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Guys, We Need To Talk About Tony

By Jeff Koch on April 29, 2014.

San Antonio 93, Dallas 89
Series tied 2-2

Games late in playoff series are interesting. The teams know each other so well, know each other’s sets, tendencies, and are frankly sick and annoyed of each other. In a lot of ways, there is so much more to think about and talk about, as every little play, every different rotation, every chess move by the coaches matters exponentially. On the flip side, there is so much less to think about, because it’s just the same two teams doing the same thing to each other, over and over. There is no mystery; the time for discovery is long passed.

For this reason (and the heightened drama over all), I tend to chew on playoff games a lot longer before I start writing. What do I think I just saw? What did I really see? What am I missing? What small thing might turn the tide?

The Mavs defense has made two very clear choices in this series: Tony Parker is not getting to the rim; our 3-point specialists (Green, Belinelli, Mills) are not going to get open looks. Anything else is fair game. Many of us (myself included) are lamenting Green and Belinelli’s inability to get going in this series. But they are getting no daylight from the Mavs guards. By design. And one things the Spurs offense doesn’t allow is for forced shots. Notice, Green only gets pulled from the floor when he starts forcing shots, not when he misses shots, and not when he isn’t taking them. When he starts to get that itchy trigger, though, Pop pulls the plug. Because that is what hurts the offense the most.

Those 3s aren’t there by design, and it’s misguided to worry about (or blame) them for not getting going. Because the real issue is Parker.

I can’t remember ever seeing Parker this out of sorts. It doesn’t even look like he’s capable of running the basic tenets of our offense right now. The Mavs are sagging off and forcing him to be a jump shooter, the oldest D on the books for Parker. And he’s still shooting well. But he is totally freezing out the rest of the team, so no other player is getting touches or rhythm on O. This is another issue as to why the likes of Green and Marco aren’t getting their shots; they are usually generated from Parker’s probing and penetration. But right now, Tony’s got blinders on, and he’s just missing obvious passes, the ball is sticking in his hand, and he is making wrong decisions or failing to make decisions at all. He is at once both pressing and tentative, which is a very hard thing to pull off. He doesn’t trust himself at all, and doesn’t seem to trust his teammates, either. He hit a big shot down the stretch, and then followed it up with possibly the worst possession of the series, where he dribbled around a few picks, miscommunicated with Duncan, and then threw up a shot from the side that hit the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired. This could have cost the team the game.

On the plus side, his jump shot is mostly still there. So we’re seeing the ball in Manu’s hands a lot more with Parker working off the ball, which is actually smart basketball, with or without Tony slumping.

And thank God for Manu. It’s not that our offense works better when he is on the court; it’s that our offense only works when he is on the court. He’s still Manu, so there are plenty of “no, no, no, YES!” plays. But he is playing with confidence, and the Mavs have no answer for his pick and roll with either Splitter or Duncan. It results in easy baskets at the rim almost every time. It’s also about the only thing that is opening up the 3-point arc for the team.

An interesting twist Pop played with in Game 4 was using more Bonner, and keeping Diaw out near the 3-point line a bit more. This highlights the importance of having bigs who can shoot the 3. When Marco and Danny are out there, it doesn’t really free up space because they are being guarded by guards. But Bonner and Diaw pull the opposing bigs away from the basket, open up the lane OR open up the long ball for them. Diaw hit 3 huge 3-pointers in the game, and Bonner’s spacing was critical for a few important baskets near the end of the first half.

It also helped that Patty became the Tasmanian Devil again, getting himself going with energy and hustle on both ends of the court. Finally settled into the series, his shot started to fall again. With Parker struggling, Patty coming alive is even more critical. And while Kawhi is still struggling offensively (partly because of the Parker issue), he has been his usual defensive wrecking ball the last few games, which helps out tremendously.

The series is tied. It could easily be 3-1 either way. The Mavs, in the aggregate, have played more minutes of solid basketball than the Spurs. The Mavs are playing well above their relative level, and getting ‘above normal’ production from more players than the Spurs. The Spurs have one of their 3 most important players in a huge slump. Saying all of this, the Mavs still lost Game 1 and Game 4, and only won Game 3 on a miracle shot. The Spurs are the 1-seed for a reason, and should win this series with even the slightest increase in productivity. The Mavs have looked like the better team, but this is still San Antonio’s series to lose.

Game 5 is Wednesday.

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