There were multiple reasons why Dallas prevailed in the opening gambit of the latest battle royale deep in the heart of Texas.
First and foremost, Dirk Nowitzki played a nearly perfect game -- 12 of 14 from the field for 36 points. He was a killer in the low-post, dynamic in screen/fades, and unstoppable in isolation. Strangely enough, the Spurs seldom double-teamed him, opting to play him straight up with either Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson, Keith Bogans or (on one sequence) Tim Duncan. Coach Gregg Popovich's idea was to balance his defense and stay close to the Mavs' other shooters, but the only other shot-maker who was thusly shut down was Jason Terry (2 of 9 for only 5 points).
In all fairness, it should be noted that while his several guardians often played excellent defense, Nowitzki trumped their efforts by making sensational shots.
The only other Mav who frequently had his number called by coach Rick Carlisle was Caron Butler (8-19, 22 points), who routinely abused whoever tried to guard him with post-ups and isos. For the Mavs, Butler's toughness is proving contagious.
Jason Kidd did a masterful job in running the offense and notched 11 assists. Whenever his defender went under a high screen/roll or left him alone to help elsewhere, Kidd coolly knocked down 3 of 6 triples.
Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood out-hustled and out-muscled the much smaller Spurs frontcourt. On one second-quarter sequence, Haywood brushed aside Duncan's attempt to box him out, beat him to a rebound, and scored an easy put-back. All told, Dallas dominated both backboards.
Shawn Marion scrambled around the court, blocking two shots, dropping three dimes, and scoring nine points on dive cuts and fast breaks.
The Mavs always made the extra pass, totaling 23 assists on their 35 buckets, compared to 19 and 39 for San Antonio.
The Mavs' fast breaks were repeatedly a few steps quicker than the Spurs' transition defense.
Unlike the Spurs, the Mavs were determined to attack the basket, hence their 34 to 14 edge in free throws.
From tip to buzzer, the Mavs played with maximum energy, unselfishness, and efficiency.
Despite the fact that their winning margin was only six points, Dallas was obviously the better ball club. Conversely, there are several reasons why the Spurs were defeated.
Duncan was effective in the low-post -- 12 points on 12 shots down there -- and also in elbow screen and rolls. But he's clearly lost a half-step on defense and his hands are not quite as adhesive as they used to be, as evidenced by his six turnovers. Still, Duncan played well enough to give San Antonio a good chance to win.
Manu Ginobili led the visitors scoring parade, shooting 10 of 17 from the field for 26 points. However, he made several poor decisions when he played the point, racking up five turnovers.
Otherwise, nobody else stepped up for the Spurs. McDyess hit a few mid-range jumpers but had no presence of defense. Bonner, Jefferson, and George Hill shot a combined 3 for 12 and were virtually useless.
Except for a pair of late-game runners, Tony Parker was unable to take his dribble to the rim. His habitual warp-speed penetrations are apparently extinct. Worse, he reverted to his rookie season in making risky passes whenever he did manage to carry the ball past the foul line. Sure, Parker was 7 of 15 with four assists, two turnovers, and 18 points, but he was never a major factor.
During J. J. Barea's 14 minutes on the court, the Spurs desperately tried to take advantage of his lack of size. But entry passes went awry when Jefferson took Barea into the pivot, and alert defensive help foiled any attempts to take the stocky 5-foot-10 guard one-on-one.
The Spurs defensive rotations were not nearly as precise and coordinated as they have been in the past. For example, when DeJuan Blair fronted Haywood in the low post, the Spurs offered no weak side help -- so a simple lob pass led to an unobstructed dunk by Haywood.
The Spurs were also uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, especially in the first quarter when their 11 turnovers led to Dallas scoring 17 big points.
Even though the Spurs shot 50 percent from the field, they only nailed 38 percent of their mid- and long-range shots.
Credit Dallas for making San Antonio look old, slow, short, careless and defenseless.
Ah, but the appearance of one sparrow does not necessarily mean that spring is upon us. Let's see what adjustments coach Pop makes in Game 2 to validate the universal opinion that he's a genius.