San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 91: Muddy victory
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.