Spurs Win in Dallas to Even the Series
Using a 9-0 start to Game 2 of their first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks, along with a deadly combination of fast breaks, quality half court sets and a stout defensive effort, the Spurs won Wednesday, 102-88, to steal home court advantage and even the series 1-1.
The key for the Mavs in everything they do is Dirk Nowitzki. So naturally, if you stop Dirk, than you stop Dallas. And that's precisely what the Spurs did. Using a variety of defenders (small and quick Manu Ginobili, thick and bulky Antonio McDyess, and the long and cagey Tim Duncan), the silver and black were able to disrupt Nowitzki's timing and fluidity just enough so that he could never establish the comfort level and pace he did in Game 1 when he torched the nets for 36 points on 12-of-14 shooting. On Wednesday, he finished with 24 points ... on 24 shots.
Ginobili continued his terrific stretch of play, proving to be every bit the offensive menace of old. With Caron Butler forced to match up on Richard Jefferson for much of the night, Ginobili, with his knee-jerk drives to the hoop and accurate 3-point shooting stroke, has become just the right influx of scoring and energy the Spurs need. Case in point: his triple in the third quarter with 6:09 left to extend the lead to 16 seemed to deflate the entire building, putting Dallas away for good.
Tony Parker, still recovering from a broken right hand, has begun to recapture his game as well, a scary thought for Mavs fans for the remainder of the series. His flurry of drives and mid-range pull-ups is yet another dimension the Spurs have added to their offensive arsenal. Despite coming off the bench, Parker managed to total 16 points along with eight assists in 33 minutes.
Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle, viewed in league circles as a defensive mastermind, has a dilemma at hand as Ginobili and Parker continue to heat up. Because Jason Kidd can't keep up with the foot-speed of Parker, Jason Terry is forced almost by default to guard the Frenchman. While Richard Jefferson certainly isn't the scorer he once was, he's still a high-level athlete and slasher, which forces defensive wizard Caron Butler to match up with him, leaving Kidd on Ginobili. Although Kidd is still very much a tough defender with great awareness and gamesmanship, asking him to cover the Argentine is a tall order.
Moving forward, this delicate balance of the Spurs' offensive attack will be the key as to whether or not they can spring an upset in this series. All year they have lacked a consistent scoring option to go alongside Tim Duncan, who was dominant Wednesday with 25 points and 17 rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting. George Hill is much improved, but he's still another year or two away from being reliable for 15 points a game. All of this is why the stellar play of Jefferson, mostly deemed as a failed experiment this season, is such an encouraging sign for this team. Jefferson finished with 19 points, but his 17 in the first half set the tone early and established another scoring option early for the Spurs.
To his credit, Carlisle did a marvelous job of keeping the Mavs in striking distance by leaving his starters (and Terry) in the game to close the third quarter. With several Spurs reserves in, Dallas took immediate advantage, pulling within 10 aided by a 12-0 run.
But as they did all game long, San Antonio had an answer: Manu Ginobili drive and dish to Duncan, Parker kick to Hill for three, Duncan at the end of the shot clock with a baby hook. Every time Dallas threatened to get back in striking distance, they were buried. They did pull to within five points midway through the fourth, but San Antonio immediately responded with an 8-0 run to put the game out of reach.
As the series shifts back to San Antonio, momentum has shifted as well. Dallas needs to get more from Shawn Marion, perhaps their most versatile defensive player but also a valued offensive option. Marion endured a miserable Game 2 (six points on 2-for-7 shooting), so much so that Carlisle only played him 21 minutes, opting to give him little tick in the fourth quarter. Marion's ability to give the Mavs his usual infusion of hustle and fast break points will prove to be a vital factor in determining if Dallas can go deep in the playoffs.
San Antonio, meanwhile, similar to the Boston Celtics, is every bit the wily veteran club capable of making another postseason run. While Duncan is playing some of his best basketball of the season, the play of Parker and Ginobili on the perimeter is perhaps even more important. Their ability to drive the lane in both transition and in the half court and put their staple of pressure on the defense will ultimately control the success of the Spurs. Always a good home team, look for them to take the next two and put themselves in prime position to pull the first-round upset over Mark Cuban and their Texas counterparts.
Hey, there's always the Cowboys right?