By Will Martin
It can be said that the Dallas Mavericks since the middle of March have been in playoff elimination mode for the privilege of the challenge that awaits them Friday night at the friendly confines of the American Airlines Center. In case you missed it here is a video montage of what did and didn’t happen in Game 5.
Rick Carlisle seems to thrive in situations like this. Even after a tough 109-103 loss to the Spurs Wednesday night in Riverwalk country without the services of DeJuan Blair. That inadvertent kick to the Splitter visage in Game 4 costly in that Blair’s services could have been a difference maker on this night.
After a game of frisbee – a change of pace if you will from the norm of a shootaround or practice-to get the teams minds off the hardwood for a while the thinking by Coach Carlisle was that a change of pace might infuse some energy into Dallas.
That would not be the case as the Mavericks fell into a 21-8 hole and were never able to catch up and come all the way back. This despite a 15-3 run to make the score 27-26 early in the second period and 37-all at one point.
“I thought overall we didn’t play enough defense to win,” Dirk Nowitzki said postgame. “Even though we were scoring in the fourth every time down, we just couldn’t get stops to really get back into it. They kept scoring. If they missed, they got an offensive rebound and kick-out threes. I just thought even when we were scoring in the fourth we didn’t get enough stops to really get over the hump.”
This on a night when Dirk Nowitzki had his best game of the series with 26 points and 15 rebounds. 14 of those points in the final period. Vince Carter played like it was 2001 with 28 points and an amazing 7 of 9 from behind the arc.
Equally incredible was watching Tony Parker amass 23 points despite no sleep as he witnessed the birth of his son and playing with a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Parker had help from Tim Duncan (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter (17 points, 12 rebounds) while keeping turnovers to a franchise low of six on the night.
A stat not lost on Coach Gregg Popovich.
“I thought we moved the ball better than we had in the past. We looked a little bit more like we have been playing offensively the rest of the year.”
While Dirk and Vince combined for 54 points with their prowess it was San Antonio who had the biggest advantage when converting from the paint. Spurs won that battle 54-28. Rebounds were even at 47 each and even in defeat the Mavericks kept their turnover count to eight. Even second chance points were even at 18 apiece. A moral victory if you will when on the road.
Late in the 4th period as Dirk was searing hot with accuracy and the Mavericks got to within one point, San Antonio would then go on a 9-2 run beginning with a Tony Parker trey after a Nowitzki miss to get the lead to 103-96 with half a minute remaining.
Nowitzki averaged 16 points in the first four games of this series. His 26 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 was his first double-double, and his point production was his best since Game 4 of the opening-round sweep and series loss to Oklahoma City two years ago. He scored 34 points in that game. Interestingly, Nowitzki went 38-for-42 from the foul line in that 4-game series, and this year against San Antonio he’s 19-for-24 in five games.
One shining light off the bench in the first three games of this series was Devin Harris. In Games 4 and 5 Harris has been handled and contained by San Antonio as Harris was only 6 for 23 shooting after a 15 for 25 start.
“Every run that we made, they answered back. It’s tough. Something I stressed before the series was just matching their intensity. They’re even tougher at home.” according to Vince Carter.
There are some who might note that while Dirk Nowitzki with his game in the first three quarters (3 for 10 shooting) it seemed the Big German was more concerned with the refs and the non-calls. The decade old argument of the fadeaway versus the Manu flop. No matter. Dallas in Game 5 was no match for the overall team physicality brought forth by the Spurs all evening.
“Our defense has got to be better,” Carlisle chimed after. “You know, they had eight threes, 50 percent on threes, they got a big paint number, and really they just kind of had it going all night.”
“We’ve just got to have a little more energy about our defense,” Nowitzki offered. “What’d they have, [six] turnovers? I mean, that’s a joke in a 48-minute game. You know, we’ve got to be more energetic and get some deflections, get into them a little more. We’ve got to be the more aggressive team on Friday for sure, if we want to win.”
Tony Parker led five Spurs with 9 for 23 shooting. What hurt the Mavericks all game was the efficiency of Tiago Splitter in the pick and roll/give and go play that Dallas had no answers for. Despite five ties in the Battle of I-35 Game 5 matchup Dallas at no time led in this game.
“At the end of the day we are already trying to forget about this and get ready for Friday, and we will be back on Sunday. We’ll be alright.” offered Jose Calderon who had eight points in 21 minutes of play. Monta Ellis himself had a 21 point night in 40 minutes of play going 8 for 18 on the floor.
If Dallas wants to come back to San Antonio and force a Game 7 the bench will have to answer the call. Devin Harris will need to improve his shooting, DeJuan Blair needs to keep his emotions in check and do exactly what he was d0ing in Game 4 before getting ejected, Dirk and Monta need to be in high tempo mode. For a wild card, how about Shawn Marion being a solid decoy in the wing when Dallas needs a spark while keeping San Antonio off balance?
Lets hope for a deja vu of Game 2 inside the AAC Friday at 7pm. Expect an arena that will be loud as hell decked out in Royal Blue doing a collective #MavsChant and #MavsStrong mantra of cheering.
Indeed the playoffs are about life and death. Away from the game life is to be lived and enjoyed. Congratulations to Tony Parker and Axle Nicole on the birth of Josh Parker on April 30th.
One final thought from Coach Rick Carlisle.
“We’ve had a lot of difficult losses. We always find a way to bounce back, and that’s what we’re going to do for Game 6.”
Series to Date:
Game 1: Spurs 90 Mavericks 85 – Spurs Lead 1-0
Game 2: Mavericks 113 Spurs 92 – Series Tied 1-1
Game 3: Mavericks 109 Spurs 108 – Mavericks Lead 2-1
Game 4: Spurs 93 Mavericks 89 – Series Tied 2-2
Game 5: Spurs 109 Mavericks 103 – Spurs Lead 3-2
5/2 Spurs vs Mavericks 7:00 p.m.
5/4 Mavericks vs Spurs TBD *If Necessary