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Mills’ dead-eye shooting allows Spurs to gallop past Mavericks

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The Spurs played seven lousy quarters of offense in 26 hours, but the eighth was pretty good.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Game 19, @Dallas: Spurs 94, Mavericks 87

Record: 15-4 1st in Southwest, 2nd in West Streak: W-1

Woof.

It never fails. I write all sorts of flattering things about the Spurs’ offense, and, like clockwork, “The Stampler Stink” immediately pervades the AT&T Center like a noxious fart, with the home side proceeding to play their worst game in ages against, of all teams, the Madge, scoring all of 83 points on 36.8 percent shooting, with 18 turnovers.

Sorry about that.

Less than 24 hours later, the fellas had a SEGABABA against another brutal outfit, Mark Cuban’s money pit Mavericks, and this time they had to make a go of it without graybeards Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, all being rested (though Gregg Popovich mentioned pregame the former two were a bit “banged up”).

The Spurs had 47 points with 3:27 to go in the third quarter.

Unlike Tuesday night versus Orlando, the Spurs couldn’t blame turnovers this time. They just couldn’t throw it into the ocean. Kawhi Leonard’s usually automatic mid-range J was M.I.A. LaMarcus Aldridge couldn’t do a thing against Andrew Bogut and struggled defensively in the cross-match against Harrison Barnes, whom Rick Carlisle started as a small-ball four. Nicolas Laprovittola got the first start of his NBA career in Parker’s stead and did a poor job, I felt, of exploiting the size mismatch on the other end, where Barnes was checking Dewayne Dedmon, who replaced Gasol in the starting lineup. Leonard wasn’t of much help as a facilitator either.

It was a goofy tilt, though goofy is shaping up to be the new normal for the 2016-17 Spurs. You hear all the time the cliche about basketball being a game of runs, but this was extreme. The Spurs fell behind 13-7 to a Dallas squad a bit healthier than in these teams’ first meeting (a 96-91 home win on Nov. 21), but they were still missing Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea. But from 6:59 remaining in the first period to 7:12 left in the second, practically a full quarter worth of time, it was 25-7, San Antonio. Then it was Dallas’ turn to dominate, with a nightmarish 31-9 flourish from 2:36 left in the second quarter to 3:10 left in the third, turning a 40-31 deficit into a 62-49 lead. In that stretch the Spurs went almost a full seven minutes without adding to their point total. While not scoring for 1/8 of the game is not at all unusual or catastrophic in most sports we’re familiar with, it’s generally not an advisable strategy in basketball. Yet the Spurs somehow overcame it, with another 25-7 over the final seven minutes to finish the game, from trailing 77-69 to the 94-87 final score.

They won with a 33-21 fourth because Patty Mills went nuclear down the stretch, scoring 15 of his season-high 23 to offset Wesley Matthews’ fine performance for Dallas. They won because Leonard finally managed to score some in the fourth, because Danny Green somehow got a reverse layup to drop and because they made 11-of-19 threes as a team. (Note: If you’re going to shoot well from only one area, make it be from three.)

The real takeaway from the game however, besides that they were fortunate to play the shorthanded Mavs, is that R.C. Buford seems to have done it again, finding another diamond in the rough in Dewayne Dedmon. Under most circumstances a team would be sunk if it found itself with 47 points to its name with 15 minutes remaining, no matter how much of a furious run they realistically hoped to muster from that point forward. But the Spurs were within haling distance of the Mavs largely due to Dedmon’s defensive efforts.

This GIF has nothing to do with his defense, but I’d be negligent in my recapping duties if I didn’t include it.

I can’t decide, what’s more likely to have happened if Tony was in there instead of Patty? Would he just catch that ball and dribble it aimlessly for 15 seconds or would he throw the pass seven feet over Dedmon’s head?

Anyway, it’s ironic that history may well look harshly on the Spurs off-season, because again R.C. Buford has been a warlock. Gasol was the big-money signing and it’s fair to say he’s been disappointing so far. But Dedmon, Laprovittola, Davis Bertans and David Lee, all picked up from the bargain bin, have exceeded my meager (or non-existent) expectations and Jonathon Simmons gets a nod here too. It’s his second year in “the program” as PATFO would call it, but he’s still making 800K. If the back end of the roster hasn’t been as productive as it’s been, the Spurs glossy 15-4 record would be a lot closer to 4-15 because who outside of Leonard and Mills have played well so far among the top seven guys? The only one who even has an argument is Green, and he’s missed half the games.

It’s early still, granted. We haven’t even reached the quarter pole of the season quite yet and a lot can change. But more and more I’m getting the feeling that if the Spurs are going to be anything more than one-and-done in the playoffs, that Bertans and especially Dedmon will need to play major minutes. Bertans can space the floor for the second unit in ways that Lee cannot and has a bit more length to overcome defensive lapses. I’m sure the Lee/Bertans debate will rage on all season long, but there can be no arguing Dedmon’s importance. His length, athleticism and instincts help alleviate many of the team’s defensive concerns, chief among them that Leonard and Green have never looked so helpless in their own end as they have this season, tethered to this lot of all offense/no defense bigs. Dedmon might well end up starting before it’s all said and done, though I’m sure Pop won’t make a change that drastic unless another 40 games or so of proof demands it of him.

The important thing to here is the Spurs are still undefeated on the road, a perfect 11-0. So I’ve come up with a nickname for them. It’s terrible. I’m quite proud of it.

Up Next: Friday, vs. Washington Wizards (6-11)

Another rematch, against another underachieving crew. The Spurs just beat these dudes, on a SEGABABA at D.C., last Saturday. Not much has changed since. They barely beat the lowly Kings at home and then, while our guys were struggling at Dallas, the Wiz blew a winnable game at OKC, allowing a late game-tying three to Russell Westbrook and then getting outscored by a mere 11 points in overtime. Fans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena are well-accustomed to seeing late-game collapses from Scotty Brooks coached teams, but this one didn’t seem to bother them much from what I gather. Anyway, Bradley Beal’s been hot of late for them, so hopefully the Spurs will guard him better than they did Matthews. And if they don’t, it still probably won’t matter because Washington’s bench is terrible.