Game #32 Recap: Gary Neal, Tim Duncan power league-best Spurs past rival Mavericks, 99-93

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Short graphic recapping the game.

Missing injured star forward Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks' supporting cast came out to prove that they can win without him. Despite gallant efforts from Caron Butler (30 points) and savvy veteran point guard Jason Kidd (12 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds), the Mavs couldn't overcome the San Antonio Spurs' depth, falling to the league-leading Spurs, 99-93. Gary Neal personified the Spurs reserves' fearless resolve, pumping in a team-best 21 points focused on 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, while Tim Duncan effectively challenged the vaunted Dallas zone and anchored the Spurs' own defense, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

It's New Year's Eve where I'm coming from, so I'll make this quick like a 4-panel Rage comic. Watch out for the fireworks when you jump.

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So, another year has passed, and instead of thinking about New Year's resolutions (which everyone probably breaks 95 percent of the time), I've been thinking about stuff I'm thankful for.

One of them is that I finally realized in 2010 what a useless idiot this one author of a blog is, which finally made me stop following him sometime around September. Don't worry folks, it's not PtR-related. I began following him for lack of good sources about my alma mater's college basketball team, and on the outset, I liked his style. He was a pretty old alumni and always used memories of the team's glorious past to begin his game recaps-slash-narratives.

But after awhile, this style wore out on me. I just got tired of always reading multiple paragraphs about players from the 60s, 70s and 80s before I got to the real stuff about the current team. I know I should exhibit more respect for the past, yada yada yada, but when you always read about "the good 'ol days" every_single_freakin'_time, it just gets old. Pun intended, yes.

And then when I get to the part where he starts talking about the team, he often comes across as an arrogant bastard who never misses a chance to toot his own horn -- "I talked to Player X before the game and told him to relax and focus on this and that... and you know what? I was right. I'm so good at this" or something to that effect. What the hell? How about writing about THE game, mister? No star for you!

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"RC, thanks for really putting a boring product out there. Here's a Larry O' Brien for your trouble."

The last straw came when he posted something saying how he hated the Heat, and how surprised he was about the San Antonio Sterns. Really? The San Antonio Sterns? I wrote on his shoutbox one time he said that the Spurs were boring, and put him in his place. But I guess you can't trust a guy who writes about basketball but names football, baseball and hockey as his top 3 favorite sports. Now, that makes a loooot of sense. Anyway, good riddance. If you ever talk about the Spurs badly again, I'm sending you an email a la Spursfansteve-to-Bill Simmons.

---end of last rant for 2010---

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The Janitor fails to clean up the old furniture.

What about this game, eh? I think Pop said it best during the post-game:

"We don’t take too much out of the win... We didn’t show very much. We didn’t improve as a team, that’s for sure."

A lot of Pounders said on the thread that they just wanted to take a win, no matter if it was close or a blowout or in some other shape or form. I agree. At the end of the day, it's another W in the win-loss column. It helps that it puts us another full game ahead of the Mavericks (3.5 games total now) and creates some much needed separation between them not only in the division standings but also in the race for the best record in the NBA along with that helpful number 1 seed in the playoffs. Talking about the playoffs already in December... sheesh, look at this guy!

The game was a classic case of "team loses star player, gets told by the coach and media that everyone else needs to step up, they do, and win", except for that last part. Exhibit A -- 2009/2010 season, it was the 7th game and a TP-less, TD-less team with an out-of-shape Manu coming off the bench wallops a healthy Mavs unit behind 29 points from... you'll never guess - Richard Jefferson a.k.a. RJ 1.0. Even the corpse of Bogans chipped in 13 points (3 3PTs).

Of course the Mavs won't be able to play this way game in and game out (Butler scoring 30 every night? Brian "The Janitor" Cardinal going 3-3 from three land? You make me larf), but it was one of those games when the supporting guys were all pumped up while the opposing team was more like "meh... what is this game? We feel insulted by the lack of stars... hence we are going to coast". It's a perfect recipe for a tarp game, and the Spurs almost fell for it except that this year's Spurs have too many weapons to let this one slip.

The Spurs could've actually put it away early, racing to a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Tony and Hill pushed the pace almost every single possession, and when the team set up at half court, Gary Neal was en fuego from the outside. It was also a good thing that Manu was shooting well in this game (4-8 3PT FGs), because his slashing abilities have basically gone to the dumps with him feeling under the weather.

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Parker's imitation of MJ's jumpman logo. Tony... just don't.

And then strange things happened. Dallas went to its zone defense, and Parker didn't know how to handle it. He overpenetrated when he should've passed, turned the ball over trying to catch shooters on the wings which were covered anyway, and was forced to shoot long twos when the clock wound down. Bonner was way off on his threes (but he did have that one spectacular follow-up SLAM of a TP miss... whoa), and Blair was rendered useless by the long arms of Tyson Chandler. Ball movement also went south.

After starting the game 6 of 7 on threes, the Spurs kept firing blanks against the zone, which basically dares the opponent to shoot from outside. The cold shooting didn't help the Spurs' case for most of the night, but thankfully Gary Neal was there to punish the open outside shots that the zone gave up.

When the Mavs threatened to take the lead or tie the ball game up, our rock, Tim Duncan, was there to keep the ship steady. He started out sour in the low post, but once the rhythm guy got going, not even Chandler could stop him. Timmy, with ample support from Dice, also exploited the zone's weakness of giving up a lot of offensive rebounds (7-4 edge), and we were able to dominate the rebounding department, 50-35 against two seven footers, this even without Blair's help. The other guys, particularly our guards -- Manu with 8 boards, TP and Hill with 6, Neal with 5 -- picked up the slack and didn't let the Mavs get a slew of second chances.

The stretch towards the close of the 3rd spanning the middle of the 4th was when the Spurs finally started to figure out how to attack the zone and reassert their dominance. The Mavs got to their closest at 62-63, but a short spurt where Hill scored on a jumper, a Tony drive, RJ dunk off a broken outlet pass (for his first points!), and a Dice tough lay-up off a Manu assist closed the quarter with the Spurs up by seven, 71-64. From there, the team was able to hold off Dallas at arm's length for the rest of the game, punctuated by Neal's and RJ's back-to-back threes that put the Spurs up by double digits. Terry would make a couple of late threes to make the score more respectable, but at that point the Spurs were already out of danger. Game over, season series tied now at 1-1.

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Mavericks' defense, B.C. (Before Chandler)

So yes, it's such a weird game in more ways than one. I'm quite sure that The Jet won't shoot that crappily for an entire series (although it still is possible), and Butler won't be able to jack up 21 shots with Dirk back in the flow. Also, how bad is Ian Mahinmi? Alexis Ajinca's younger than him, and he's already ahead of Yawn in the depth chart. You know who's worse? Brendan Haywood -- and his baaad contract. Dude can't even get some minutes in this game when Hill was toying with Ajinca around the rim! He's that awful.

What can we take from this game aside from the W, the Nailgun being The Real Deal, Timmy not really being that old, and Manu having the awesomest bald spot in the entire universe? Hardly any, actually. We already know that the Spurs are ridiculously deep, guard-wise -- 33 (79 percent) of our 42 bench points came from our guards, namely Hill and Neal, and shoot too many threes (28 attempts, 11 makes for 39 percent - right there with the team's 40 percent average).

Well for starters, we could do better against the zone -- maybe run some sets that will make the Mavs think twice about using it against us for long stretches. The matchup zone, a hybrid of zone and man-to-man defense and something which Boston also employs, is a lot more difficult to deal with, but I believe we have the right amount of speedy guards and big time shooters to handle it. Defensively, we let Kidd have his way in the early going as he posted up our guards, but then Carlisle didn't call that number too often. Hill, though, was great again on D, particularly in pestering Terry into a 3-16 shooting night.

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Pop had the bigs set a lot of double screens against the zone to free up open jumpshots.

Offense-wise, it still feels like the same Mavs team to me, except now they have Chandler to catch lobs and throw down oops with a fury. Their defense has improved, but we'll see how they can carry it as the season progresses and teams figure out more ways to exploit that zone. Pop, especially, hasn't shown all his cards on how to bust holes in it, and I have full confidence that our offensive firepower can carry out the plan. All other things considered, SA and DAL are still pretty much familiar with each other's schemes and workings.

About the Spurs' defense, we definitely had some good moments (RJ played well on D for stretches, even though his shot is still M.I.A.), but if Dirk was there and Terry had a good shooting night, tonight's stand wouldn't have been enough. Too many points to wonder and debate about, but we still have 50 long games to go -- a lot of things can still happen.

But in the spirit of giving thanks for the year that was, I'm just thankful that we had two months of to-die-for winning basketball, and that everyone on the roster is still very much healthy and intact, save for a few blips with George. Hopefully these things will still hold up as the season progresses, win another title, and I'll be a happy camper for the rest of 2011. Too early to be satisfied with the year that's just started, maybe? Probably, but I want that title so bad. So. Bad.

Your Three Stars

3 -- Antonio McDyess - 7 points (3-3 FGs), 5 rebounds (2 off), 2 assists, 2 blocks. The Invisible Mr. McDyess decided to show up for this game, and he made an impact. He was effective subbing in for Duncan, and was active on both ends. Just look at that game-high plus-minus of +21!

2 -- Gary Neal - 21 points (5-8 3FGs), 5 rebounds, +/- of +17. He got the TNT interview, and some props from the Czar. I'm not worried that defenses will key in on Zod... see the way he shot that three-ball in front of The Jet's mug? Priceless.

1 -- Tim Duncan - 17 points, 11 rebounds (2 off), 2 assists, 2 TOs. The Big Fella held the team together when it ran around like headless chickens. If not for his steady play during that Mavs comeback, the Spurs would've wilted. Forget Charles and his BS. Rest assured, you are very much appreciated in this webspace, Mr. Duncan, and we know what you're capable of.

In the spirit of the holidays and the new year that beckons (or has already arrived for me and a few others), here is my last attempt at a meme comic. Happy New Year!

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Up Next: Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder come to the AT&T for a New Year's Day showdown. We've beaten them 3? or 4? straight times, and I'm fairly confident we can handle the young Thunder if the Spurs continue to play their game. By the way, I'm still waiting for that DeJuan Blair 20-20 this season.

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