Tony Parker and Tim Duncan Take on Mavs by Themselves; Rest of Spurs Take "Personal" Day
That about sums it up. Not much more to say about yesterday’s game, but let’s try regardless.
Pop made one major adjustment, starting Bowen in Place of Mason, Jr., hoping to have a defensive answer for Barea. I was actually in favor of this move and was happy with the results. Bowen has proven himself time and again in the playoffs, and if we’re going to go down, let’s go down with the people we know we can trust. And he has played quite well in this series on the defensive end, one of the few bright spots of our bench.
But there’s one problem with this move: for whatever reason, Mason, Jr. has a difficult time coming off the bench. He seems to drift into the background, displaying neither the shooting touch nor the killer instinct that were so vital to us early in the season. And he was atrocious as our backup PG last night. By my unofficial tally, we were -12 with Parker on the bench (to be fair, some of that back-up time went to Hill). The answer here seems obvious: start Bowen and Mason, Jr.; bench Michael Finley. Finley plays hard, and he’s a reliable vet and a professional, but he can’t guard young slashers…and just about every team in the league has a young slasher on the wings. Howard is abusing us, and is probably the most important factor in the series right now. We’re doing a great job stopping Dirk and Terry and daring the rest of the Mavs to beat us. But the rest of the Mavs are accepting the challenge and killing us.
To start the game we put Parker and Duncan in pick and roll and let them play. And it was working beautifully. Tony was getting into the lane and either finishing or dishing to Duncan for the easy lay in. This is exactly what I wanted to see as I think it’s our most effective offense at the moment. Parker was an absolute beast in the first half, going off for 31 points. Duncan had a solid first half also, scoring 15.
But herein lies the problem. 31 plus 15 is 46. We had 55 points at half. That means everyone else accounted for 9 points. 9 points in 24 minutes from 7 other players. I can’t even think of a word strong enough to describe that ineptitude.
We can dissect the numbers any way we want. 6 made shots from somebody other than Parker or Duncan stands out in particular. As does our putrid 3 point shooting (6 for 23, with 2 each from Hill and Parker, not our usual long range shooting specialists). But you don’t need to look at the numbers to know that we’re a two man team right now. We’re getting nothing offensively from anybody else. Sure, we’re getting some strong D from Bowen and Udoka. But we can’t expect two people to outscore a deep and talented professional basketball team. Parker made some uncharacteristic mistakes at the end; but I’m not going to kill him for it. He was out of gas, completely expended from willing the Spurs to victory. And he came up short. That’s no knock on him. Everybody needs help.
At the beginning of the series I thought that we had the stronger bench. I think we can safely say now that that is not true. Gooden, Thomas, Udoka, Mason, Jr., and everyone else is giving us nothing, while the Mavs are getting sparks from everywhere on their bench. Barea has been a huge spark plug for this team. Hollins? He outplayed Duncan down the stretch of last night’s game, energizing the team and the crowd enough to get them over the hump. Right now, Dallas is the more balanced, effective, and better team.
I was also very displeased with our end of game offense. Down just 3, we started jacking up wild, contested 3s. And missing. And missing. And missing. We panicked, and we lost the game because of it. There was plenty of game left, and it was very uncharacteristic of our team. The book on the Spurs is that we outexecute the other team and don’t beat ourselves. Last night, we did neither. We didn’t play within our offense, we didn’t trust in our teammates, we didn’t play with poise, and we beat ourselves.
After 4 games, Dallas is dominating all of the keys I mentioned at the beginning of the series. Although we’re getting a better, fresher, Duncan, he’s still not 100% healthy, and he can’t dominate a game wire to wire like we’ve seen in playoffs past. Josh Howard is playing inspired basketball, and we have no answer for him. Dallas has the far better bench. Our 3-point shooting has fallen off a cliff the last 2 games. We’re getting nothing from the combo of Finley and Mason, Jr. And our defense, while good (especially on Dirk) hasn’t been strong enough to account for our faltering offense. And we’re still getting manhandled on the glass.
So yes, things look bleak now. But this is a lot like 2006. We came home down 3-1, and still pushed it to Game 7, which we almost won. All Dallas did was hold serve (to borrow a tennis analogy). We just need to win one game in Dallas, and now that has to be Game 6. We can win Game 5 and then go in to Dallas and hope to do what we couldn’t do these last two games. But it’s still possible, and there’s no reason to give up hope yet. Game 5 is our first elimination game of the season; let’s see how we respond. Even if we lose this series, we need to know what we have for next year. Is Gooden a keeper? What can we expect from Hill? Can Mason, Jr. be a playoff performer? Can Bonner be counted on? There is still a lot and stake, and plenty to play for.
Personally, I can’t wait for Game 5.
Go Spurs Go.
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