had a layup blocked.
The only blemish in Nowitzki’s performance was the mid-range jumper he missed in the last minute of play.
Barea gave Dallas a huge lift with his jitterbug penetrations, his shooting — 6-for-13 for 14 points — and his laser kick-out passes. The only fly in his ointment was subpar defense, primarily against George Hill. Also, in playing 32 minutes, he simply ran out of gas in the endgame, but that’s Rick Carlisle’s fault, not Barea’s.
Jason Terry, but only until the last five minutes of the game. Before that, he nailed four big shots from beyond the arc and executed several screen-and-rolls to perfection, thereby forcing the Spurs to make disadvantageous switches.
Tim Duncan was taken out of the offense whenever Dallas jumped into a 2-3 zone, but he was still THE man in the middle — 11-for-18 shooting, four assists (but five turnovers) and 25 points. He scored on post-up moves, drop-in passes from alert teammates, and was on the receiving end of screen-and-rolls that the Mavs still couldn’t defend.
George Hill’s numbers weren’t outstanding — 6-for-16 shooting, one assist, one steal, one block, 17 points — but he was explosive at both ends of the court. Hill also made Dallas pay dearly for giving Barea so much daylight by blowing past him several times. And just about all of Hill’s scores were critical ones.
Tony Parker drove to the hoop with his habitual aplomb, putting up 13 points on his drives. But it was TP’s clutch jump-shooting in the closing minutes of the game that secured the victory. His stat line featured 10-for-16 shooting for 23 points.
Manu Ginobili made the mistake of fouling Nowitzki’s elbow with his nose and had to retreat to the locker room for emergency repairs. In his absence, the Mavs temporarily took control of the game. But upon Ginobili’s return, he proceeded to drive headlong into the middle, challenging the Mavs’ bigs, and coming away with three layups and two free throws that helped turn the tide.
Those players who never really showed up include the following:
Caron Butler, who had an abysmal first half — 1-for-3 shooting, three turnovers, two points — and never got off the bench after the intermission.
Jason Kidd did come up with five assists to go with zero turnovers, but he had little presence on offense. This was primarily because he left his jumper in Dallas, evidenced by 1-for-6 shooting. Moreover, he played below-average defense.
Jason Terry made one meaningless 3-pointer in the final minute of play when the game was already lost. Otherwise, in the last five minutes when the outcome was still in doubt, he missed all three of his shots. No surprise here. Furthermore, no matter when he plays and how many shots he makes, Terry can’t guard anybody.
Shawn Marion had a lively 90 seconds in the first quarter, but thereafter was nowhere to be found — 3-for-9 shooting, zero assists, two turnovers, seven points.
Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood totaled eight rebounds and four points in a combined total of 45 minutes. In addition, they were both roasted by Duncan.
Richard Jefferson reverted to his no-show game plan — 2-for-3 shooting, three assists, six points, and no discernible defense in 31 minutes.
Matt Bonner bit on every one of Nowitzki’s head fakes and missed all three of his shots.
Here’s what Dallas needs to do to even the series:
• Permanently bench Marion.
• Run several plays for Butler and hope that his psyche isn’t irrevocably bruised by his DNP in the second half.
• Instead of playing the posted Duncan behind or three-quartering him from the top (thereby forcing him baseline), the Mavs must quickly double him on his first dribble. Make TD pick the ball up and then see if he can execute the right passes.
• Play Duncan loosely when he turns-and-faces on the wing and let him unload his highly overrated bank-shots.
• Have Barea try to force whomever he’s guarding into help areas.
• Since the Spurs were doubling Nowitzki from the top, rotating the weak-side wing-defender to the passer, and then moving the weak-side big out to cover the shooter on the weak-side wing, the Mavs have to change up their strategy by occasionally sending the guy who passed the ball to Nowitzki on a forceful dive cut into the paint.
• Get Nowitzki the ball when he’s on the move to make two-timing him more difficult.
• Make shots in the clutch. Discounting a couple of meaningless buckets scored as the clock was running out and the game was out of reach, the Mavs shot 3-for-15 in the fourth quarter.
• Figure out how to properly defend the Spurs’ screen-and-roll.
• Try fronting Duncan in the low-post, making sure to have a weak-side helper at the ready.
• Initiate more body contact.
Here’s what the Spurs need to do in order to take complete control of the series:
• Figure out how to combat the Mavs 2-3 zone.
• Try zoning the zoners.
• Stay down on Nowitzki’s perpetual head- and ball-fakes.
• Overplay Nowitzki so that he can’t easily take his left hand to the basket.
• Have coach Gregg Popovich insult Jefferson again.