Dallas Breaks Out the Big D in Game 5
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle doesn't seem like the kind of guy who has many "Eureka!" moments. He has the face of an accountant, and for the past three games in the first round series between his Mavs and the Spurs, he coached like an accountant, too.
All the No. 2 pencils have been sharpened, aligned and ready to scribble. All the actuarial sheets were blank and ready to be filled. Every number has been methodlically checked and double-checked. Yet, for Games 2, 3 and 4, no matter how he crunched the numbers, Carlisle saw the results add up to a loss.
So, somewhere between the end of Game 4 and on the brink of elimination, Carlisle noticed some numbers that did work: 15-4; as in the Mavs' record when Brendan Haywood started, including a 12-4 record when Haywood joined the quartet of Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki.
That group's record improved to 13-4 on Tuesday night as Haywood's defensive energy, combined with reserve Eduardo Najera's aggressiveness, fueled a 103-81 poleaxing of the arch-rival Spurs in Dallas. Game 6 is Thursday in San Antonio.
"Eureka!" indeed. Then again, Carlisle undersold the process of how the lineup change came about. It wasn't exactly Archimedes leaping naked out of a tub.
"It was a bit of a gut [decision]," Carlisle said. "It was a bit of conversation with the staff talking about different things.
"I just felt the time was right to do it. "
There was no better time as the Mavs faced their third first-round exit since their Finals appearance in 2006. But Dallas set the defensive tone early with quick feet on the perimeter, quick hands in the post (leading to three deflections within the first five minutes) and quick closeouts on three-point shooters in the short corner where George Hill killed them in Game 4.
"Our guys were really aggressive on the defensive end," Carlisle said.
At first, none more so than Haywood, who frustrated Tim Duncan by placing two hands into the small of the Hall of Famer's back. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich even made a point to pantomime to the officials -- to no avail -- what Haywood was doing.
As Haywood tenderized Duncan's kidneys, the Mavs didn't lose much when they countered with a small lineup featuring their enforcer, Eduardo Najera, at center. Najera, who drew a flagrant two for a hard foul on Manu Ginobili in Game 4, got a flagrant one on Tuesday when he horse collared Tony Parker. For Najera, turnabout was fair play.
"I'm not trying to hurt anybody out there," Najera said. "I'm just trying to prove a point that we can do the same things they are doing."
While they didn't mug anyone in Game 5, the Spurs didn't win four titles by slacking on the defensive end. The Mavs, however, have been called soft -- and unprintable things -- on the defensive end of the floor for as long as anyone can remember.
Save Najera's take-down of Ginobili in Game 4, the Mavs had been missing that type of all-around ruggedness for most of the series. The Spurs had not shot worse than 45 percent for the first four games. In Game 5, the Mavs made the Spurs miss 65 percent of their shots.
As for the Spurs, they may have made their first -- and most crucial -- defensive mistake with about three minutes gone in the first quarter, when Manu Ginobili went under a screen set by Haywood for Butler. Duncan didn't show, allowing Ginobil to slide behind to cut off a potential Butler drive. But he pulled up for a 20-footer and Butler's confidence and energy grew from there as he hit five of his first six shots.
San Antonio seemingly had little confidence or energy throughout the game. As the camera panned across their bench with 9:39 remaining in Game 5, the Spurs had checked out mentally, many of them staring straight ahead as if they had received unfathomable news.
The question now is: does Haywood start Thursday in Game 6? If he did, it wouldn't be news to Popovich.
"We lost, they won," Popovich deduced. "It worked."
Yes, it did. The Mavs wanted Game 6, even if they had to go against their gentle nature and beat up the Spurs to do it.