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Nobody Beats The Mavs 11 Times In A Row

By Jeff Koch on April 24, 2014.

Dallas 113, San Antonio 92
Series tied 1-1

Somebody better let the Spurs know the playoffs have started. The Mavs certainly know.

Last night’s dispiriting and embarrassing loss can be sliced a million different ways, viewed from a hundred different angles. When a team gets beat that bad, it’s usually an abundance of things. And it’s usually just one thing.

Energy. Effort. Intensity. Commitment. Desire. Whatever broad word we want to use to describe those things, the Mavs have it and the Spurs don’t. I worried that the Spurs might be in a little bit of trouble having not played a meaningful game in over a week heading into the playoffs and also having played two games with low energy and bad habits. I did not think, however, that it could possibly carry through two entire playoff games at home. But the Spurs are punchless, and the Mavs are winning every significant category and are taking the fight to the Spurs, who seem uninterested or unable to step up.

But you’re not here solely for my exasperated musings on unquantifiable things, so let’s look at a few concrete things, shall we?

Turnovers were obviously the prime suspect last night. The Spurs committed 24 total TOs, leading to a whopping 33 points for the Mavs. Take away those points (and, to be fair, the Spurs points off TOs), and the score is 82-80 in the Spurs favor. So in half-court sets and unbroken possessions, the game is still even. And the turnovers were mostly from sloppy execution, forcing the issue, trying to move too fast, being a beat too slow. In other words, easily correctible things. The Mavs are playing better defense, yes; but many of these mistakes are lapses of focus and concentration on the part of the San Antonio.

Still, the overall trend of TOs and lack of assists is troubling. In the two games, the Spurs have 31 assists to 34 turnovers. You don’t need a degree in Advanced Statistics to know just how bad this is. During the regular season, the Spurs had single games in which they registered over 31 assists. The Mavs, to counter, have 34 assists to only 16 turnovers in the two games. The number of assisted baskets is usually an excellent barometer of how well the Spurs offense is working, and right now, it’s broken.

This, to me, is the smartest thing the Mavs have done with their switching defense. By switching everything, they are essentially baiting the Spurs to play one on one, to try and exploit match-ups. Yes, these match-ups are exploitable. But it also completely takes the team out of their motion offense. The Mavs have made the Spurs equal to the sum of their parts; what makes the team so lethal is that, within their system, they are usually so much greater than the sum of their parts. The system is the true star of the Spurs (and probably why Pop deserves every Coach of the Year award), and the Mavs have neutralized our superstar. When the two teams are viewed purely on a talent standpoint, the disparity doesn’t seem quite as great.

Factor in that the Spurs bench has suddenly disappeared completely, and the Mavs look like the better team. Matthew Tynan from 48MoH tweeted this figure out today, and it’s pretty staggering: the Net rating for the Spurs starters is 17.8, a very solid number. Marco, Boris, and Patty? A combined -75.4. That’s staggeringly bad. And the eye test backs it up. Boris seems to be in a slump that has stretched back a month or two. Patty, remember, is an unknown playoff quantity. He looks like he is just moving way too fast. Marco had a great playoff run for the Bulls last year, but this is his first go-round for the Spurs. He looks like he is just lost and a step too slow out there. Without those 3, the bench falls completely by the way side, and suddenly the Spurs are a paper-thin team. They have to improve.

Kawhi also had a horrendous night last night. Probably his worst playoff game in the last two years. The isolation heavy offense has killed him, and foul trouble slowed him down last night. I trust that he will bounce back, but the Spurs need him to consistently be one of the 2 or 3 best players on the court every night to make a deep playoff run, let alone get out of this series.

The good news: the Spurs offense is still pretty efficient, you know, when it actually gets a shot up. The Mavs defense is more gimmicky than anything sustainable, and the Spurs can figure it out. It’s easy to overreact to a game or two in the playoffs, but most every game has their own timbre and tone, with very little relation to the last. The Spurs were a historically great road team this year, heading to an arena where the Mavs were only pretty good this year.

Surprise! We’re in a playoff series. The Mavs were a near-50 win team forced to play a month of great basketball just to get into the playoffs. This series was never going to be a gimme. A good punch in the mouth is exactly what the Spurs needed; it’s never supposed to be easy.

Game 3 is Saturday afternoon.

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