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Game 1: Mavericks 105, Spurs 97

There. Do you see now? Is the reality of the situation slowly starting to sink in? Honestly, from the reaction I was getting for my pick, some people were acting like I was rooting for Dallas. Like I wanted this to happen. I thought I made it pretty clear in the post that I HATE Dallas. I loathe them. Despise even.

But I'm not blind and I'm not stupid.

A sobering recap, after the jump...

Honestly, I thought all along that we'd win yesterday. I expected us to come out with the requisite energy and focus (which we did, btw) and be able to sustain it long enough (not so much) to get one under our belts before the wheels inevitably flew off in Game 2, in classic, patented PG style

The guys did start the game the right way. Tony shrugged off an early 0-4 shooting hiccup and started getting to the basket. Tim was spry and active on both ends. Fin hit his first three shots, including two threes, and had eight in the quarter. Thanks to an early defensive screw-up from Fatality, Bruce was able to check in relatively early and he was solid right away and even hit a three. Defensively we were holding them to just jump shots (or maybe more realistically the Mavs were just settling for them) and contesting them decently enough to open up a nice eleven point lead. Once Nowitzki was forced to exit the game with his third foul early in the second quarter, things certainly looked promising.

And then our soufflé flattened.

Instead of extending the lead to a comfortable margin, we went backwards with ze German on the bench. In the first half of the quarter Gooden hit a couple shots but nobody else did much of anything. Meanwhile for them Brandon Bass couldn't miss, apparently having picked up a jumper somewhere along the way this season. In the back end of the quarter both Tim and Tony missed a couple of bunnies while The Big Bug finally started to exploit his mismatch against Fin and scored a half dozen straight points for them. The Mavs ended the quarter on an 11-4 run to go into the break down just four, and the writing was on the wall.

Barea gave many Spurs the sad face, not just Tony

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

The Mavs played their entire starting frontcourt the whole third quarter and the trio of Nowitzki-Howard-Dampier dominated the period, combining for 23 points on 10-of-16 from the field. While the commentators (and our game thread gang) were going ga-ga over Finley's hot shooting, they were missing that Howard was basically destroying him in the third quarter, canning one uncontested J after another. Fin, as usual, was so petrified of being driven on (or past, to be more accurate) that he just let a quality NBA wing take practice jumpers out there. That strategy might pay off in the clankfest that is the much-heralded NCAA tournament, but not in the bigs.

Bonner was being blamed for much of the defensive screw-ups, and don't get me wrong, he was poor, but it was Finley, not rotating time and again. It was Finley, not fighting through picks. Finley, Finley, Finley. Ban me if you want Wayne, but I don't have the words to express how wretched he was out there in his own end. Of course, a guy hits a few jumpers and nobody notices how many he gives up.

Meanwhile Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle did something weird out there. He actually noticed something that was working in the second quarter so he made the adjustment to use it to begin the next half. I didn't know that was allowed. This whole time watching Pop coach I figured an NBA team had to rigidly stick to a game plan, regardless of how the players were actually performing on the court. Carlisle saw that his backup point guard J.J. Barea was having more success staying in front of Tony than Jason Kidd was, so he started him in the second half, slid Kidd to the two and benched Antoine Wright. The Spurs meanwhile played with their same starting five, even though a mannequin was basically wearing a Bonner jersey out there. Timmy singlehandedly kept the Spurs in the game with a dozen third quarter points, but with the score tied after three and Nowitzki no longer in foul trouble, Dallas had the momentum.


What is Bonner doing out here Pop?

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Dallas scored 31 points in the fourth quarter, but aside from Dirk's eight, it's telling who's on the scoresheet. Howard left early in the period when his gimpy ankle started bothering him and he was done for the day. Terry was mostly checked by Bruce and wasn't a factor. However Wright got himself an and-1 and an open three. Bass finished off a pick-and-roll for a dunk and got himself an offensive rebound tip-in. Ditto for Dampier. Kidd got a bucket somewhere along the way and Barea sliced and diced his way for seven. 21 points from unexpected sources.

There's no sugarcoating it - Barea kicked Frenchie's ass in the second half. He repeatedly goaded Tony into a mano-a-mano duel and forced him into four turnovers in the half, three in the final period. The Mavs choked off Parker's penetration and his usually trusty jumper turned into the grenade-launcher of postseasons past. If the offense wasn't going through Timmy it was a disaster. It didn't help Tony that his kickouts to Thomas and Gooden for their comfort zone jumpers went unrewarded.

The game was lost on the defensive end, to be sure. We allowed 87 points in the final three quarters. After Dallas started the game 6-of-17 (35%) in the first quarter, they shot 36-of-61 the rest of the way (59%). I've said it til I've gone blue in the face, but I don't understand how Pop expects a starting lineup where four of the five guys range from below average to flat out terrible as individual defenders to play well as a group.

Finley can't guard anybody and gives everyone uncontested jumpers. Tony and Roger are both physically weak for their position and cannot fight through screens. Bonner tries hard but he just doesn't have the lateral mobility or the upper body strength to handle almost anyone he faces. He becomes a foul machine and the refs rightly target him. For any decent NBA team (and in the playoffs they're all decent, even the Eastern ones) our starting lineup must look like a bunch of drunk cheerleaders on the doorstep of the football team's off-campus apartment complex. Everyone knows they're going to get some, they're just to figure out the order.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, I blame Pop for most of this. I'm not gonna blame Finley or Bonner for sucking. It's not their fault that they're being put out there in a position to fail. They're second team guys that for some unknown reason are starting. If Pop wants to survive this series with his reputation intact, he'll have to make some changes.


Relax PtR, I got it all under control...

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

First of all, we need at least one perimeter player that can play defense at all times. That means we must start Bowen and bench Mace. Finley's awful as a bench player and the Mavs don't really start an explosive shooting guard anyway, so I'd move Fin to the two and have some decent size out there.

Secondly, we keep a rotation of four wing players intact, but we must remove Udoka in favor of Hill. The Mavs are playing with two small guards, and in the fourth quarter they even played with three for a bit, with Kidd as the de-facto small forward. Parker has to conserve his energy for offense. Put Hill out there with him and not only can the rookie deal with either Terry or Barea, but it would also give the team a second penetrator out there on offense, which they desperately need. Stop me if you've heard this before, but our offense got mighty stagnant and predictable out there.

The Mavs want us to play small, and it's a trap. Whenever we do it they simply drive right to the basket, make Duncan challenge the shot and then feast on offensive rebounds. If Pop insists on going small, then at least put Hill out there and maybe he can cut off some penetration. Maybe we can attack from more than one flank. I'm of the opinion that either Bowen or Hill have to be on the floor at all times and that Hill specifically has to be when Tony's taking a blow.

Thirdly, our offense has to play smarter. If Barea's on the bench, then it can be the Tony Parker show and he should be able to penetrate against Kidd or Terry. But if Barea is out there, I'd insist on having Timmy on the floor and going to a steady diet of four-down. I'd trust him to quarterback the offense.

Lastly, at this point we can no longer ignore the reality that Bonner's been a shell of himself ever since Gooden was acquired. Maybe he put more pressure on himself to succeed, who knows. It's certainly not Gooden's fault or the organization's. You always want to improve your roster. If your players aren't mentally strong enough to deal with internal competition, then they're not mentally strong enough to handle external competition. I'd start Thomas and rotate just three bigs, making it just an eight man rotation overall. Maybe Oberto and/or Udoka for spot minutes here and there. At this point, it's our best chance for success.

Mainly, I just want to see what Hill's got. I want to see if he's afraid. We threw Tony and Manu into the postseason fire and they were better for it. Why not Hill? What do we have to lose at this point? It's not like the '08-09 story is gonna have a happy ending. In not playing him, Pop is just cutting off his nose to spite his face, foolishly sticking to the silly premise that the team is a serious threat to anyone.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The season effectively ended with Manu's stress fracture. The rest of it is just some elaborate dog-and-pony show. Anyone - I repeat ANYONE - who thinks we can simply lose our second best player and not be mortally wounded by it is delusional. We're simply not good enough without him.

I think the problem is that maybe some people here forgot how fucking awesome a healthy Ginobili is. Maybe your perceptions are clouded by his series against the Lakers last year in the Western Conference Finals, when he was playing on one leg, or by his many pedestrian efforts this year, when it took him forever to find his rhythm and right when he did, he was injured again. I admit, it's been quite a long time since we've gotten to enjoy and depend on a healthy Manu. Over a year, in fact. Me, I haven't forgotten. A Spurs team without any of the big three is going nowhere and nowhere slow. Pop admitted to as much for most of February and March.


And he still had a better game than most Spurs.

REUTERS/Joe Mitchell

Now that Manu's out for good, he's conveniently changed his tune, saying

"We have to be of the mind-set that Manu Ginobili is almost not part of the team, in a crazy sort of way. If we spent any time thinking about Manu, it's going to take away from our group-think, and what we have to do. We can't have him in our minds at all. At this point, unfortunately, he has nothing to do with this except support off the court, and that type of thing, which he will do."

Yeah Pop. Hypnotize the whole team into believing they don't need Manu. While you're at it convince Finley that he's Michael Jordan and Bonner that he's David Robinson.

Good grief. It's ironic that for a coach who's always so lauded for his big picture thinking, the way he rests his stars during the regular season, the way he builds his roster to make sure there are no bad apples, that Pop is being so obtuse and stubborn and narrow-minded now. If the organizational goal is to always improve, to always get better, then you play Hill now and you play him a ton. Otherwise the season is officially a waste and absolutely nothing good has come from it. Running Tim and Tony out there to death isn't going to help the Spurs win one lick in '09-10, but giving Hill some big game experience just might.

We lost yesterday despite making 11-of-14 three pointers and holding Nowitzki and Terry to a combined 31 points. If you want to tell yourself that this is going to get better, that it was just a one game blip like in '05 or '07, go ahead. Me? I'm living in the real world. I'm just wondering if Pop is still a part of it.