Fans spared another Game 6 heartbreak when Spurs blow game much sooner

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when these guys used to be able to close out series on the road?

Western Quarterfinal Game 6, at Dallas: Mavericks 113, Spurs 111   Series tied 3-3

Well, I guess Game 6 is now a thing for Manu Ginobili.

It didn't always use to be this way, you know.

Back in 2007 (never a good sign, when you have to start a sentence with "back in 2007," to recall a positive), Ginobili had the best game of his postseason career with 33 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals, as the Spurs closed out the Suns on the road in their second round series which pretty much clinched their fourth title once the Cavs were kind enough to knock off the Pistons. It must be said that the game was in San Antonio.

In 2008, he had 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, pretty much playing on one leg at this point, to level the series with the pesky Hornets at 3-3, again at home.

His best ever performance against Dallas was in 2006. Yup, that series. Ginobili had 30 points and 10 boards on the road to stave off elimination and send the series back to the Alamo. (He was equally brilliant in Game 4 at Dallas actually, but fouled out in 27 minutes). I don't recall what happened after that in Game 7, I was on a plane during the game, but I trust everything worked out.

In a first-round series with Dallas in 2010, Gino had 26 points at home to help dispatch the favored Mavs, but it came with an ugly 7-of-19 shooting line. Sadly, it would only get worse from here.

Trailing 3-2 to eighth-seeded Memphis (a couple days after a 33-6-6 in Game 5 to momentarily stave off a humiliating elimination) he managed 16 on 6-of-14 shooting as the lifeless Spurs were Z-Bo'd out of the playoffs.

Similarly, in 2012, after a brilliant Game 5 in the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City, where he had 34, 6 and 7 in a losing cause, Ginobili had nothing left in the tank for Game 6, scoring just 10 on 4-of-12 shooting.

He did have 11 assists in the Spurs Game 6 triumph at Oakland last year to close out the Warriors, but also just five points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Of course you know all too well about Game 6 of the Finals at Miami, where he had just 9 points on 2-of-5 shooting, to go along with eight ghastly turnovers. (Though if a foul at the end was properly called by Joey Crawford, it would've been seven turnovers and the chance to be the hero with potential game-tying and game-winning free throws at the offing.)

Then you have yesterday's stinker. Two early fouls, no rhythm or energy at all, six points on 1-of-8 shooting in another close road loss.

That works out to 9.2 points per game on 31.1 percent shooting over the last five road Game 6's, mis amigos, often coming on the heels of superb Game 5 showings.

Of those five series, twice he never got a chance to redeem himself. Once, he didn't have to because the Spurs wound up beating the Warriors anyway. Last year at Miami everyone seems to recall the four turnovers in the final period of Game 7, but far too few seem to remember that Ginobili, along with Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, was one of only three Spurs who had anything at all that night.

What does any of this mean? Well nothing really, I suppose, except that Ginobili wasn't very good at all on Friday and I suspect he will play much better on Sunday.

*****

As for the game itself, it continues to be a case of one step forward, two steps backward for the Spurs. Danny Green finally got involved in the offense, freeing himself for a pair of backcuts and a finger roll to go with a couple of mid-range jumpers and a pair of threes. A perfect 7-of-7 in all for Verde, his 17 points in Game 6 matching his entire series point total up to that point.

Tiago Splitter, meanwhile, continued to prosper inside, thanks to Dallas pick-and-roll gambling, and hit 11-of-12 freebies to score a postseason career-high 19.

Patty Mills was useful with 10 points and Tony Parker scored 13 of his 22 in the fourth quarter, albeit with a Westbrookian 10-of-23 shooting line and five turnovers.

Unfortunately, as the Mavs are all-too-aware, there are two ends of the court and the Spurs were wholly ineffective in their own end, which is why we need a Game 7. For once, they didn't go bombs away from downtown, launching an ordinary 18 attempts instead. Where they killed the Spurs rather was with an inexcusable 50 points in the paint, and it's not like they had an odd-man rush up the ice after another. The Spurs actually outscored them on the fast break 22 to 15.

If the Mavs outscore you in the paint, you really don't have any business beating them. It helped matters none at all that they more than doubled the Spurs' efforts on the offensive glass, snatching 13 of them to San Antonio's six. Duncan, Splitter, Leonard and Boris Diaw let Dallas' Samuel Dalembert and particularly DeJuan Blair run rampart in that regard, and this simply will not do.

Time is a flat circle indeed if we're lauding Splitter as a scorer but bemoaning his defense and rebounding.

Ginobili deserves a fair share of the blame for the result but the failures of the Spurs bigs to take advantage of the 6'6" Blair in that final period cannot be understated. They were just too soft. Duncan in particular should've dominated but he took just one shot in the final quarter. Perhaps he was completely exhausted. Parker called his own number too often to be sure, the ball movement was decidedly lacking, and he was sloppy with the ball to boot.

I thought Pop was overly cautious with Ginobili's foul trouble early on and waited for too long to bring him back into the game in the second quarter, by which point he was calcified. Curiously, Pop played Ginobili and Leonard very little together except for the third quarter, when the Spurs outscored the Mavs by 11. He didn't pair them together in the fourth until just 3:15 remained, and by then the Spurs were down six.

I can't think of a single Spur whose defense approached even "average," on the night, though I suppose Duncan comes the closest.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle continues to be two steps ahead of his adversary. Switching Dirk Nowitzki onto Leonard caught the Spurs off guard and threw their them out of whack for a bit. Their pick-and-rolls are getting tighter as the series goes on, to the point where Nowitzki isn't having much trouble at all shaking free from Splitter anymore, and he continues to destroy the Spurs whenever anyone but the Brazilian is checking him. The defense on Monta Ellis continues to be abysmal, as he keeps getting avenues to the basket regardless of who they put on him. I shudder to think what Damian Lillard could do against us.

First thing's first though. At the risk of looking like a complete idiot, my hunch is that the Spurs will play their best game of the series on Sunday. They're going to come out angry and their energy and aggression levels will be noticeably different. If anything, I worry they'll be too hyped up, but I trust they'll follow Duncan's lead and pound it inside early and often. I expect the Spurs to dominate inside on both ends and the only way the Mavs will stay in the game is if they get hot from outside or there's foul trouble to the notables. Off the bench I expect Ginobili to be a man possessed and for the Spurs to take advantage of Blair's over-eagerness.

The group may be emotionally deflated and physically frail for a Game 1 with Portland a couple days later but we'll worry about that when/if the day comes. I'm expecting good things Sunday, even though I never imagined we'd be here two weeks ago.

*****

Your three Stars:

3) Tony Parker (7 pts)

2) Tiago Splitter (18 pts)

1) Danny Green (5 pts)

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