The Spurs seized Game 1 from the Dallas Mavericks in dramatic fashion, battling back from 10 points down with under eight minutes to go. Not many expected Dallas to win the game, but that's not to say this game went at all as planned. What does that mean for tonight's game, as well as the rest of the series?
To begin with, let's go over the oddities of Game 1:
- The Spurs, the league's best three-point shooting team, went 3-17 from deep.
- The Mavs, the league's second-best three-point shooting team, went just 6-18.
- The Spurs, the league's top assist team, had just 14 dimes, the lowest total all year in a victory. (tip of the hat to 48MoH's Matthew Tynan for this one)
- Dirk Nowitzki had only 11 points on 4-14 shooting.
- Monta Ellis, also, had 11 points on 4-14 shooting.
- Tim Duncan played 38 hard-fought minutes, including a scary fall after colliding with Monta Ellis in the third. (The second straight Spurs-Mavs game with a Duncan-knee-injury scare)
- Likewise, the 35-year-old Nowitzki played a team-high 42 minutes.
- Devin Harris led Dallas with 19 points, many coming off an uncharacteristic flurry of pull-up jumpers.
- The second quarter lasted 35 minutes:
- San Antonio's bench, the best in the league, was a net-negative while on the floor (outscored 46-23), with Boris Diaw putting up an ugly -22 in 23 minutes of play.
- No technical fouls, or challenges to parking-lot brawls, were issued to the Spurs by referee Joey Crawford.
- Lastly (another h/t to Mr. Tynan), this was only the second time this season that Dallas has lost after holding at team to 90 points or less.
What happened in Game 1?
From the get-go, the Dallas coach showed that the Mavs couldn't expect to win by playing a conventional game. Switching on every screen Tony Parker used, Dallas forced Parker to be San Antonio's offense. While it worked fine with Tony on the floor, it forced the Spurs offense into a series of isolation possessions, the likes of which we haven't been used to seeing this season. The ball didn't zip around as it normally does and, when Parker took his bag of tricks to the bench in the second quarter, the offense sputtered. In less than four minutes the Mavs turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point advantage.
The lack of ball movement especially hurt the Spurs' shooters. Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills never got into a rhythm, and San Antonio's league-best three-point shooting took a hit. On one possession in the second quarter, Green seemed almost surprised to find himself open for a look, his flat attempt rimming out. The Spurs killed the Mavs with the long ball in their four meetings this season, and Dallas did well in taking that away.
As Fred mentioned, Harris did much of his damage from the perimeter, thanks to the Spurs' going under nearly every screen for the first three quarters. While this worked well with Kawhi Leonard doing so against Monta Ellis (a matchup I think will continue to work in San Antonio's favor), Harris was able create enough space and get good looks at the basket. This opened things up for him, and he was soon getting into the lane where's he's always been most dangerous.
Staying home on screens also seemed to take away chances for Dirk, who had to pump and fade his way to his 14 points. We can certainly expect his numbers to improve, but I liked the way San Antonio played him.
All in all, Dallas fans can take comfort in the fact that Dirk and Monta will likely account for more than 28 points in every other game this series, while Spurs fans can do the same with Diaw, Green, Mills and Belinelli going a combined 3-18 from the field in Game 1.
What will happen in Game 2?
Things will change tonight offensively for both teams -- one look at the facts above and it's hard to expect a repeat, statistically or tactically, from Game 1. Carlisle and Pop will surely have more robust plans for Game 2, but here are a few thoughts.
After the success each team's defense had against the opposing offense on Sunday, both teams will likely open with a similar defensive setup to what they've already shown. The Spurs will do well to keep Danny Green marking Shawn Marion and crashing the defensive boards (which he did very well in Game 1), as well as having Kawhi stick Monta. On Dallas' end, they'll likely keep switching on screens until San Antonio forces them to make a change.
More movement off pick-and-roll switches against Tony (and Manu) should give the Spurs' shooters better looks and keep the ball from stalling. They'll certainly look to improve on the 14 assists from Game 1.
Dallas will try to free up Dirk in various ways, starting off with pick-and-rolls, but he's not a guy that needs many plays drawn up for him. At this stage in his career, he's effective with his one-leg step-back and as a trailing shooter on fast breaks. More of Dirk's usual shots will drop tonight, which will hopefully be offset by more of San Antonio's usual shots falling.
Ellis' only hope against Leonard will be in getting solid screens from his bigs. He was freed up well by Marion on a screen in the second half that led to an easy basket for Dallas, and I think the Mavs will try more creative ways of accomplishing this again. As has been pointed out in previous articles, Ellis averages less than 10 points per game in the playoffs, making his performance in Game 1's something less than an outlier, but he'll have to step it up if his team is to have any chance at pulling off an upset.
With two of the league's best coaches -- one who (in case you didn't know) just took home a well-deserved second COTY award in three years -- we can look forward to the continuation of the first-to-four chess match.