The San Antonio Spurs never thought they would be in this position. When the Dallas Mavericks claimed the final spot in the Western Conference, Spurs fans applauded. We assumed that this would be the matchup that the Spurs could roll over. Spurs fans anticipated that it would take Popovich and company five games, or six at most, to knock off the West's lowest seed.
That was wishful thinking.
Six games later and both teams have taken three games. The seventh game tips off at 3:30 Eastern, but I still have no feel for this series. It has been a coaching showdown that emulates the beauty of the playoffs. A chess match that is coming down to the endgame. Rick Carlisle has managed to push his team (that is less talented) to a seventh game. Dirk Nowitzki has rallied his team and demonstrated the most complete veteran leadership of his long and illustrious career.
As you watch tonight's game there are things that you have to watch for and keep in mind. I have compiled these into a checklist for easy reference.
- Don't get too excited when the Spurs have a run, but don't get too discouraged when the Mavs have a run. This series has been built on back and forth scoring. These teams makes adjustment after adjustment which results in inconsistent scoring and runs.
- The game is never over as long as there is any time left on the clock. We all learned this lesson after game three.
- Watch the amount of points in the paint for both teams. Points in the paint for the Spurs typically reflect how well their offense is working. We know that the pick-and-rolls are meant to create easy layups, but the Mavericks have been able to force Tony Parker to pull up around the free throw line. The more we can break down the Mavericks' interior defense, the better.
- Watch the shooting percentages of Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili. These two guys were crucial in the three Spurs' victories as well as their three losses. In game six, Manu shot 1-8 from the field, and in game two Patty went 1-7 from the field. When both of these players aren't shooting well it hurts the Spurs' bench play infinitely more than any other players.
- Tiago Splitter cannot be second in scoring for our team. While it is great to see Tiago put up 19 points, it also correlates to other guys not stepping up. The player that needs to step up offensively is Boris Diaw. He scored 8.2 points per game so far in this series, and he produced a (+/-) of -9.7 which is the worst on the team. The Spurs need an aggressive Boris today.
- The Spurs cannot allow Dirk to be super-Dirk in game 7. They have held Dirk to a manageable 18.7 points per game so far in the series. If the silver and black can shift the pressure onto Monta Ellis to put up big numbers, it would put the Spurs in a much better position to advance. (Keep in mind that this will be Monta's first game seven.)
- The top seed has won every game seven so far in the playoffs. The beauty of a seven game series is that the better team typically prevails. At times the Mavericks have looked like the better team, but having the best regular season record in the league and having the experience that the Spurs have, it should propel this team to victory.
- Enjoy the game. As fans we can get very wrapped up the outcome of playoff games, but the reality is that these two teams have been playing an excellent, closely fought basketball series. It has been incredible to watch these teams compete. We have the privilege to see it one more time.