Teamwork trumps individual brilliance

Scoreboards don't lie. It's therefore irrefutable that San Antonio beat Dallas 97-87 to close out the series.

But the other significant stat in this contest was team assists. The Spurs had 23 to the Mavs' 15, and this was the real story of the game.

Here's why:

Dirk Nowitzki (33 points), Caron Butler (25) and rookie Roddy Beaubois (16) were the only Mavs to score in double digits. Yet Nowitzki and Butler tallied virtually all of their points on one-on-one moves: Isolations from a wing, the low post and/or the high post. Beaubois got his by swiftly dribbling around several varieties of brush screens.

In other words, they made the scoreboard go ka-chung strictly on the basis of their own respective talents. Unfortunately for Dallas, nobody else -- including Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and even Jason Kidd -- ever got meaningfully involved in the offense. In fact these three guys registered a total of 11 measly points while collectively shooting 5-23.

But give the Mavs credit. They refused to roll over when they trailed by 22 in the first half. Indeed, Beaubois, Nowitzki and Butler took turns carrying the offense until they managed to scratch out a one-point lead in the third quarter.

Continuity? Teamwork?

Nah. Just the exercise of individual skills. Good, even great, but not great enough.

The Spurs, meanwhile, came out of the gate playing disciplined defense and aggressive offense. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and even Richard Jefferson were easily able to drive the ball to the rim -- and when the Mavs' bigs shuffled over to cover them, the ball was simply dropped to Tim Duncan for several dunks and layups. Ginobili was even able to dribble to the rim against the Mavs' 2-3 zone defense.

Before the intermission, the middle of the Mavs defense was so open that SA only took 10 jumpers -- hitting four of them.

By contrast, Dallas was content to fire jump shot after jump shot for most of the first half -- hitting only 6 of 24.

And when the Mavs made their move midway through the fourth quarter, the Spurs resumed their death grip on the game by George Hill going backdoor, catching a pass from TD, and dropping an important layup. On the Spurs' very next possession, a dive cut freed Jefferson to receive another pinpoint assist-pass from Duncan and register a second layup.

Continuity? Teamwork? Yes, indeed.

What else did the Spurs do to secure the win?

- They fed Dallas a steady diet of screen/rolls, re-screen/rolls, and sequential screen/rolls -- none of which the visitors adequately defended.

- After doubling Nowitzki on just about every touch in winning Game 4, they played him straight up -- alternately with Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and Keith Bogans -- until the last few minutes when they routinely ran another defender at him. That's why in the last four minutes Nowitzki got up only three shots and hit only one.

- McDyess, George Hill and Tony Parker all hit clutch jumpers in the endgame.

- The Spurs looked to switch whenever Dallas ran S/Rs, thereby enticing the Mavs to try to take advantage of smalls-on-bigs mismatches. But in so doing, the Mavs' offense became even more stagnant.

- The Spurs snipped and sniped at the ball whenever one of the visitors dribbled into a crowd -- coming up with 7 steals.

- Except for a lengthy stretch when they were sloppy with the ball, they committed only eight turnovers (to the Mavs' 11).

- Even though TD scored only two points on low-post moves, he knocked down a banker from the left wing, made himself available on S/Rs, and moved to the high post in clutch-time to slice up the defense with precision passes. Overall, TD's stat line included 8-for-17 shooting, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks, and 17 points. If he was rarely spectacular, TD simply did what he had to do.

- Ginobili took full advantage of the Mavs' forgetting that he was left-handed.

- Most of Parker's game-high 8 assists wound up in the capable hands of Duncan.

In the end, the Spurs won because they know how to win, something that the current edition of the Mavs has yet to learn. In so doing, the Spurs have solidified their status as the one team that none of the other first-round survivors in the Western Conference are particularly eager to play.