One of the things I really like about the Spurs is that they hate the Mavericks just as much as their fans do. In its current form, rivalries are few and far between in the NBA. Players like Lebron James would rather be universally liked. There's nothing wrong with it, but it just makes it that much better when you witness two teams with obvious disdain for each other. Sunday night, we were treated to a good old fashioned rivalry as the Spurs traded punches with the Mavericks in San Antonio.
For the first time since January 4th, Gregg Popovich found himself with a full and healthy roster at his disposal. With Tony Parker's return, the Spurs seem poised to make a strong push into the playoffs. Parker began the game strong as he scored 10 points to lead the Spurs' charge in the first quarter. He looked rejuvenated after his weeks off and demoralized the Mavericks' defense with his dribble drives into the paint. When Tony is feeling right, it is very evident as he continuously prods the opposition's defense until a weak spot is discovered. It was a refreshing sight.
Although Parker looked sharp making four of his five shots, the rest of his team couldn't find the bottom of the net as they connected on just seven of their 20 shots in the opening frame. The poor shooting allowed the Mavericks to keep it close at the end of one, just trailing by three, 25-22.
In the second quarter the Spurs were sloppy with the ball. Turnovers have been a problem for the Spurs throughout the season, but more so recently. The Spurs' motion offense relies heavily on the creativity of its players and if they are just a little off on their passes, it stops producing. The poor decision-making seems to be contagious as of late and it's a little troubling, but normally San Antonio recovers and only has a quarter or so of poor play, as was the case tonight. In the second quarter, the Spurs committed seven turnovers which kept Dallas in the game. Even so, San Antonio managed to score 23 points in the quarter to lead by one at intermission. Had the Spurs not given it away seven times, and instead turned those possessions into points, this game would have been a rout.
In the third quarter, Manu Ginobili decided to make his presence felt. Manu scored 10 points in the period, including two threes, to keep the Spurs in control of the game. In addition, the Spurs only turned the ball over three times, as opposed to the seven in the previous quarter, to increase their lead to eight entering the fourth.
Although the Spurs were never able to pull away, San Antonio led the entire second half. The Spurs simply have too many weapons with a healthy roster. Poor Rick Carlisle could not slow the Silver and Black. He had his team jump the point guard to throw the Spurs off, but San Antonio responded with beautiful ball movement and often found a high percentage shot. Six players scored in double digits tonight for the Spurs while just three hit that mark for the Mavericks. This version of the Spurs is dangerous because they have eight players that are all capable of scoring 20 points on any given night. Tonight Danny, Patty and Marco were off, but would anyone be surprised if they scored 20 in their next outing? Spurs fans, we are a spoiled bunch.
Up five with under a minute remaining, Carlisle had Dirk jump a screen to double-team Parker 30 feet from the basket in an attempt to get the ball out of his hands. Parker took a dribble back and then blew by Dirk on his way to an acrobatic finish in traffic. It was the basket that finally put the Mavericks away. A few freethrows later, the Spurs beat their rivals, 112-106.
The Spurs are so deep that some can't help but wonder if San Antonio needs Tony Parker. Without Tony the Spurs can look great, but always remember that Tony is the best one-on-one player on the roster and in close games, Tony is the Spurs' best chance at victory. Manu is flashy and a fierce competitor. Tim is the foundation. Tiago is solid. Diaw is creative. Kawhi is the glue. Danny, Marco and Patty can get hot. But Tony is the finisher. We'll need the finisher to win it all.