The Spurs beat the Mavericks 88-83 in a throwback affair to climb to 12-3. Like many battles of the the past, this one went down to the wire and featured ridiculously low scoring numbers. Ultimately, San Antonio managed to close it out to get its third win in a row since the surprising loss to the Pelicans. Kawhi Leonard led the way for the Spurs with 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
There is a reason why the Mavericks had the third best record in the West coming into Wednesday's game, even after a terrible Tuesday loss against the Grizzlies. They are a well-coached team which understands its strengths and weaknesses. They don't panic when things go poorly. They always trust their depth and their clever schemes and rotations. The Mavericks don't beat themselves and that might be enough to get them to the playoffs.
The Spurs, meanwhile, are a clearly superior team but one that is not firing on all cylinders yet. They can overwhelm opponents with talent -- like they did the two separate times they got ahead by 12 points against Dallas -- but need a little help from the other team to open up truly insurmountable leads. That's the reason several games this season have been closer than they should have been, including Wednesday's.
Luckily for San Antonio, they pulled this one off thanks to two Kawhi Leonard buckets to ice the game in the final minute.
As satisfying as it is to see Leonard deliver in the clutch, it shouldn't have come to that. The starting unit did a great job of creating separation at the start of both halves. The bench is supposed to stretch those leads but wasn't able to, thanks to a combination of sloppiness and bad luck on shots that could have easily fallen. The Mavericks never led in the entire game but the result was always in question until the final minute because the Spurs failed to put Dallas away.
Close games will be more common this season. The glacial pace San Antonio prefers right now and the lack of consistent three-point shooters will be to blame in most nights in which the more improvisational bench units fail to break games open, but the issues run deeper. The Spurs get anxious when they get big leads and want to stretch them not by playing smart but by going for threes early in the shot clock or making risky passes looking for easy buckets inside. The trust and corporate knowledge are not at the level they need to be.
That's fine for now, because the Spurs have the defense and the stars needed to win on nights in which not everything is clicking. San Antonio held Dallas to 41 percent shooting while Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 60 of their 88 points. The Spurs won't lose many games when their three leading scorers all look sharp at the same time and they are defending with purpose.
The Mavericks, to their credit, made things as hard as they possibly could before inevitably falling short. Dirk Nowtizki continues to be an assassin but with the Spurs switching on screens and doubling after, he had to get rid of the ball too often. The same interchangeable depth that helps them early in games can hurt them late, when teams want the ball in the hands of two or three players that have a proven record of delivering, something they lack.
Ultimately, Wednesday's game only confirmed what we knew about both teams. The Mavericks are overachieving thanks to a coach that gets the most out of the talent available to him and an fading but still valuable star. The Spurs are still figuring things out but are a defensive powerhouse which controls games and knows how to win. Both squads are probably more than happy to be where they are 15 games into the season.
- When Leonard's outside shot is falling, his game reaches a new level. His elite 3-and-D capability combines with his newfound shot creation to make him an ungodly mix of role player and star. It was huge for Leonard to have his stroke against the Mavericks, since the Spurs couldn't get much going inside. That cold-blooded dagger with 15 seconds to go was the perfect way to punctuate a great night.
- LaMarcus Aldridge recovered five misses against the Mavericks. His hustle on the offensive boards is probably my favorite thing about his early play as a Spur. He used to crash the glass in Portland but I assumed that was going to be discouraged in San Antonio. Instead, his offensive rebound percentage is as high as it has been since his rookie season.
- Tony Parker flirted with a tripe-double, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Parker is looking better and better as the games go by. The only criticism I have -- and this is definitely nitpicking -- is he has to do a better job recognizing when Leonard or Aldridge have favorable matchups. Other than that, Parker was terrific.
- The bench Big Three of Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw had a stinker. They combined for 12 points on 19 shots and Mills and Ginobili went 1-for-5 and 0-for-6 from outside, respectively. David West provided a spark when he checked in, however, and that's encouraging.
- Raymond Felton, Charlie Villanueva and JaVale McGee are rotation players on a winning team in 2015. Rick Carlisle might actually be a wizard. I can't shake the feeling that the rest of the league will figure out how to counter those super small lineups the Mavericks have relied on but maybe Chandler Parsons is back to his level by then and it doesn't matter. I had the Mavericks out of the playoffs before the season began. I'm starting to thing I was wrong.
The Spurs will visit the Nuggets on Friday. Denver has lost four in a row -- including a Nov. 18 matchup with the Spurs --, so in theory it should be an easy win. Hopefully the Spurs won't play down to the competition.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at Mavs Moneyball.