GAME TIME: Spurs 102, Mavericks 88
Here's the thing about playoff games: The team that's won the most recent game looks as though there's no way they can lose the next game. Conversely, the losing team apparently hasn't a chance to win the forthcoming contest.
However, what with the intense scouting, minimal traveling, and abundant practice time, momentum can easily make a dramatic about-face.
Which is precisely what happened in Game 2 of this particular series.
THE DIFFERENCE IN DALLAS
Dirk Nowitzki was certainly not expected to duplicate the amazing 12-of-14 shooting exhibition that he performed in the opening game. Although he did tally 24 points this time, Nowitzki was only 9-of-24 from the field. San Antonio's defense against him wasn't much different than in Game 1 -- with Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess taking turns playing him straight-up. When Nowitzki did receive the ball on a wing, a guard dropped below the strong-side elbow and a big man crossed the lane near the baseline to form a wall that would ostensibly keep the Mavs' best scorer away from the rim. He was outright doubled on only two or three possessions.
What it came down to was that Nowitzki simply missed the kind of shots that he'd made on Sunday.
Furthermore, whereas Jason Kidd hit a batch of clutch treys in Game 1, he didn't score a point until 9:16 of the third quarter and finished 1-of-7 for five points.
Shawn Marion was more of a spectator than a player -- 2-of-7 for six points. One particular sequence proved how uninvolved he was: Marion posted Richard Jefferson early in the first quarter, but when he received the entry pass he immediately kicked the ball right back out. Then, instead of working to improve his position, Marion simply vacated the pivot and drifted harmlessly to the wing.
Two plays later, Marion made a feeble attempt to get his chops up -- starting on the right wing, he dribbled the ball for at least 10 seconds before launching a balloon-shot that barely grazed the top of the backboard.
Caron Butler also had a down game -- 6-of-17 for 17 points.
Jason Terry was a terror for most of the contest. His weak-side curls opened him for jumpers that he rarely missed. However, in the closing minutes, when the game was still up for grabs, Terry bricked four consecutive shots and finished 9-of-19 for 27 points.
All told, the Mavs simply were not prepared to match the Spurs' increased intensity from the get-go. In the early going, their basket was entirely unprotected as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Jefferson all cruised unattended to the rim for layups.
The Mavs seemed to be stunned when faced with the realization that the Spurs didn't roll over and go belly-up.
Except for a brief spurt early in the fourth quarter when their defensive intensity picked up and allowed them to get out and go, the Mavs were out-hustled from tip to buzzer.
NOT THE SAME SPURS
The worst name a coach can call any of his players is "dog". It indicates somebody who plays timidly with his tail between his legs. It's a not-so-polite way of saying that so-and-so is a coward.
Who might Coach Gregg Popovich have been addressing when after Game 1 he said, "Too many of my guys played like dogs?"
Not TD. He played his heart out in the opening game and was even more ardent in Game 2--11-of-19, 17 rebounds, 25 points. In five low-post possessions, TD registered a total of nine points, even though he missed four free throws earned in back-to-the-basket battles. Plus, he scored eight consecutive clutch points when the Mavs were finally making their move in the waning minutes.
On the minus side of TD's game, he still looks to be slower off his feet than ever before in his career. Also, SA's offense was shaky whenever Duncan was on the bench either resting or carrying early foul trouble.
Not Ginobili. He nailed 4-of-6 treys, shot 8-of-13, drove fearlessly into the bosom of the home team's defense, and totaled 23 points. And it was Ginobili's last 3-pointer with less than two minutes on the game clock that irrevocably put the Mavs to sleep.
One flaw in his game remains unfixed: Manu's tendency to commit turnovers whenever he passes the ball across his body.
Not McDyess, who played earnest defense against Nowitzki, hit a pair of significant jumpers, and snatched five offensive rebounds. But the old warhorse always plays his heart out.
However, Coach Pop was certainly referring to Richard Jefferson, who was largely invisible in scoring a mere five points in Game 1. In the game at hand, RJ played like his pants were on fire. Driving hoopwards in a frenzy, rebounding like his life was at stake (four offensive retrieves), hitting his springers, and busting his butt on defense. It was Jefferson's 17 first-half points that boosted SA's early offense.
By George, I think he's got it!
George Hill was another player anonymously damned by Coach Pop. After going scoreless and even playing scared in Game 1, Hill was aggressive from baseline to baseline. He didn't shoot particularly well -- 2-of-7 -- but did drop his only 3-point attempt. Hill's presence was most noticeable on defense.
Pop was also aiming his derogatory comment at Matt Bonner, who was both passive and helpless in the opening contest of the series. This time, Bonner fought Nowitzki for every inch on defense and plugged a pair of important treys.
DeJuan Blair was just as confused and overmatched now as he was then. But that's SOP for most rookies.
And the last unnamed victim of Pop's tirade had to be Tony Parker, who shied away from the paint in Game 1, made poor decisions with the ball, and forced a multitude of questionable shots. In SA's win, TP got to the rim five times, dropped eight dimes, had nary a turnover, and launched only good shots.
Whereas SA's mid- and long-range jumpers had previously succeeded at a rate of only 38 percent, in their turn-around performance they made 19-of-40 (47.5%) of these same shots. And, as before, they still exploited the Mavs' inability to effectively defend elbow-level screen/rolls.
If Coach Pop resorted to insulting "many" of his guys, it remains to be seen how Rick Carlisle will motivate his players once the venue moves to a hostile environment.
In any case, it's now the Mavs' turn to try to win what appears to be an unwinnable third game in San Antonio.