Spurs-Mavs First Round Tale of the Tape

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Because there are several ways to skin a cat—at least that’s what I hear, I’ve never skinned a cat because I’m not a crazy person—the 48MoH staff decided to break down this Spurs-Mavs matchup into a series of topics and examine Round 1 from there. Feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments. Without further adieu…

Matchup to Watch

The easy answer is Dirk versus Duncan, but, the truth is, I believe there’s a more exciting matchup. I’m going Tony Parker vs. Monta Ellis. Yes, Ellis is a shooting guard, but he leads the team in assists and is the primary initiator of the its pick-and-roll sets. He and Parker are going to be the main perimeter scoring threats in this series, not to mention two of the more interesting storylines.

Rick Carlisle has reached down deep to steer Ellis toward a more team-oriented style of ball, and so far it’s worked this season, to the delight of many. But can that keep up in the postseason, where the Mavs will need him most? As for Parker, he’s been kind of quiet for a while now, but averaged better than 23 points per game against the Mavs this season. Will this series serve as a postseason springboard?

– Matthew Tynan

Favorite storyline

This one isn’t even close. It’s Dirk vs. Duncan. It’d have a little more impact if the series was expected to be closer, but getting to see these two battle in the playoffs once more is a treat.

A lot of us, myself included, wanted Kevin Garnett to be Tim Duncan’s biggest rival. It made sense about 10 years ago, the two had battled twice already in the first round with the Spurs winning both. Garnett was especially feisty/nasty towards Duncan early in their careers, becoming a villain in the eyes of Spurs fans. Both players had won MVPs and for a time it looked like the Spurs and Timberwolves would be the two of the three or four best teams in the league for some time.

That rivalry never came to fruition. Instead, Dirk and Dallas rose as a power. We saw two instant classic series in 2003 and 2006. The Spurs took one (thanks Steve Kerr!) and Dallas famously took the other in probably the single most heartbreaking game in Spurs history—until Ray Allen hit that shot at the end of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals.

When it comes to Duncan and Dirk, there are no villains. It’s simply two of the greatest players of their generation facing each other once more in the twilight of their careers. You have your favorite, but neither should be disliked. We expect the Spurs to win handedly, which means we should soak up as much of possibly the last Duncan-Dirk playoff matchup as we can.

– Trevor Zickgraf

Fabricio Oberto Memorial “Guy Who Will Make the Biggest Impact While Scoring Fewer Than Five Points in the Series”

You obviously remember Fabricio Oberto doing Oberto things, running high low with still in his prime Tim Duncan, taking charges, being in the right place at the right time. Tiago Splitter is a bigger version as far as what he brings to the Spurs.

Dallas’ defense is not good. They finished 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, per ESPN. Nor do they have a reliable second big man behind Dirk Nowitzki. They can’t go small with Nowitzki at the center because he can’t guard Duncan or Splitter, which means we’re going to see Splitter get matched up with Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert or a short and maybe not so defensively aware DeJuan Blair. Splitter has the advantage over all of those guys.

In the three games he played against Dallas this season, Tiago averaged nearly 12 points a game on 52 percent shooting. When the two teams played last week, he attempted 11 free throws. Even half that many trips to the line for a role player like Splitter will make Rick Carlisle have to mess with his lineups even more than he was already game planning for.

– T.Z.

Quote from The Wire that best describes this series

“Game’s the same, just got more fierce.”

San Antonio is better than any team at pacing itself in the regular season, getting into solid playoff position and ramping up as the postseason nears. Now that we’re in win (four games) or go home time, the intensity ratchets up and each mistake, ones that would’ve been shrugged off so easily in December and January, has real consequences. Minutes go up for the vital rotation players and the repetitive nature of the series, playing the same guys over and over, tends to breed some brief contempt between the two teams. It’s a lot like playing your sibling or close friend in the driveway growing up.

This first round series against Dallas may not be a total changeover into that mindset; it will be less polar bear plunge and more the Spurs dipping their collective toes into the water and easing their way into the pool. But we’re still there.

Credit to Slim Charles for one of the best quotes in five seasons of The Wire.

– Andrew McNeill

Opposing player who is most likely to cause you to break out of your objectivity

Hah, DeJuan Blair. I don’t think I’m going to care, really, but if he breaks out in a ‘DeJuan Blair Revenge Game’ of sorts and starts barking at Gregg Popovich or Spurs players or something, it’s gonna be annoying. Other than that, maybe I look at it in the opposite way: If Dirk starts going crazy, I may fall into a Nowitzki trance.

– M.T.

Statistic that will best define the series

Tough one. I think it’s going to be one of two things: Either the Spurs’ 3-point percentage, or their free-throw attempts per game (which feels weird to say). San Antonio has bombed away from deep against the Mavs this season, shooting nearly 25 3s a game and hitting better than 43 percent of them, which is burying Dallas. The ball-movement has been too difficult for the Mavs’ defense to handle, and the Spurs got some amazingly open looks during each of this season’s games between the two sides.

The other one is weird. San Antonio gets to the line less frequently than any other team in the league, but against Dallas that number spikes heavily. San Antonio goes from shooting 20 free throws per game on average to shooting 29.5 per contest—which would be the second-best number in the league—against Dallas, and it made 83.9 percent of them. Much of this is a result of that 42 free throw night the Spurs had against the Mavs back in December, but Dallas still sends them to the line more than most even without that big number. San Antonio’s offense is good enough as it is without getting to the line much, but giving it the extra freebies is a death sentence.

–M.T.

Coach that would win in a back-alley brawl

Richard Preston Carlisle vs. Gregg [Middle Name Redacted] Popovich. The parameters are head coach vs. head coach, with each guys’ staff in their corner, Ric Renner doing play-by-play and Dirk Nowitzki and Patty Mills doing color commentary (think of them as the Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Jesse “The Body” Ventura).

On paper, this matchup goes to Carlisle and it’s not even close. The guy is an ex-NBA role player from the mid-80s to early-90s, when a game could devolve into a scene from Escape From New York at any given moment. He’s 11 years Pop’s junior and has a three inch height advantage. I’m taking Carlisle here BUT you can’t overlook Popovich.

CIA Pop. The guy is ex-military who focused on Soviet studies at the height of the Cold War. He probably learned some stuff. I’m not ruling out a hidden shiv or boots that have blades in them like the Joker in The Dark Knight. If I’m Pop, I’m finding a way to end this before it officially gets going.

– T.Z.

The Spurs lose this series if…

Remember the scene in The Dark Knight Rises during the Super Bowl when Bane came out and blew stuff up? [Boom, second Batman reference of the series preview.] Yeah, something like that. I doubt that’s going to happen considering 1) that was a movie based on a comic book, so not very realistic and 2) Bane plays for the Spurs.

Realistically, it would take one or more of the Mavs making a serious leap defensively and some befuddling offensive decisions from the Spurs to really make the machine even hiccup, much less lose four of seven games.

–A.M.

The Spurs win this series if…

Nobody in silver and black, sleeves and possibly camouflage gets hurt. Let’s be honest, this matchup skews heavily in favor of the Spurs. This is still the NBA and the Mavericks are a good team, but San Antonio should have no problem moving on to the second round. They’re a running back with nothing but daylight between itself and the end zone. They’ve got the puck 10 feet away from an empty net. It would take something incredible to prevent them from winning this series, which is why we watch, but it’s probably not going to happen.

– A.M.

48MoH Staff Predictions

Matthew Tynan:
I believe San Antonio is going to sweep the series, as strange as it feels to say that. I never like picking sweeps because I hate implying that one team isn’t capable of winning a single game. But this Dallas defense is not good, especially against really disciplined teams. The Mavs are going to have to play perfect basketball to even have a chance.

Trevor Zickgraf:
Spurs in 4: All due respect to Dirk, but I don’t see how the Mavericks win a game this series. The Spurs haven’t scored fewer than 109 points against Dallas this season. The Mavs’ defense is slow and they don’t have anyone to protect the rim. Their offense—Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, specifically—could make things interesting. But ultimately the Spurs ball movement and underrated defense is going to make this a quick series.

Andrew McNeill:
My heart tells me Spurs in a gentleman’s sweep, but my head says Spurs in a not-so-gentlemanly-sweep. I want to think that with as many straight games San Antonio has won against Dallas—nine and counting right now—that they’re bound to drop at least one, especially when you throw in the probability for at least one crazy Dirk game. But yeah, Spurs cruise.

Tip-off for Game 1 of the Spurs-Mavericks Western Conference First Round Playoff Series is set for noon central time on Sunday and can be seen on TNT or Fox Sports Southwest. For tickets to Game 1, visit our friends at TiqIQ.