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Not Cuban's Team, Not Avery's Team, It' Manu's Team

By Michael Erler on March 24, 2008.

Editor’s note: We had some technical difficulties today, so you’ll also find Michael’s post on Pounding the Rock

Game 7o @ Dallas: Spurs 88, Mavericks 81


Good news, douche! After April 15, no Mavs blogger will have any interest in entering your locker room.(AP Photo/LM Otero)

So. The pertinent question on everybody’s mind… are we back?

Christ, I have no idea. I wish I could believe.

It would’ve been much easier to just get blown out by Dallas, pack it in, call it a season, and accept that this franchise simply isn’t destined to repeat, for a multitude of reasons, mostly having to do with a stubborn coach and a miserly owner. Really, I was quite okay with this. I mean, I wouldn’t have been HAPPY, don’t get me wrong, but after four titles in nine years, getting all mopey and shit would seem awful spoiled and Yankee fanish of us, now wouldn’t it?

But nooo. We just had to come back and win that game, instilling us fans with renewed hope, however misguided it may be.

Was it pretty to watch? Of course not. The winning team shot 33%. If I want to watch offensive “execution” like that, I’d have been tuned into CBS Sports all weekend, following the wildly overrated and spectacularly nauseating NCAA tournament, where beautiful basketball goes to die a miserable agonizing death every March. I can’t believe how millions upon millions of rubes tune into that sloppy clankfest year after year, simply because it’s so convenient to gamble on.

“Yeah I know I’m watching a terrible game and that the winning team will finish with six assists and 21 turnovers, none of the competitors involved will ever mount to anything on a professional level and I didn’t attend either school, but I filled out a bracket, so this is the premier sporting experience of the year.”

Ugh.

Where was I?

Oh right, our ugly basketball game.

Except it was beautiful. Breathtaking. A masterpiece.

This, my comrades, was Spurs basketball, in all its everyone-in-America-hates-us-because-we’re-boring glory. We scratched, we clawed, we dug in defense, we rebounded like rabid wolverines, (they box out like a motherfucker, I saw it on Animal Planet) we never gave them an inch of breathing room and we did juuust enough on offense to pull it out.

You know what it reminded me of? That game in LA last year against the Lakers, which coincidentally also took place on a Sunday afternoon and also found me clicky-clackittying away madly on the computer, trying to keep up with the action for Spurs fans who no doubt were already watching the game and didn’t need my play-by-play. But you know, they log on to get my incisive, expert analytical commentary like “Parker sucks” and “Get the ball to Manu goddammit.”

Anyway, as you may recall, in that game in LA the Spurs were in similar dire straights. The team was slumping, Powell had pretty much already waved the white flag (and I was looking for one to wave in my dresser) and the team was looking – everyone say it with me now – old, slow, and unathletic. You know, like the Spurs.

You want spooky similarities? Here we go.

  • In LA we shot 33.7%. In Dallas we shot 33.0%.
  • In LA we had 16 offensive rebounds and 53 total. In Dallas we had 16 offensive rebounds and 54 total.
  • We outrebounded LA by nine. We outrebounded Dallas by 11.
  • In LA we were 22-24 from the stripe. In Dallas we were 23-24 from the stripe.
  • In LA we had five steals and six blocks. In Dallas we had five steals and five blocks.
  • In LA all three members of the big three shot less than 50%, with two of the three, Tony and Manu under 40%. In Dallas all three shot under 50%, and only Manu nicked the 40% mark.
  • In LA our largest deficit was 11. In Dallas it was 12.
  • In LA Manu got hit in the head and/or face late by a preening wannabe tough guy.
  • In Dallas Manu got hit in the head and/or face late by a preening wannabe tough guy.

(Okay, that’s not really a coincidence. Manu pretty much always gets hit in the head and/or face by preening wannabe tough guys.)

See?

I told you, spooky.

Actually there was one striking difference between the two games. Back in ’06-07 Michael Finley could still kinda sorta play a little, and he hit the winning shot in overtime, a loooong prayer of a three. In ’07-08 though Michael Finley is not the same guy. In fact, I’m not entirely unconvinced that he decided to let Billy Ocean impersonate him for the season, on a lark. Somewhere the real Michael Finley could be crooning “Caribbean Queen” strikingly off-key for a bunch of horrified Billy Ocean fans on a cruise ship’s lounge, folks who simply wanted to down a couple of margaritas and enjoy a pleasurable evening with one of their musical icons from the wacky 80s before returning to their rooms to “get it on.”

I think what I’m trying to say here is that Michael Finley sucks and shouldn’t be playing for Efes Pilsen in Turkey let alone an NBA contender. In case that message didn’t come through loud and clear in the previous paragraph. Sometimes I can be cloudy and subtle, like all good writers are.

Do I have a point?

Yes, I think I do.

Overall I was very pleased with how we played. The defense was active, rotating, and communicative. Guys covered for each other. We rebounded well, especially the smalls, and Bowen (and yes… Fin) was particularly good in that regard. We held off Dampier and Brandon Bass, the latter particularly had been killing us all season. The rumor going around was that the latest Cuban-Avery dust-up has to do with Bass’ playing time, with the former wanting him in there more and the L’il General not so confident in the youngster’s aptitude for the game. Bass only played 11:41, so you tell me what’s going on there. Then again, he was a -7, so maybe Avery knows something.

But yes, I am legitimately shocked we dominated these guys on the boards. They usually own us in that category, but we only allowed three offensive rebounds while racking up the aforementioned 16 in their end. I’m not sure how or why this happened. Maybe Avery saw the highlights from the past couple games of Tony streaking by everyone down the floor for easy lay-ins and made getting back on defense the main priority of his gameplan. Dallas just didn’t look very hungry for the ball all day and nobody wanted to take it to the hole to draw some fouls.

They looked unmotivated, dispassionate, and in a word, soft. Like the old Mavericks we knew and loved. Methinks Avery has lost the team and I’d be pretty damn surprised if he was the coach next year. I’m guessing they’ll try hard to unload Stack and Terry too as part of their makeover. Good luck with that.

As for the Ason Kidd trade, I guess it’s safe to say at this point that it was an unmitigated disaster, like we all knew it would be. Dude can’t shoot, simple as that. You can play offense four-on-five if the liability is a center or let’s say a defensive specialist small forward who can just shoot corner threes, but you can’t do i
t if he’s the guy who always has the ball in his hands. Guys who always have the ball need to be able to score it when need be. Pretty common sense, no? Guarding Dallas these days is rudimentary, and that hasn’t been the case with them since Dirk came aboard. We were guarding Kidd at times, with Tim Motherfucking Duncan, for crying out loud, and not suffering for it. Also, Dirk’s eternal weakness, his ability to drive, reared it’s ugly head once again, as Tony was able to do a superb job on him on switches, simply by letting him take awkward fadeaways.

So yeah, a good win, all in all. We have to guard against making too much of it because Dallas is so limited offensively these days, but it was a positive step for our defense and at least the guys look like they’re trying and on the same page out there. When the smalls rebound and when Parker actually tries to guard somebody, we’re still a halfway decent defensive team, when very few Western powers are. Houston? New Orleans maybe? End of list.

Offensively we’re miles away from ring #5. Fin is toast. He’s had it. Parker was alarmingly putrid, especially in the second half. I couldn’t even watch him with the ball because I knew it would induce another uninterrupted stream of obscenities from my throat. They’re going to pack it in against him from now ’til the end of time and if that jumper doesn’t come around, we’re in trouble, because it’s not like he’s going to start falling in love with playmaking all of a sudden. Tim is unaggressive for large stretches, and one can only hope he’s conserving all his energy for the playoff grind, when we might have to rely on him more than ever. Barry is a Spur again, and he’ll help space the floor and hopefully knock down the shots that Fin hasn’t been, but who knows what kind of shape he’s in, how his calf is, and how much Pop is willing to trust him, so deep into the season?

Manu? He’s Manu. He lets Parker be the show against the Bulls and Kings of the world, but when it’s a big game and a big rival, he nuts up like he always has. Again the Mavs bullied him, with Stackhouse bodyslamming him and then shoving a fist into The Hustlemaker’s grill, but this shit happens so often and so predictably, it’s really not even worth mentioning anymore. People are gonna rough Ginobili up every so often, and when they do we should rejoice. The tactic never, ever, ever works.

Let’s face it. On paper we’re not looking like champions. We are slow. We are old. We’re decidedly less springy and bouncy and musclebound than everyone we face. All we have going for us is the knowledge that for somebody to beat us in the playoffs, they will have to overcome Tim and Manu’s will four out of seven games. And you can’t quantify that fact on a statsheet.

Teams that are slower and frailer can beat squads that run faster and jump higher if they play together and play smart. And if you need proof, here’s the proof. You’re welcome.

(Of course if we go down the tubes at Orlando on Tuesday, then forget it, I’m done with these guys.)

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