San Antonio Spurs 90, Dallas Mavericks 85 [Game 1]: The Spurs defense rises to the occasion
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SAN ANTONIO — About 40 minutes into Game 1 of the Spurs’ first round series with the Dallas Mavericks, something still felt a little off. It wasn’t the noon start, though that made for strange proceedings as well. Nothing like driving along the edge of the Texas hill country in a sleepy morning fog on the way to the AT&T Center and emerging from the arena several hours later to broad daylight to remind you that this wasn’t just any game.
It wasn’t the lack of bench production from the Spurs reserves, either. Though just 14 points on 3-of-16 shooting from guys not named Manu Ginobili is also out of the norm.
Nor was Easter the reason.
No, things just seemed, well, pedestrian. It was a closer affair than expected, the Spurs’ 90-85 Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Most, including us here at 48MoH, predicted some version of a sweep, whether it be an outright version or one of the gentlemanly variety.
The game still seemed to lack some sort of bite, both from the Spurs and the AT&T Center crowd. There was a moment late in the third quarter that a chant of ‘de-fense’ erupted from the sellout audience. That moment was easily the loudest the home fans have been since Game 5 of last year’s Finals, but otherwise the fan participation felt like a continuation of the regular season. Just minutes into the fourth quarter, the Spurs found themselves with a 10-point deficit and a dearth of answers.
The Spurs trimmed the lead down to four thanks to missed shots from Dallas (a recurring theme late in this contest), a turnover by Devin Harris, a couple of baskets from Tim Duncan and a pair of free throws from Kawhi Leonard. On the following possession, Monta Ellis set a cross screen for Dirk Nowitzki in the lane and the big German posted up Tiago Splitter.
It was almost like Kawhi Leonard realized at that moment the force of nature that he can be on the defensive end. Leonard was guarding Ellis on the play and after the screen was set for Nowitzki, Kawhi hesitated a beat before attacking Nowitzki on the baseline side, knocking the ball out of bounds off Dirk.
On the ensuing offensive possession, Ginobili found Duncan down low for two more of Duncan’s game-high 27 points. Then Leonard again attacked the ball handler, this time knocking the ball loose from Ellis out near the top of the key. The ball went out of bounds off of the Spurs, but it didn’t matter. Leonard was alive.
“There was a point when we were down 10 that we made a couple of steals,” Tony Parker said later. “We ran. We got fouled. We got a couple of easy buckets. That changed our mentality and our energy.”
San Antonio was in the midst of a 15-0 run that turned a 10-point deficit into a five-point advantage. The Spurs finished the game outscoring the Mavericks 19-4 over the last 7:45. The defense came alive—although Dallas’ inability to knock down some good looks during that stretch definitely helped—and San Antonio’s playoff-tested crowd was finally there to match.
In all, the Mavs missed 12-of-13 shots to finish and turned the ball over three times as San Antonio took a hell of a shot from Dallas and escaped with a 1-0 series lead.
After the game, Parker was asked if he thought the Spurs had taken Dallas’ best shot of the series. He disagreed, as is the political move to make, but it’s tough to think that Dallas would have better chance at a road win than holding the Spurs to 3-for-17 from 3-point range and just 14 points outside of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Leonard quadrumvirate.
One could argue that San Antonio shouldn’t expect Dirk to average 11 points a game on 28 percent shooting for the entire series, which is true, but the Spurs have seen reasonable success with Splitter and Boris Diaw defending Nowitzki.
“Just like they respect our shooters, we respect [Dirk] very much,” Duncan said after his #PodiumGame. “Tiago did a great job staying up into him and taking away space and making him do something else.”
Sure, the Spurs caught some breaks on Sunday afternoon. But as we’ve seen over the years, you don’t win a title without lady luck spending a little time at your side. Just don’t piss her off.
“Down the stretch there it looked like we might have the game in hand and we turned it over and threw it away on the sideline and we had an offensive foul,” Popovich said. “That’s the way the games are played. You don’t really know what’s going to happen, but you want to be the team that makes fewer of these kinds of mistakes down the stretch.
“We were fortunate in that regard that they missed some shots.”
Fortunate favors the bold, as they say. And in 28 minutes or so after the Spurs jumped out to a 21-12 lead over Dallas, San Antonio didn’t deserve much in that regard. They were close, they treaded water, they hung around. But in the fourth quarter, after Dallas took its largest lead of the game, San Antonio finally kicked into playoff gear.
How much that carries over into Game 2 remains to be seen, obviously. But they took a shot from the Mavs and still got the win. San Antonio’s defense was the difference on paper coming into this series and it was just that when the ball was live. For all that was strange during Game 1, the Spurs were fortunate to be able to rely on at least one constant.