A look ahead at Game 3: Spurs need to get in gear

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So there’s a fairly important basketball game taking place this afternoon in Dallas, where the Spurs will look to bounce back from a pretty farty performance in Game 2. In case you hadn’t heard, the winner of Game 3 when the series is tied 1-1 has gone on to win that series nearly 77 percent of the time in NBA history. I mean, history is history, but trends are trends. This is an important game.

Frankly, San Antonio might be fortunate to be tied. The Mavericks have outplayed the top seed in the NBA for most of the first two games, only succumbing to the Spurs’ pressure in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Which, you know, is a pretty important time of the game.

As an aside, I have to say, I dislike the “the Spurs should be down 2-0″ narrative. There was a similar one last year in the second round against the Warriors, when San Antonio made a miraculous comeback in Game 1 before dropping Game 2 at home. The outcomes of these individual games are not created in a vacuum. Had the Spurs lost Game 1 in either of the aforementioned series, the team’s collective mindset would be different heading into Game 2. Suddenly, that’s a must-win game, where in reality there may have been a letdown after such emotional wins. So, don’t look at this series that way.

For the Spurs it’s been a bad mixture of playing terribly while the Mavericks have been showing off some of their best basketball of the season. For some reason, a Rick Carlisle defensive adjustment has the great Gregg Popovich and the rest of the Spurs in a tizzy. The seen ‘switching’ schemes before, but for some reason they haven’t figured out a way to exploit Dallas’ weakest defensive links, José Calderón and Monta Ellis.

But we’ve talked about this ad nauseam. I want to hit on a few individual personnel issues before tip today.

The playoff regression of Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli

There’s no other way to say it: Mills and Belinelli have been TERRIBLE through the first two games of the playoffs. Heading into Saturday, only seven players in the NBA have a negative postseason Player Efficiency Rating; Patty (-4.8) and Marco (-.51) find themselves in this esteemed company. San Antonio might be able to make due in the first round without these two playing at their best, but that won’t be the case later in the playoffs if the Spurs end up advancing.

Each is struggling in his own way, too. Belinelli is having issues finding room on the perimeter, and when he gets his chances he’s just not capitalizing. This continues a funk he’s been in since the team lost to Oklahoma City in early April, so he’s got to snap out of this thing soon or it’s going to be a problem. He’s been an upgrade from Gary Neal all season, but that’s now starting to come into question. If he’s not scoring or effectively facilitating when he’s asked, he becomes a damaging player for San Antonio because he has been dreadful on defense. If he doesn’t start putting the ball in the basket we may see a big dip in playing time for Marco.

Patty, on the other hand, is getting the looks he’s had all season, he’s just not knocking down the shot. Plain and simple: he’s got to start shooting better, because if the Mavs continue to switch he’s going to get plenty of open chances out of high pick-and-rolls.

Where the hell is Kawhi?

Foul trouble cost him playing time early in Game 2, but something just seemed off in the second half. The shot hasn’t been there — he’s shooting 31 percent — and he hasn’t had the impact on the defensive end to which we’re accustomed. Through the first two games he’s been guarded in heavy doses by the likes of Ellis with a little Vince Carter mixed in, and he hasn’t been able to make them pay.

Leonard is this team’s wrecking ball, and he’s got to get that momentum going again, or this series is going to be a grind given the way Dallas has chosen to defend San Antonio.

Get those shooters open

I was actually surprised to find the Spurs went 10-of-20 from the 3-point line in Game 2, but then I realized much of that was because Manu Ginobili couldn’t miss. Everybody else pitched in to go 5-of-14 from the arc, a number well below their team season average of nearly 40 percent from deep.

Dallas is covering up beautifully on shooters (especially Belinelli and Danny Green), so some credit is certainly due there, but the San Antonio needs to figure out a way to shake loose its shooters. The ball has to keep moving, the team’s motion offense has to keep whirring, and these guys might need to start using more screen action off the ball to create some space. When the Spurs can’t find good looks from the perimeter the offense really starts to stagnate and suffer. That has to change.

This might be Tony’s series

It almost feels dirty to ask more of Tony Parker, but he might have to win this thing if his teammates don’t get their s*** together. The Mavs are all but challenging him to do so, anyway. They’re switching big men onto him off pick-and-rolls and subsequently sagging into the paint, forcing him to shoot mid-range jumpers. Parker will hit those, but he’s got to be super aggressive in getting to the basket in an effort to jumpstart this sputtering Spurs engine.

We talked about the importance of getting those shooters open; a lot of that starts with Parker’s penetration. If he can consistently get to the rim, Dallas will have no choice but to start collapsing in an effort to defend the restricted area. This creates that necessary space we talked about on the perimeter. Look for Parker to come out with an extra gear today, as he knows this situation all too well.

The Spurs have seemed a bit listless in recent weeks, so hopefully their alarm clocks went off loudly this morning.

Game 3 tips off from the American Airlines Center at 3:30 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports Southwest or TNT. Anyone still looking for tickets to Game 3 should check out our friends over at TiqIQ.

  • I need more cowbell

    Patty!!! These young guys need to start playing better so Duncan and Manu can retire in peace.
    They can be the future of the team going forward if they get another ring.

  • Este

    As a Spur fan I’m concerned not panicked but concerned. The first two games don’t feel like a fluke and the Mavs confidence is growing by the minute in this series. The turnovers are a huge problem but I was also troubled by how easy it was for Dallas to score in the paint in gm 2.

    I hope Pop has more up his sleeve than just having Parker take more shots.

  • JT

    Pop has flat out sucked, our defensive strategies have not changed at all in any of the games, we are still not switching and still going under screens. We keep chasing players out of pick and rolls and keep getting killed. Everyone besides the top 3, have sucked, yes including Kawhi big time. The Spurs have been softest players I have seen so far this playoffs. I have no idea what happened to this team, but it has been embarrasing.

  • Jimbo

    Easy there, the West playoffs aren’t a cakewalk, and RC is a hell of a coach. I sure didn’t see Dallas having a 2-1 lead, but they’re a good team all the same. Just about every team looks bad in the playoffs at some points. LAC lost to an undermanned GS team, OKC is trailing the 7th seed, Houston has looked awful, etc.

  • SanDiegoSpursFan

    A few thoughts on Game 3:

    1.) Good defense on the final play, better shot by Vince Carter. Amazing shots happen in the playoffs. I can’t complain about our defensive set, main goal was to not foul and play tight- we executed well.

    2.) Parker needs to be more aggressive when Dalembert/Dirk are caught guarding him in a switch. He was better at this in Game 3 than in Game 2, but still countless times where Parker dribbled out/Passed ball away/Restarted offensive set opposed to attacking the mismatch right in front of him. I don’t care if he gets blocked as long as he is aggressive. Must continue attacking Dallas bigs.

    3.) Would like to see Marco/Manu replace D. Green in starting lineup for both offensive and defensive purposes. We need an extra ball-handler when facing Dallas starters and could pair D. Green with Kawhi to match up on Vince/Monta.

    4.) I haven’t looked at the numbers, but appears Mavs are playing starters considerably more minutes than SAS. Might have to push our starters a bit to pull this series out.

    5.) Expecting some significant adjustments from Pop for Game 4. Pop typically doesn’t like to show his hand too early if we can win the series without making big changes, but it is time.

    6.) I consider Game 4 a must win. Dallas is playing amazing offense and seems to want it more on defense. We need to go all out in Game 4 and take control of this series.

  • Will

    Tough luck on giving up a 3 once again. Spurs didn’t come into these playoffs focused enough and the Mavs are hungrier. Maybe we need to win less regular season games or something. The urgency in the series didn’t really show up until today.

    These people (i.e. Andrew) analogizing last year’s Golden State series to this one were flat wrong. RC, Dirk and these guys have a bit more experience don’t you think? And Tynan predicting a sweep? Thanks for jinxing us fans guys.

  • Bry

    I guess I’ll be the first to say it. This is how you give away a series. And it’s becoming similar to the Memphis series three years back. Why in the world did Ginobili start his drive with 7 seconds left?! Dallas had a time-out and they have an awful defense. ALL he had to do was run out the clock.

    The Spurs are better than Dallas in most demonstrable ways. And SA is giving away this series with unforced errors, bonehead plays, and certain players completely disappearing for games at a time. I KNOW that every assistant coach and probably Pop himself told them coming out of that time-out to make sure to burn the whole clock and not give Dallas another possession. Yeah, Carter hit a circus shot, but he never shot have even had the ball. This game was given away.

  • NY Spurs Fan

    I also thought it would be wiser to just let the game go into OT. I hate saying this, but I knew the Spurs were going to lose the second Ginobili hit that layup. For some reason, this team is historically incapable of maintaining a one basket lead, in a playoff game, with a few seconds (or less than one second) left on the clock.

  • stfudg

    Lol, I think most of yall’s reaction to the end of game 3 is overreacting. This game overall was the most balanced of the 3 games this series. Pretty much a coinflip. It took a Vinsanity fadeaway circus shot with 1.7 seconds left on the clock to win it. I mean seriously think about that. Manu scored with the ball swirling into the basket which killed more time than expected and 1.7 is barely enough time to setup a good play. Mavs chance were pretty much catch and shoot. How VC was able to pump fake and get off a shot at exactly 0.4 sec is amazing no matter how you look at it.

  • Este

    taking the final shot at zero on the clock would make it easier to defend. The defender knows he has to release the ball which negates any ball fakes or an opportunity for a put back.

    Regardless this game wasn’t decided on the final two plays. Spurs couldn’t defend the two man gamw with Dirk & Ellis. And Pop & his staff haven’t found away to get Belinelli and Green going. They ran action for Green to hit a three coming out of a timeout but couldn’t sustain it. It pains me to say but they are being out coached.