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Isolated

By Jeff Koch on April 21, 2014.

Dallas 85, San Antonio 90
San Antonio leads series 1-0

That one won’t be going in the DVR archive.

The playoffs officially began for the Spurs at noon on Sunday, April 20. Unfortunately, they began at noon CST, and the Spurs didn’t start actually playing playoff basketball until noon PST. Fortunately, this didn’t prevent them from getting the win.

You know the expression, “They took our best shot and still won”? This was kind of the opposite: Dallas took the Spurs’ worst shot and still lost. That has to be dispiriting for this Mavs ball club, who have now lost 10 straight to the Spurs. This game, however, was really unlike any of the previous 9. Who would have thought that the lowest scoring game of the first weekend of playoff basketball would be between two of the best offensive teams in the league (and one of the worst offensive teams in the league)? Devin Harris was a thorn in the side of the Spurs; the Spurs primarily won on the back of the Big 3 and a couple of defensive role players; Duncan scored 27 points, mostly in the post: is this 2006? Seriously, this game was very reminiscent of Game 1 in that epic 2006 series.

Neither team could really shoot from outside. Most of this was by design from the opposing coaches. The Mavs were clearly focused on preventing our 3-point shooters from getting going, so they switched every pick and roll. This really gummed up the Spurs’ motion offense, but it created some irresistible mismatches. Kawhi Leonard being guarded by Monta Ellis in the post? Marion on Duncan? Parker against the big of his choice, isolated out top? Those are clear wins for the Spurs, and what little offensive output we had came from these isolations. Parker scored at will in the first half, Duncan in the second.

But this was also in the Mavs plan. Remember the Golden State series last year, when Harrison Barnes kept getting isolated in the post with Tony Parker guarding him? This is obviously a clear advantage for the Warriors, and they certainly took full advantage of it. But it was also at the expense of their explosive offense and their world class shooters getting shots. So it was kind of a win for the Spurs, too. Yesterday, while Parker and Duncan were putting in work, the Spurs offense that we know so well was completely non-existent. The ball was not moving, cuts weren’t being made, and the ball was sticking. The team only had 14 assists total, which is horrible for this team.

Still, if this is what the Mavs are going to give us, and it works to our advantage, we’ll have to take it. We can save the rest of the offense for the next round. The truth is, the offense just looked bad in general. The team hadn’t played a meaningful game in 9 days, and the rust and lack of execution showed. Meanwhile, the Mavs had been playing playoff games for essentially 2 weeks. They just looked sharper and more prepared. I think we only hit one shot outside of the paint in the first quarter, and everybody just looked a step slow and out of sync. This is the byproduct of games like the season finale against the Lakers, which devolved into open gym. It helps to reinforce bad habits. We can only hope (and assume) that the team will regroup and catch up to the playoffs soon enough. There were shots that were open that we just missed, passes that were missed, cuts that were missed. Those will be found again, soon.

Thankfully, the defense looked to be in peak form (from the starters, at least), holding the Mavs explosive offense to only 85 points. Yes, Dirk had a poor night shooting, but Devin Harris had his best night in years, which somewhat counterbalances each other. The D looked sharp and locked in, and Kawhi and Tiago were particularly good guarding Monta and Dirk, respectively. Tiago has always played Dirk well; and if Kawhi is going to get the duty of guarding him all series, I feel bad for Monta. That won’t end well for him. Offense can come and go; this is why championship teams always rely on defense, because it is the most controllable aspect of a game as it relies upon effort and energy more than any other aspect of the game.

The offense sucked. The bench REALLY sucked. (I’ll give them a one game pass before I start complaining or worrying.) The starters were really great. The defense was solid. Easy shots were missed. They probably won’t be again. The team started the game on a 21-9 run and ended it on a 19-4 run. In between, they suffered a 72-50 shellacking. The Big 3 looked playoff ready. Kawhi and Tiago looked playoff ready.

Most importantly, the team won a game they very easily could have lost, a game that might have been Dallas’ best chance to make this a competitive series.

It wasn’t a pretty game on either side, and I’m sure both coaches expect a lot more from their teams in Game 2 and have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. This is why we love the playoffs.

Game 2 is Wednesday night.

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