After six games of inconsistent play, the San Antonio Spurs finally put together a full 48 minutes of well executed, precise basketball to rout the Dallas Mavericks in the seventh game of the series. From game to game, and even quarter to quarter, it seemed like a different version of the Spurs took the floor. While Rick Carlisle deserves a lot of credit for keeping the game unsteady with his unconventional lineups, the Spurs deserve blame for falling victim to the ploys.
The Spurs routinely shot well in this series. In their three losses, they shot 50%, 51% and 52% from the field, respectively. Shooting was never the problem. Their inconsistency stemmed from either being careless with the ball or playing lackadaisical defense. This is why I think the Spurs were to blame for this series reaching a seventh game. Both of those issues could have been rectified by the guys in the Spurs locker-room. And in Game 7, thankfully, they were.
The Spurs, as a team, played defense tonight like Patty Mills plays defense on any given night. From the opening tip, the Spurs were the aggressors. They harassed on and off the ball and suffocated the Mavericks' normally free-flowing offense. The defensive effort was at peak-level for 48 minutes and that's why the Spurs controlled the game.
After the game, Rick Carlisle said of the Spurs, "They were great on defense. When we had good shots, we had trouble getting them in and they created momentum going the other way. Parker got going early. They got too many easy ones."
The Spurs' brilliant defense led the way as San Antonio dominated the first half. Their defense kept Dallas on their heels and created great looks for San Antonio, which bolstered their confidence as the game progressed. Tony Parker has now played great in two consecutive games, and that's a relief heading into the second round against the Portland Trailblazers. Parker, as he often did during the regular season, took control of the first quarter with his relentless penetration. He scored 14 points and led San Antonio to a 35 point, 68% shooting first quarter while the Spurs defense held Dallas to 23 points on 42% shooting from the field.
In the second quarter, the Spurs broke their pattern of Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde basketball as they continued to dominate on both ends of the floor. Poor Rick Carlisle was helpless as his timeouts did nothing to disrupt the Spurs' momentum. The Spurs' lead peaked at 29 with just under three minutes remaining in the half.
It was at this point that Dallas mustered their only comeback attempt of the game. They cut the lead to 22 points at half, and managed to get it down to 14 at the beginning of the third. Post-game, Rick noted, "At halftime we came out with a small group and got it to 14 right away but they answered back. They adjusted their lineup and attacked. It was just tough."
Enough cannot be said about how good of a coach Rick Carlisle is. This Mavericks team's talent level is far inferior to that of the Spurs. They are old and can't defend, yet Carlisle gave this team a chance to beat the team that is favored to come out of the West. He kept the Spurs uncomfortable the entire series, even down 29 points he changed the momentum of the game, even if it was briefly, from the sideline.
He started Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Monta Ellis, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki in the second half and they began it with a 15 to 7 run. Eventually, Pop matched Carlisle's small lineup and the Spurs took their time and executed to put the game out of reach. With the Spurs finally playing consistent, high-energy basketball for 48 minutes, the gap in these teams' available talent was on full display.
Rick Carlisle finally waved the white flag with 5:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, his team down and insurmountable 30 points, 111-81. After the game, Gregg Popovich gave Rick Carlisle a standing ovation, "Rick did a great job with his game plan and coaches. He confounded us and his players were great... The organization can be really proud of that group in a lot ways."
And with that, your San Antonio Spurs advanced to the second round where they will meet the Portland Trailblazers. When the Spurs are able to sustain the level of focus and intensity we witnessed today, there aren't many teams capable of withstanding the onslaught. Consistency will be of the upmost importance moving forward. Hopefully, the Spurs will carry their elite level of defensive play into the next round, because the Portland offense will not be slowed by a lackadaisical effort.
- I keep wondering if Tony has been saving himself in this series. Tonight, he played like an All Star, but where has that been in the first six games? Was he injured, was Marion bothering him, or was he just very aware that this is the first round in what should be an extended postseason run? One thing is for certain: Tony Parker absolutely dominated this game. He lived in the paint and aggressively took the ball into the Mavericks, leaving the officials with no choice but to call the obvious fouls. He scored 32 points on 19 shots, making 10 of his 13 free throws. His four assists are not representative of the impact he had in creating open shots for his teammates. The Dallas defense could not handle Parker's penetration and as the game wore on, they committed more and more errors defensively, thanks to Tony Parker.
- After a disheartening performance in Game 6 that brought bad memories flooding back, Manu Ginobili had arguably his best game in years. He scored 20 points on just seven shots, had six steals, five assists and two rebounds in 24 minutes. So, per 48 minutes, he was on pace for 40 points, 12 steals and 10 assists, just to put his performance in perspective. Had more been needed of him, I had the sense that he could have gone for 30 plus, easily. But thanks to a great game by Tony and the Spurs in general, Manu never had to fully take over the game. His +/- of a team-high +32 is indicative of his performance. Forget good Manu, this was All Star Manu.
- Tim Duncan quietly had a very nice game. He made seven of his eight shots, scoring 15 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. More than that, he was the anchor of a Spurs defense that held a very potent Dallas offense to 41% shooting from the field. In Game 6, he seemed a step slow to me. In Game 7, he was anticipating plays in impressive fashion.
- Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green played defense with evident determination. They came out in that first quarter and hit first with their defense. Their energy was contagious and spread throughout the team. Danny has been more hot than icy recently. This will bode well for the Spurs next round. Kawhi impacts the game at every level and thankfully, is probably the most consistent Spur from game to game.
- Mostly due to Rick Carlisle's zany lineups, Tiago didn't see much time on the floor. This will undoubtedly change next round, because the Spurs will need Splitter to continue his stellar defensive play against LaMarcus next round.
- Patty Mills and Boris Diaw both played well. Boris filled up the box score in his 27 minutes with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists. As he's been throughout the year, he's an incredible luxury for this Spurs team because he gives Pop so much flexibility. He can guard big 3s, 4s and smaller 5s. He can handle the ball, pass, post-up, and shoot threes. There's not much he can't do on the basketball court. Patty, as always, played with maximum energy. Although his shot wasn't falling, he made a positive impact with his intensity.
- Pop said that this was the Spurs best game of the series and it's impossible to disagree. Offensively, they took care of the ball, executed their offense and knocked down shots. Defensively, they completely flummoxed the Mavericks. The Spurs rotated as well as they have all season and Dallas rarely found an uncontested shot at the basket. When this version of the Spurs shows up, it's difficult to imagine a team staying close.