Monday, April 26, 2010
Well, this is bad. If you had plans of seeing the Mavericks navigate this battleship into the waters of May, you better hope for something special to happen really quick. Because otherwise, we are about to be left with a pile of rubble yet again in the 1st round as the Spurs take a commanding 3-1 lead in this series on Sunday night with another gutty victory at the AT&T Center.
It is getting to the point where you are almost ready to wash your hands with this squad. Perhaps to a point where we start to wonder if 2006 was just a fluke-ish aberration in a sea of many other playoff disappointments. Many of the faces have changed on the Mavericks, but many of the key attributes remain the same. Very little movement on offense. Too much dependence on perimeter basketball. And no ability whatsoever in the 4th Quarter of both games in San Antonio for the Mavs to keep the Spurs guards from getting to the basket. When Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (and heck, even George Hill) want to dribble into the paint and either score or dump it off to someone who will, the Jason Terry school of defense is just not getting it done.
Meanwhile, your key acquisitions over the summer - you know, the ones that were to change the personality of this team in crunch time of playoff games - sit and watch the key moments of the game yet again. Shawn Marion, who seems like your best option to cover Ginobili is sitting on the bench.
But, let's not lose focus again. The focus must be on the players who are on the court. Dirk Nowitzki, who has played well enough in this series to be above criticism, was not active enough through most of the game, and then down the stretch, it was tough for him to get back involved. Also, Jason Kidd has had a very difficult time putting his stamp all over the Spurs like he has many Mavericks opponents. Jason Terry got hot last night in the 4th Quarter with his shooting, but otherwise is such a liability at crunch time defensively that it is often times a wash.
We have seen this time and time again. When the Mavericks are on the road since the 2006 Western Conference Finals, they are a stunning 2-15 in the playoffs. Did you know that? 2-15. And do you know why? Because in the 4th Quarter, they do not have the necessary attributes on either end of the court to consistently compete at a top level. And if you win about 13% of your road games, then you will find it very difficult to win a series. And that might explain why since the 2006 Western Finals, the Mavs are 1-4 in series, and about to be 1-5 unless something magical occurs very quickly.
The high pick and roll with Terry and Dirk has not been money often enough. Oh sure, it may be the best option the Mavericks have, but it cannot out-execute what the opponent is trying to do (in this case, the Spurs at crunch time are intent to have their guards attack the paint off the dribble). You must be able to employ your strategy and be better at it than your opponent in those same crucial moments of the 4th Quarter - which is even more impossible and unlikely when the Spurs are up 13 (84-71) with 5 minutes to play.
And why were the Spurs so far in front? Because in the 3rd Quarter, the Spurs scored on 9 of their first 12 possessions. Apparently, the Mavs were pretty sure that up 14 at the Half, the Spurs were going to pack it in. But, with George Hill, Antonio McDyess, and Richard Jefferson hitting shots - the Mavs let that entire lead slip away in merely 9 minutes. Then, DeJuan Blair entered the game and things really went south.
The Spurs are the Spurs. And shame on any of us for underestimating them. The Mavs, and their precious #2 seed, are now up against the wall. This is bad, and the whole thing looks like a mess. The coach looks clueless, the players look lost, and honestly, this whole thing looks like a new version of the same frustrating spring tradition around here - save 2006, which might have been a simple aberration.
Notes on Game 4 and beyond:
* I think the Mavs are a meaner team than they used to be, but still, you can see when the temperature is turned up that it does not always suit the team. For instance, I thought there were numerous examples on both ends of the court that they were "letting them play" last night. Both teams had cause to suggest that their man had been assaulted on his way to the basket. But, in a street fight, you need everyone up for the battle. I think the 2010 Mavs team is more physical and up for it than most of its predecessors, but still, against some of the harder teams in the league, I still don't think it is enough. It looked like Blair and McDyess were up for a battle and the Mavs were still not quite sure if they enjoyed that at all. Then came Eddie Najera's famous 47 seconds of playing time. I loved how he at least acted shocked that he was being ejected.
* If you read my blog, you know how passionate I am about certain truths in the game of basketball. Such as, closer shots are easier shots; and, if you are taking 20 footers and your opponent is taking 2 footers, you will usually lose. These theories are not based on 1 game or 1 quarter. They are based on NBA basketball for my entire life. But, boy, do the Mavs demonstrate why they exist. During the Mavs 3 game losing streak, they have shot 36%, 44%, and 41%. The Spurs, during the same stretch have shot: 48%, 49%, and 45% - or basically, substantially better in each game. Don't misunderstand what I am saying: The Spurs shoot tons of jumpers, too. Every team in the league uses outside shooting and 3-pointers as PART of their arsenal. But, it isn't the whole thing. The Mavs, specifically in the half-court offense in the key moments of the game, rely on the outside shot more than their opponents do in the playoffs. Time and time again. Until that changes - and maybe it never will in the Dirk era - the Mavs will always have a shooter's chance, but consistent, dominant basketball can never happen on the hopes that 21 footers fall all of the time. Even at the highest level of basketball, outside shooters get cold.
* George Hill really proved something in these last 2 games. He has been a killer in the corner for the 3, but he has also played a solid point and not allowed much to beat him on defense. It looks like they have a suitable PG situation with Parker still in his prime and Hill just a pup. I wonder if they deal one to address their age elsewhere at some point.
* I do not like small ball. I do not like 3 guys who are short and are not able to handle their defense well. Kidd is fine on d, but Barea and Terry are not capable of guarding very well. So, this forces the Mavs into a zone, which seems to be fine in small doses but over the long-term it is not worthy of consistent display. Meanwhile, on offense, it just doesn't seem to result in enough easy shots to be worth it. It seems to me that when Marion is playing well, the idea of taking him off the court is silly. He can defend Manu, and yet he sits and watches late. Meanwhile, Kidd is trying to block out DeJaun Blair. Nice idea.
* On Tim Duncan's 34th birthday, he chips in 1 basket and 4 points. Manu shoots 4-16. Parker just 4-9. And they win with some level of comfort although it got hairy late. I must think these realities are very frustrating to the Mavs and their coaching staff. The idea that they are running out of answers seems very reasonable.
* 8 of 189 teams have come back from 3-1 down. It starts with belief. Anybody know where you can find any?