San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 91: Muddy victory

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AT&T CENTER–By the thinnest of margins, just an inch or two really, the San Antonio Spurs survived a last-second shot to hold onto a 92-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

With Vince Carter’s final shot caroming off the rim, the Spurs reached the 50-win mark for a staggering 14th consecutive year, extending their NBA record streak. It’s a mark that Spurs center Tim Duncan attributed to the consistent, high-level play the franchise has set as its standard over the course of his career.

It’s also a consistency the Spurs have struggled to find over the past two weeks.

“We’re going through a section of time where we’re not playing the great basketball, obviously,” Duncan said after the game. “We’re just sporadic right now and that’s a concern.

“We’re missing Tony a little bit and it was bound to catch up with us. And it’s not just his scoring or play, but his play calling and his understanding of what [Popovich] wants and when he wants it.”

The Spurs performances have been uneven at best since Tony Parker sprained his ankle against the Sacramento Kings, picking up a quality win over the Oklahoma City Thunder while failing to compete against the cellar-dwelling Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers.

Against the Mavericks the Spurs shot roughly 44 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from the three-point line, with 31 of their 37 field goals coming via assist. But the percentages and assists belie the inefficiency and stagnation of their offense. Though the Spurs won, the Mavericks had their way with them at times.

Without Parker the Spurs offense, normally comparable to a highly tuned sports car, has gone off-roading.

“I thought they played better than us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “I thought they executed better than we did. They were more physical and aggressive. We continued to play in mud like we have been for the last two weeks.”

After surrendering a Spurs franchise record 20 made three-pointers in a previous meeting, the Mavericks entered the game clearly focused on chasing shooters off their preferred spots behind the three-point line, and were successful, limiting the Spurs to just 13 three-point attempts.

The Spurs offense relies on the three-pointer to reach elite levels of efficiency, offsetting their lack of production in both second chance points and at the free throw line. But when the ball sticks and the Spurs face a set defense, those open three-pointers tend to dry up. And maybe that’s something that should be expected.

To expect the Spurs system to offset the loss of an MVP bronze medal candidate like Parker is both an insult to Parker and an overestimation of any NBA offensive system. Even if it looks, at times, as if the Spurs could march on without skipping a beat as they did against the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

Eventually an NBA defense will key in on tendencies and disrupt set plays. Generating open looks from just motion takes work and discipline, and no team can sustain that for a full 48 minutes without bursts of individual playmaking.

“It’s not easy obviously, even considering who we are and the fact that we do it all the time and are successful with it,” Danny Green said. “Even when Tony’s there we run [the system] most of the time; but in late clock situations we can throw it to him in a pick and roll.

“It’s tough. Other teams get used to it. They can adjust to it. Defensively they adapt and make you do things that you don’t want to do within that motion offense, which make things tougher. Today we just didn’t move the ball the way we should have. It’s not easy running the same plays over and over that they’ve seen all game long.”

The Spurs survived because of some brilliant individual play from Duncan, who had 28 points and 19 rebounds and appears to be finding his rhythm, and some timely shooting from Gary Neal (16 points, three assists).

Duncan declared his knee pain free at last, and showed some lift in it running the floor, dunking, and hitting jumpers off pin down screens at the elbows. But at this point in his career it’s unfair to ask him to collapse a defense the way Parker does with his dribble penetration.

The Spurs have now reached the two-week mark since Parker sprained his ankle, and he appears to be on schedule. Before the game Popovich said Parker had resumed some light shooting and he’s hopeful to have his point guard back before the initial four-week prognosis.

Until then the Spurs will seek consistency in other ways, and their defense has been a steady crutch to lean on. But so long as Parker remains limited to the treadmill, the Spurs will follow suit in the mud, running in place.

  • Nathan Verney

    Hey Jesse I’d really prefer it (and I think other Spurs fans would agree with me) if you didn’t use that 14th consecutive 50-win season stat as it sells the Spurs short. The season before that streak started was the 99 lockout season, when the Spurs went 37-13, which when extrapolated over to an 82 game season, would be 60.68 wins. And the 98-99 season (Duncan’s first) was 56 wins, so that should be the start of the streak (following Robinson’s lost season 20-62).

    So really, you should be saying that this season is the Spurs 16th consecutive 50 win (and equivalent) season. Or 16th consecutive season of 61%+ winning percentage. Choose whatever is less awkward to write/read, but don’t sell the Spurs short because they couldn’t go 100% in a 50 game season to keep the streak.

  • Nathan Verney

    Actually, if 50 games is arbitrary, why not go for a round figure like 60%? Which would mean that in the past 24 seasons (this year included), Spurs have failed to win 60% of their games just twice – 91/92 and 96/97 (rounding up 92/93′s 0.598 to 60%). That’s a great deal of success that we shouldn’t take for granted.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Yeah, because “14th consecutive 50-win season” sounds so terrible…

  • neverthehero

    Seemed like David Alridge looked out of sorts with Pop and Duncan. Wish he knew better than to ask Pop what it would take to win. With Duncan, he seemed to be stumbling around on what to ask. It is a little tiresome to see both Tim and Pop both act like they would rather be doing anything else, it’s just an Damn 2 min interview lighten up a bit…… The game itself, Idk why Joseph isn’t taking more risk on the offense , better than another turnover. Also could’ve used Bonner for a spell to open things up with his quick releases

  • Austin

    Hey Nathan, if you’re going to pick on the author, who continually writes excellent pieces, find something other than that. Technically our Spurs have 14 consecutive seasons with 50 WINS. Not 50 wins by percentage. In the lockout season, we didn’t win 50 games. Sure we were on pace, but the record books will not show that…

  • Andrew G

    I haven’t liked what I’ve seen out of Ginobili lately. There was a stretch in the 4th when Pop took him out, and our offense seemed to flow a lot better. I feel like too many of our possessions (when he’s helping run the point) end with him in iso or just hogging the ball too damn much, throwing up a three pointer at the end of the play clock, and having to haul our butts back on defense because of a long defensive rebound.

    I used to say: you live by Manu, you die by Manu; either way you put up with the results, because he’s just so much fun to watch. I don’t know if he still hasn’t found his rhythm yet, or if it’s just age, either way, lately it hasn’t been fun to watch.

  • Sir Timothy

    Time for Tony to come back. A few games without him gives others a chance but another two weeks without him is a bit much. Manu is just not himself.

  • Andrew G

    Ok, granted he had 9 assists, and his assist count has been trending up lately as well. Maybe teams have gotten wise to his offense, and know his tricks now, forcing him to dish the ball out. I just wish he’d recognize that defense a little sooner in some possessions instead of impeding the ball movement by watching the clock wind down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Sauer/645387978 Christopher Sauer

    I agree about the interviews. They are pointless & some of the questions just downright stupid. At first, it’s amusing to see an interviewer squirm when asking Pop questions, but it gets to a point where Pop’s just being plain rude. He needs to realize, even though he dislikes that aspect of his job, he makes a nice living working in that system, that yes, includes mindless media participation. The least he could do is be gracious. Oh, I forgot, that’s not “his job” – he’s just a head coach. Wake up Pop, it’s part of your job whether you like it or not – perhaps you’d rather coach a high school team somewhere for 1/50th of your current salary?? Go for it – no stupid questions from the media to worry about there! He might have to cut back on some of his hobbies, however, like making wine, and what not.

  • Nathan Verney

    Austin, please don’t read negatively into things. I enjoy everything I read here and was not criticising the author. You miss the point – yes the record books will show that it’s only 14 seasons, but that’s a really shallow look at it. NY and LA writers and ESPN try to put an asterisk on the 99 championship and say it doesn’t really count due to the lockout, but then they also say it doesn’t matter that we couldn’t win 50 cos the season was only 50 games long and thus the streak is just 14. My point is that we should count it in the streak, even if its just an addendum, and if a Spurs blog can’t do it, then who can?

  • Graham

    I for one find his interviews hilarious, and an exercise in pointlessness in general. I’d much rather hear more studio analysis than hear a coach mumble some generic platitudes about ‘playing better D’ or ‘work harder on the glass’. When’s the last time you heard anything interestinging from a coach during one of those? If it means studios trying something more interesting during those spots, by all means keep being terse and obtuse, pop.

    Take a poll of fans, I guarantee Pops one of the top coaches they love hearing from. I’d call that doing his part to draw viewer interest.

  • Graham

    Why are you arguing semantics? We can just say ‘the spurs have been consistently amazing over the past decade and a half.’

  • Vance K

    Yeah, Manu’s spotty play has been frustrating. Hopefully another couple of weeks of healthy play will smooth out the wrinkles come playoff time. He’ll never be the Manu of old, but we still need at least the Manu of last year.

    A number of his passes in the second half were unbelievable. His assist count would have been even higher had a few of his teammates knocked down the open looks. Nobody else on the Spurs could do what he was doing pass-wise, except Tony. If Ginobili can just limit his turnovers and find his shot then we are in for a treat come playoff time.

  • Vance K

    I say give the guy a break. It is part of his image. I thought his response to what it would take to win (“Ah, hell, I don’t know.”) was great. Classic Pop. He’s different. He’s unorthodox. And he can get away with it because he is an excellent coach, the most respected coach currently in the league.

    I look forward to Pop’s curt grumblings the same way I look forward to Barkley’s halftime talk–not very helpful, but pretty fun and soooo them.

  • Andrew G

    I cannot describe how much happier I was to see that crew broadcasting the game rather than Miller, Weber, and the two white guys. They (the Miller crew) have to talk CONSTANTLY, with absolutely no break in speech. Most of their conversations are about other teams in the league, or anecdotes from their own careers, that either way have nothing to do with the game currently being watched.

    The crew broadcasting the Spurs game for TNT last night gave pause to watch the game, talked about THE GAME, and more importantly, supported their topics with stats about the two teams CURRENTLY PLAYING.

  • http://twitter.com/blanchard48moh Jesse Blanchard

    I appreciate the suggestion and the defense. No need to argue over it. Nathan, I used the stat they specifically asked Duncan about and he responded to. It wasn’t the main part of my piece, merely a way to contrast the Spurs decade-long consistency with the way they’ve played the last two weeks.

    On another note, reading back through the Minnesota comments…sorry we haven’t been posting as much as in seasons past. I’m working on picking up the slack the next few weeks. Thanks for reading.

  • Colin

    I agree. I think those TNT interviews part of his shtick and everyone knows it, kind of like when pro wrestlers take the mic you know what to expect. It has nothing to do with being rude or incredulous. People need to let go and open up a little bit, they act like pop is offending them personally

  • neverthehero

    Even though, I included that Pop and Duncan could put on a better face, myself, I was concerned with David looking like he knew nothing to say to Duncan, right at the end of the interview he was scrabbling to include their 50 wins..

  • junierizzle

    He is 34. I think its because he plays both ends of the court. Unlike someone like Kobe who just plays offense at this point. One thing they could do is have De Colo bring up the ball at least. Manu is always going to play tough D and gamble. Once TP comes back they won’t burn Manu as much. At this point the Spurs are best when TP dominates, everyone is involved and Manu chips in with 12-14 points and clutch steals.

  • junierizzle

    That means they are doubling him. Which is good.

  • OBI-wan-ginobilli

    28-19 for duncan and even our own web isnt howling. Guys….what if it were 30-20….cmon 1 rebound and 1 basket shy????