Heading into this series, the Dallas Mavericks had lost 10 straight games to the San Antonio Spurs. But now the Mavericks have beaten the Spurs twice in a row and are shockingly up 2 games to 1 after an improbable, falling-away Vince Carter three-pointer. A fitting tit-for-tat with that Manu Ginobili off-the-glass special that preceded it. Amazing how history can somewhat forcibly flash itself back, when what was supposed to be a 2008 glorious game turned into more like the 2004 last-second heave nightmare.
Belief is a funny thing, especially in sports. A long, hard season could just as well be turned around with a few jolts of confidence-building plays. A great defensive game plan. A near-steal of a game to seed the belief. A couple of made threes. The other team playing out-of-character. Fighting for your lives and playing playoff basketball even before the playoffs began.
After belief, it's momentum, momentum, momentum. The Mavericks have it now, in spades. We've seen it before, in so many playoff battles the Spurs have been in. It's a difficult thing to fight against. All of a sudden, the unexpected becomes the norm -- Monta Ellis being efficient. Shawn Marion making back-to-back threes. Jose Calderon locking down Danny Green's three-happy life. Dirk Nowitzki relegated to second, maybe even third option. Sam Dalembert being a force on D. Tony Parker looking pissed to be benched in crunch time.
There have been some old habits lying around though. The Spurs' big three have played well so far, considering the circumstances of Dallas' newfound swagger. Ginobili is still killing the Mavericks in more ways than just three point shooting. Devin Harris is alive and year well: 2006-well. Rick Carlisle is still Rick Carlisle, a championship ring-bearing, Ace-Ventura-looking basketball mastermind who's thrived on the unconventional-ness and underdogged-ness (if such a word even exists) of his team. And the Texas rivalry is practically as competitive as it has ever been.
One thing we should all know in sports is that when rivalry games happen with a lot on the line, current statistics and performances should just be thrown out the window. I mean, this series is just a mess right now to analyze. We should have known better that to feel fortunate to draw Dallas in the first round.
The Mavs' explosive offense is not a secret. Should we be disappointed with the Spurs' defense right now? Or is it really just pick your poison and roll with the punches? I don't know. But I do know and see that Kawhi Leonard is sagging faaaaar off Monta Ellis like he's LeBron James in last year's Finals (sorry I just had to use that example). Ellis burned Leonard for 29 points. At some point, Pop will probably try to do what others have said, of trying to stick Danny Green on him and let Kawhi be Kawhi and freelance a bit on defense. Who knows? Pop will probably start Manu Ginobili in Game 4 because we've all seen this happen before.
Also, this: the Dirk-Monta pick-and-roll has caused all kinds of headaches for the Spurs, as it has for any other team that has faced the Mavs. And Nowitzki, for all his German awesomeness, has played the part of decoy to the hilt, trusting his teammates and allowing them to shoulder the load. Nearly every Dallas pick-and-roll involved Dirk, whenever he was on the floor. Without looking at advanced stats, that's what it looked like to me.
So... what to do next, when almost all of the numbers on the boxscore pointed to an incredibly even matchup? Just gotta play better, yeah? It was practically a close encounter the entire way. I loved Kawhi Leonard this game except for his five turnovers. Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are starting to play more like themselves. God knows we need some heat check players badly to match the Mavericks' heat check all-stars.
Tiago Splitter played absolutely freaking brilliant today, but the effort was wasted when Pop elected to choose offense and stick with Boris Diaw to close out the game. Not saying that was the wrong call, but Tiago was playing D so well it was odd not to trust him down the stretch. Anyhoo, he wasn't the one who defended that Carter three so I guess the argument is invalid.
Manu wasn't shooting the ball well tonight but was otherwise otherworldly in taking over the playmaking duties down the stretch, so much so that in the last Spurs possession, Parker was subbed in for a three-point threat in Mills. The duel that he and Ellis had in crunch time was unlikely and incomparable, but it was exhilarating and nerve-wracking, just how basketball fans love it.
There are some positive takeaways from this game, but it doesn't change the fact that the pressure is mounting and the nightmare of an 8th-seeded David slaying the first-seeded giant is once again rearing its head. And yes, surges in momentum have always been ever-present in sports. Momentum can move mountains, blast through expectations, make heroes out of past goats, and achieve the 0.01% within that 99.99% probability. What was it that KG shouted when he won a ring? Yeah, that.
Let me end with this, however. If there's any level-headed, even-keeled team that is capable of turning things around just as quickly as they've gone sour, it's this team, the Spurs. That Carter shot would've destroyed a lot of teams' psyches. I'm still confident coming into Game 4, because, you know, as if this team needs more adversity after that June game-which-shall-never-be-spoken-of. There are still little cracks to be opened in this series, and the Spurs have been well-equipped all-season long to deal with a good degree of hostility. But as they say, give credit where credit is due -- the Mavericks so far not just deserve to be in the playoffs, but also the position that they're in right now. It's the Spurs' turn now to show that they did deserve being the top dog in this crazy ridiculous conference.
Your Three Stars
3 - Tiago Splitter
2 - Tim Duncan
1 - Manu Ginobili (Yeah, even after that Vinsanity three right in his mug. We love you, Gino)