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.