The Dallas Mavericks deserve plenty of credit from turning their series against the San Antonio Spurs into much more than your normal #1 vs #8 first round playoff encounter. The Spurs still came away with the 93-89 win, barely, thanks to a big game from Manu Ginobili and the idiotic decision made by DeJuan Blair to kick Tiago Splitter in the head, resulting in his ejection.
While one might say that Blair shouldn’t be the most important player in the world to the Mavs, in such a close game and series, with three out of the four games decided by five points or less, everyone counts. Blair scored 12 points in 16 minutes, making all of his five field goal attempts. The Mavs were +4 with him on the floor. You can do the match, but even though Blair is an up and down kind of player in terms of production, he was crucial for the Mavs in this one.
Manu Ginobili faltered at the line and almost cost the Spurs the game. With San Antonio leading 90-89, Ginobili made only 1-of-2 which gave the Mavs the opportunity to tie or take the lead. Monta Ellis, scoring 20 points but having a very rough shooting game this time against Kawhi Leonard, missed the layup which gave the Spurs the win, erasing all those stats about Popovich teams in a 1-2 deficit and how the Mavs handle the same kind of lead.
This game became about grit and not offense. The two games in the series that were decided by defense and not which offense can score more, the Spurs won. The Mavs are holding their own in a series many thought would be very one sided considering the recent history of this rivalry, but struggled on offense, shooting only 38.1% from the field as the Spurs did an excellent job on both Nowitzki and Ellis.
Boris Diaw might be the key to the Nowitzki issue on both ends of the floor. Nowitzki couldn’t post up on him, missing all five post up attempts in the game. But there’s also the effectivity of Diaw on offense, especially when he has Nowitzki guarding him. Diaw scored 15 of his 17 points with Nowitzki marking him. For the series Diaw is 10-for-16 for 23 points with Nowitzki as his primary defender.
Manu Ginobili will get the hero badge, especially if the Spurs make it through this difficult series. He scored 23 points with a rough day from outside the arc, but it has been his presence on the floor making the difference so far in the series. The Spurs are outscoring the Mavs by 17 points with Ginobili on the floor, while outscored by 30 with him sitting on the bench. The biggest difference can be seen in 3-point shooting, a weapon the Spurs haven’t been able to unleash, making 40.8% of their shots with Ginobili on the court but only 17.4% with him on the bench.
Does this give San Antonio the driver’s seat once more? Uncertain. The teams have been too close to call so far in the series, excluding the blowout in favor of Dallas in game 2. The Mavericks are matching every advantage the Spurs were expected to have in this series although the bench finally shone in more than one way for San Antonio in game 4. They need to make this series about defense and execution instead of individual ability, which would make them more prone to a shocking upset.