Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was asked before the game how to stop the Spurs, especially at home, and he would be as good an authority as anyone since his Mavericks were in the game until the final moments the last time these teams met, on Nov. 25, when a Kawhi Leonard three from the top of the key proved to be the dagger in an 88-83 loss for the visitors.
"You gotta hope they miss," Carlisle deadpanned, before expounding. "You have to do everything well. You've got to get back in transition, you've got to somehow contest threes and take away paint penetration. Their level of skill they have at every position makes them extremely difficult to guard and then they have a high-energy, hard-playing team that has been together a long time, so they're as tough a team as there is in this league to play."
The Spurs offense wasn't clicking on all cylinders back in November and truthfully it didn't on Sunday either. San Antonio shot a so-so 46.7 percent, made just 5-of-20 threes and finished with a mediocre (for them) 22 assists. They got off to another cold start against the Mavs and had a season-low 14 points after the first quarter.
The Mavs finished with their same 83 points as the last game. The Spurs wound up with 112.
There wasn't any backbreaking run, few highlight plays and no grand stretches of "the beautiful game." It was just systematic destruction, slow and steady, like being digested through the belly of a Sarlacc. No, the game didn't last a thousand years, but it may have felt like it to Carlisle and his troops, and it wasn't too surprising to see the Dallas skipper tossed with 11:17 to go after walking on the court and demonstrably disagreeing with a foul called on J.J. Barea and then sarcastically clapping to referee Sean Corbin for the resulting technical. It was already a 22-point margin then, after consecutive 32-20 quarters for the home side and Carlisle may have just decided that he didn't want to watch anymore.
This is what the Spurs do. The starting five have produced a good, not great 6.2 net rating over 187 first quarter minutes, per NBA.com, and it drops to 5.9 in the second quarter, in a 65-minute sample. Get them into half to make some adjustments though and they come out of the tunnel and start busting games open, with an 11.4 net rating over 172 minutes. The fans at the AT&T Center had to sweat out a couple of squeakers to the Knicks and the Cavs, and before them the aforementioned Mavs game and one against Boston, but the majority of home games have been more like this, just pounding and pounding that rock into smithereens until it's time to bask in Boban-mania. The Spurs are now 24-0 at home, winning on average by 16.2 points and both their scoring differential (14.2) and net rating (14.9) would be NBA records over a full season.
And to think, "The Big Three" combined for 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting.
But yeah, the game got off to a brutal start. Both sides were playing well defensively, to be sure, especially Danny Green on Dirk Nowitzki, but there a lot of missed open shots in there too. The Mavs like to sag their bigs far back and dare you to shoot mid-range jumpers, and the Spurs had a season-low 24 points in the paint the first time they faced Dallas. It looked like it was going to be a similar night early on, as they shot 4-of-12 inside, with Leonard missing on a couple of drives and Tony Parker coming up empty as well. They didn't do much better from outside, and somehow the Spurs found themselves down just two despite shooting 5-of-22 in the period, 0-of-6 from downtown, with only Boris Diaw giving them a spark on a pair of post-up buckets.
The dam burst in the second quarter this time instead of the usual third. Jonathon Simmons got them going with consecutive threes, the latter to beat an expiring shot clock. Diaw and Leonard both tossed in bombs as well and the Spurs sank all eight of their freebies in the period. Leonard also got a couple of turnaround fadeaways to drop and led everyone with seven in the quarter.
What does it say about Kawhi's offensive game that this looks like it's going in before he even shoots it? ... https://t.co/ufkD2Ytx7Z— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) January 18, 2016
The Mavericks couldn't get anything easy with the Spurs turning it over just once the whole quarter, and Manu Ginobili even "pick-six"ed 'em. It was 46-36 at recess.
At half the decision was apparently made to stop messing about and to exploit mismatches with LaMarcus Aldridge, who's too quick for the foul-prone Zaza Pachulia and too big for Nowitzki or his backup Charlie Villanueva to handle. Aldridge scored 13 of the Spurs first 16 points in the quarter, mostly on Dirk-esque turnaround jumpers, and the outcome was decided.
"Coach told us to play inside-out more, and told me to ask for the ball and I made the first two and guys just kept feeding me," Aldridge explained afterward. He finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 27:01.
Meanwhile on the other end, Nowitzki wasn't having nearly as much success trying to score around and over Aldridge, Green, Leonard and here, Tim Duncan.
The future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer finished 2-of-10 with four points.
Diaw continued to be a force with seven of his 16 in the third, with another post-up score, a second three and a couple free-throws, while Leonard also had six, the final two coming on a breakaway. After that, it was extended garbage time in the fourth.
It was impressive watching the Spurs wring out 34 points in the final quarter playing the end of their bench guys, but then again most teams don't have the luxury of bringing in dudes like Simmons, Kyle Anderson and Boban Marjanovic as their third-string. They'd all have more prominent roles in most places.
Anderson and Simmons combined to go 6-of-6 for 14 points, including a slam from the latter on a sweet feed from Boban, while the Serbian giant added seven of his own and got a technical for glaring too menacingly at Dallas' Jeremy Evans.
"I see why he got it," Aldridge said of Marjanovic's 'T.' "He was on the floor and still holding the rim, and I don't know if that's legal, and then he [mean-]mugged the guy so when you put those two together, it was the right call."
The Spurs aren't taunting the league, even though they've already set a franchise record with their 11th win of the season by 25 points or more. They just have a lot of good players. Sorry not sorry.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Boris Diaw
3. Jonathon Simmons
Up Next: At Phoenix Suns (13-29)
After continuing to stay unbeaten at home the Spurs will enjoy a couple days off before taking the show on the road for a three-game west coast trip against the Suns, Lakers, and I forget who the last one is against, it's not important. Phoenix has fallen off a cliff, having lost four in a row and nine of ten, and it wouldn't be surprising if they had a new coach by the time the two teams tip-off for the TNT cameras, after getting beat worse by Minnesota Sunday night than the Mavs did. They lost Eric Bledsoe for the year with a torn meniscus suffered Dec. 26 against the Sixers and haven't been competitive since. I have no idea why they haven't traded Markieff Morris already since by all indications he's not happy there, and the free agent signing of Tyson Chandler has been a huge bust. And to think, Aldridge almost signed with these guys. The Spurs have already beaten the Suns twice, both at home, and most recently on Dec. 30, where Aldridge led the way with 21 and 12. They'll be looking to take care of business early, on the front end of a back-to-back, but may have to overcome a bit of rustiness with all that time off.