Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Game 4: Mavs 99, Spurs 90 (3-1)

Game notes here ....

First off, sorry for the tardiness on getting this post up, but sometimes stuff like the NFL Draft and church get in the way. I'll try not to let it happen too often, because this was a game worth writing about.

Now, on to the Game 4 victory that was very enjoyable to ponder for the last several hours. Sometimes, when you are really close to something, you do not see the full reality. I wonder if that is the case with the Mavericks and many of us (including me) as I consider what happened Saturday afternoon.

Let me explain: There are a few beliefs many of us subscribe to. They are, 1) This team is as good as Dirk makes it on offense. And if Dirk doesn't carry this team to a big win, then this team is as good as Jason Terry makes it. The reason we say that is that those are two guys who can score on this team. Everyone else needs transition or a loose ball or a wide open shot. But, in the half-court offense, only two guys can consistently get a hoop and the opposition cannot stop them: Dirk and Jet. Those two must be better than the best two on the team the Mavs are playing. The other belief is 2) The Dallas Mavericks are the same team that we have seen in 2007 and 2008.

Is it time we look at our beliefs a bit closer? Because, Dirk and Jet accounted for 22 points on 7 for 26 shooting, while Tim Duncan and Tony Parker scored 68 points on 25 for 42 in a Mavericks playoff win. 68 for them, 22 for us. Remember, "you can't win if your best players aren't your best players", right?

OK, and about this team being the same team in 2007 and 2008. When those moments happened in Golden State, where they took Dirk out of his game by physical, aggressive double teams, wasn't the major flaw that nobody from Dallas knew how to adjust and figure out ways to get meaningful baskets? Um, the Mavericks scored 77 points from scorers 3-12 on their roster. The Spurs? 22.

This team appears far more equipped to survive a night where Dirk is limited. In fact, if I am not mistaken, it almost appears like they don't mind you trying to do that. I am trying to make sure my eyes are not deceiving me, but that is what I am seeing in these 4 games. It could just be in this particular match-up with a Spurs team that doesn't resemble the Spurs, but tell me I am wrong. If you take away these Dirk and Jet, then these other guys know how to punish you. Avery, I believe your successor has made sense out of your mess on offense.

Now, they still have no idea what to do with a quick point guard, and I am not sure the Mavs have out-played the other PG in a series since the 1980's, but it appears that this series has turned into the battle of the supporting casts, and the ability for the Mavs to make Tim Duncan work pretty hard on each end of the court. Do that, and Tony Parker can get all the baskets he desires (especially before the intermission) and Dallas is going to happily look the more energetic team in the 2nd half. Meanwhile, the rest of the Spurs have almost no offensive rhythm as they have stood and enjoyed the Tony Parker show - so when they do need to hit a shot to help the cause, they don't seem to have the radar locked in.

I am not sure what the Spurs are going for with their roster, but it certainly does not seem to be rising to the occasion. Somewhere between Robery Horry and Matt Bonner it would seem they have lost the plot. They continue to offer roster spots and major minutes to Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Drew Gooden who collectively just do not add much of a spark at all. The die-hard Spurs fan might suggest this is all about Manu Ginobili being hurt, but regardless of the outcome of this series, if they don't address the rest of their roster soon, the Spurs prime will have expired.

Anyway, with a 3 games to 1 advantage, here are some random notes from a fun Saturday afternoon:

* 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.

* When you lose by only a few possessions, and let's not forget, this game was not a 9 point game, you can't help but notice you missed a ton of free throws. 22-34 (64.7%) is not going to cut it, and Tim Duncan himself missed 7 of them. It is easier to ignore a small issue like poor free throw shooting when Tim dominated every game. But, the 2009 version of Duncan needs to hit those shots with far greater regularity.

* Dirk, I am a bit worried, brother, with 12 points. But, I do like his patience, and I do like his readiness to seize the moment on that last drive to the lane. Oh, and the 13 rebounds. That, too.

* I thought Josh Howard played very well once again. His ability to score in so many ways is very, very imperative to this effort. If I had to put my finger on one major difference that Rick Carlisle and the coaches have made from the 2007 debacle it is showing Josh how dangerous he can be when a team puts its best defensive game plan on Dirk and Terry. That usually results in Josh being guarded by someone down the roster, and he is making a habit of destroying them. Finley? Please. Josh just darted past him again.

* Ryan Hollins, love your energy. But, seriously, you don't have to yell at Tim Duncan when you score your only basket of the game and your second hoop of the series. I loved everything else. The boards, the blocks, and the energy. Just, ease up on the taunt. That was pretty weak.

* But, back to why this team is different than the 2007 team that faded in Oakland, I think the bench has a lot to do with it. I often say it is the same guys, andit kind of is; Dirk, Jet, J-Ho, Damp. But, the bench back then was Stackhouse, Buckner, Diop, Ager, and George. Now, it is Wright, Singleton, Bass, Barea, and Hollins. Differences that jump out at you? These 5 guys are all better athletes and they all bring tremendous energy. Every single one of them was a very subtle roster adjustment that did not get any headlines, but the effect is noticeable. They now have a bench that can change the tone of the game.

* I thought it was very classy of Tony Parker to check with Josh Howard after the jump ball in the final minute when it appeared Josh rolled his left ankle again. Parker did not want to cause an injury on that play and in a league that has plenty of goons (Mr Posey?) I thought we should point out a class act when we see one.

* Damp was good again, too. Once again, it might prove this is a perfect match-up for the Mavericks, but it seems obvious that while some people did not want the Mavs to play him at all (recalling the Bass campaign of 10 days ago) - he gives '09 Duncan problems. That doesn't mean that Yao and Tyson Chandler will be scared, and I still don't think there is a Lakers player he can guard, but in this particular match-up he has done fine work.

* Now, history lesson: In 2006, the Mavericks split in San Antonio, and then swept 3 and 4 in Dallas. What happened next? The Spurs won 5 at home, and 6 in Dallas, setting up the epic Game 7 battle back down there. So if you think this series is over, you better recognize that the Spurs have seen this episode before. They are still thinking one game at a time, and win 3 in a row with two at home will not cause them to surrender. So, enjoy a slow Sunday and Monday, but come Tuesday, the Mavs are greatly advised to go for the dagger in Game 5. Show no mercy. Wounded animal theory in full effect. Jet?...Dirk?...Hello?

* I must credit Mike Fisher for taking the words right out of my brain : No matter what happens from here on out: Are you sure you wanted the Mavs to “tank’’ and to “blow it up’’ and to introduce the cancer of aimless losing into their franchise, all so they could have the 14th pick in the draft? Well said, Mike.

Game 5 - Tuesday night. Where Daggers could happen

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