Maybe the best and most fun offense to watch in the NBA belongs to the San Antonio Spurs, but it has taken them five games to finally make it work again, beating the Dallas Mavericks 109-103 to take the lead in their playoff series behind a big night from Tony Parker and the reliable double double performances of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter.
For the first time in this series we saw the Spurs’ ball movement being able to find open cutters and players. It’s both about more and better off the ball movements from Spurs players, and also the Mavs starting to mess up on defense. All the adjustments in the world aren’t going to help when the players simply don’t follow all of the orders. When it comes to that, the Mavs’ defense suddenly can’t keep up with the Spurs.
Tony Parker led the way with 23 points, and finally showed up in the second half. He scored 13 in the second half of the game, one point less than his total from the first four games in the series. He was able to get into the paint a lot more than in the previous games, which helped the Spurs outscore Dallas close to the rim by 26 points, while his average shot distance dropped by almost 3 feet, making things a lot easier for everyone.
This wasn’t a blowout. For much of the fourth quarter, Dallas were able to hang around the four point margin until a big 3-pointer from Parker finished the game. The Mavericks had three players in something of a scoring zone, none more than Vince Carter, leading the team off the bench with 28 points. Dirk Nowitzki followed with 26 points and 15 rebounds, Monta Ellis had 21. In a series so tight, it comes down to small things: Bench players stepping up and making mistakes. The Spurs got another big game from Ginobili (19 points, easily the team’s best player in the series) and turned the ball over only five times.
Dallas didn’t turn the ball over easily as well (8 times), but took bad shots against an improved defense from the Spurs, forcing the Mavs to 43.8% from the field, making things especially difficult for Shawn Marion, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, combining for a terrible 30% on 30 field goal attempts. Carter was great while the Nowitzki-Ellis combo did as expected, but that’s not enough when the Spurs play their usual offense.
Duncan reached 151 playoff double-doubles with 26 points and 12 rebounds. He now has six less than Magic Johnson, the all-time leader with 157. Tiago Splitter added one as well (17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) and was a big part of the rejuvenated offensive game, both as a passer from the post and as a cutter to the basket, with the Mavs missing a big man in DeJuan Blair which could have made things slightly easier for them on defense.
This series is far from over. Dallas have been right with the Spurs in the three times they’ve lost as well. The problem now is re-finding ways to slow Tony Parker and San Antonio down, because if this becomes a battle of talent and not of coaching wits and adjustments, the Mavericks unfortunately are the inferior team.