The Postseason Notebook: Mavs-Spurs, Game 5

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Mavericks Spurs BasketballWith some brief resistance and a whimper, the 2008-2009 season came to a close for the San Antonio Spurs. I can’t say I’m surprised by the game’s outcome. Inconsistent defense and mediocre contributions from our role players have been endemic to the entire series. But I will admit, I am disappointed.

First and foremost, I want to congratulate the Dallas Mavericks. They were the better team this series. They played inspired ball on both ends of the floor. Anyone interested in criticizing their poise or defensive tenacity has the burden of proof firmly placed on their shoulders. Dallas has the talent and depth to cause some trouble this postseason. I wish them luck as they head into the second round.

Before I address the numerous frustrations I felt during tonight’s loss, I want to take a brief moment and thank Tim Duncan. During the closing stretch, Tim Duncan was dialed in. He made his final 8 field goal attempts of the second half. When the entire team looked resigned to the idea of defeat, Duncan was draining mid-range jumpers and trying his damnedest to coordinate our defensive efforts (our perimeter defenders did not keep up their end of the bargain). He was a relentless competitor to the end, unlike many of his teammates. It may sound odd, but his 4th quarter effort made me as appreciative of him as I have ever been.

I’m not going to mince words: I am very frustrated George Hill didn’t see more minutes this series. Since he entered the game late in the third quarter of Game Four, he was one of the most reliable men on the court. He was confident on both ends of the floor. His length, athleticism and energy added an element that had been lacking all series. And, despite concerns about his readiness, he gave just as sophisticated a performance as any Spur not named Duncan, Parker or Bowen. I am not saying Hill would have been the difference between a 4-1 loss and a series win. But his hunger would have been a welcome counterbalance against the ceaseless focus we saw Dallas give.

As always, Tony Parker gave his all in the pursuit of victory. So much has been said about his contributions this postseason that I don’t have much more to add. But it would have been an injustice had the final recap of the season not mentioned his 26 points and 12 assists during 45 minutes of play.

In my hastily assembled pre-game bullets, I focused on two aspects of our play that needed to vastly improve: Our outside shooting and our defense. The Spurs were 3-16 from beyond the 3-point line and gave up 106 points. It’s safe to assume neither of my concerns were properly addressed.

Throughout the season I attempted to play the role of augur. Each 3-point shot that flew overhead painted a disturbing portrait of the offensive inconsistency to come. All I asked is that a single shooter rise to the occasion this evening. I guess that was too much to ask.

But my disappointment in our outside shooting pales in comparison to the frustration I experienced as a result of our defensive effort. The Mavericks would have had a more difficult time shooting from outside had they been in an empty gym. In between the catch and release, their 3-point shooters had time for a quick nap. Failed rotations weren’t seen as opportunities to reorganize and retaliate. Instead, we shot one another incredulous looks in the hopes of passing the buck. I’ve never thought of the Spurs as an elite offensive team, even during the championship runs. But our defensive struggles this series shook the spirit in a way to which I am unaccustomed.

There are several other, more microscopic issues I had with tonight’s game, the most glaring of which was Popovich’s decision to have Ime Udoka cover Dirk Nowitzki. I know a lot of Spurs fans disagree but I think Ime is a decent role player. Nonetheless, he possesses nowhere close to the height or savvy required to cover Dirk. Kurt Thomas did a far better job against Nowitzki while on the floor.

But aside from that particular match-up, I don’t feel like mulling over the details. Hopefully the next time we face the Mavericks we will be a different team and the limitations unearthed this series will have been surpassed.

I’m not positive how much more Tim and I have to say about this series but be sure to check back in over the course of the offseason. Tim and I plan on remaining very active over the coming the months. Despite the frustrations we experienced over the last week or two, It’s been a great season. I really enjoyed it and I hope you did too.

Go Spurs.

  • Navin

    Graydon,

    I wrote this after game 4 and was true again last night , “On a different note: For years now (since watching the 2003 championship) I think that we are primarily a 3rd quarter team. If we play well and outscore the opponents in the 3rd quarter and play well after the half, we tend to win. While this probably true of most teams, it is more applicable to us since we are not big on 4th quart comebacks. I don’t have access to the stats to back it up but it would be interesting to track our 3rd quarter performance in the playoffs as a function of wins and compare it to the league average. And on the flip-side compare 3rd quarter no-shows to losses. (In all this we have to only count reasonably close games but in the playoffs we would have had a lot of these) Any thoughts?”

    Does this indicate (this season alone) that maybe (excuse the pun) that our coach is over the Hill?

    Plus, this is the second straight season that a Manu injury has destroyed our title hopes.

    Lets hope we reload big time. Go Spurs

  • Duaneofly

    I am disappointed. I was hoping Timmy would retire with no missed playoffs, no first round exits. I just hope this makes the Spurs organization try to get better.
    I hope we Pop realizes just because a player has been in the league 10+ years, doesn’t mean he’s good / better than a rookie / young player. Ever since TD we’ve had late round picks, but we still found Parker, than Manu, and I think Hill was a steal. I doubt Hill will make many all star games, but he’ll be like Bowen, a guy that every coach would take on his team.
    Maybe I’m just jaded, maybe I’m in the vast minority here, but I’m sick of Finley. I’d pay that guy to leave. Seeing him get 30 minutes a game while Hill road the bench and Hairston went packing to the D-league agitated me to no end.
    But anyways sorry for rambling, its time to start concentrating on kicking butt and winning the 2010 title!

  • Jimbo

    Even though this was entirely predictable, it still hurts. The Spurs have given us a whole lot of awesome memories this decade but it really hurts to bow out like this. That said, I will choose to focus on the positive and the past and hope the Spurs front office (finally) address the holes in the Spurs’ roster.

  • Latin_D

    There’ll be time for second-guessing the Spurs in the offseason. Right now I just want to thank both you, Graydon, and Tim for the excellent coverage of my favorite team through the season. I check this blog every single day, and I plan to continue to do so in the future.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks again for writing and sharing.

  • agutierrez

    With all due respect, Graydon, I think it’s been shitty season. The most frustrating ever for a Spurs’ fan. Manu missed half of the season, TD soldiered on with his injury, but was never at full speed. The early promise of Mason was gutted by Pop’s stubborn use of him at the point. And he never recovered. Matt’s early success from beyond the arc was fool’s gold. It led us to believe he would always be able to deliver. But teams watched film and adjusted and he faded fast while still being a disaster on the defensive end. And Finley hit just enough big shots that we’d start thinking, “well, maybe he’s still got something left,” even as he was, like Bonner, crap on defense and a non-contributor on offense 90% of the time. Gooden sealed his fate when he stated publicly that he played his best ball with Timmy on the court, a public rebuke of Pop’s use of him as TD’s backup. And the promise of Ian was more brittle then his ankle. And the promise of Mensah Bonsu vanished with his first dunk, followed by a brief show of bravado … anathema to Pop. He didn’t even make his 10 days after that. But, like all good Spurs fans, we believe. If Manu can truly be fully healed and if TD’s tendenosis is not a sign of irreversible aging, and if we add a piece or two and if Pop rethinks his whole “more offense” strategy, we just might still have some life left in these old bones. Hope springs eternal and all that crap.

  • Jordan

    While the season has been disappointing, I don’t think that we should consider this season a failure. Timmy showed that he has the ability to dominate even with a leg injury, Parker joins the more elite echelon of scorers, and Ginoboli will not be playing summer ball this offseason so he should be fully healthy.

    With this being a weak draft, it seems there is more possibility that a good player could slip through the cracks down to us. Let’s hope we get someone we can contribute solidly and doesn’t enter Pop’s doghouse.

    Above all though, Go Spurs!

  • Bryan

    Ugh.

    Like you, Graydon, my admiration and appreciation of Duncan only increased after is 4th quarter last night. He seemed like the only guy out there who didn’t want to go home. People always much such a big deal about Kobe’s competitive fire, but I think Duncan’s is just as strong. Just because he doesn’t scream at teammates and glare at them when they screw up doesn’t mean he isn’t as competitive. It’s just too bad the pieces around him this series didn’t really bring much to the table (other than the aforementioned Parker, Bowen, and Hill) .

  • Jesse Blanchard

    Ugh….Last night would have been much easier to take if the Mavs fans in the building weren’t such tools.

    Sadly, there was a whole row of Mavs fans directly behind me and I knew it was going to be a long night during warmups when they were playing find Ryan Hollins and were pointing out Matt Carroll. I had to point out that Hollins was, in fact, black and tall. And when they asked who the white guy was, they were amazed to discover that Carroll came over in the trade with Hollins for Diop. But no worries because Cuban will find a way to get Diop back for a little over $5 million this summer.

    And while some of our fans are a bit, well they’re tools too, you haven’t lived until you have heard “Knock him on his @$$” every time Parker drives.

    And I knew it was a Mark Cuban scripted bunch when they were yelling for offensive fouls everytime Duncan touched the ball despite the free throw difference at the moment. (They also believed Erick Dampier was a better decision than keeping Nash and had a handy set of stats showing Jason Kidd to be the second best player in the league)

    Other highlights included constant updates on the Bulls-Celtics games in which one kept boasting Garnett fouled out of the game, but Boston was still in it.

    Asking about the double bonus.

    And an honest conversation between two of them: “We can’t put Ryan Hollins on Tim Duncan (after they learned Hollins wasn’t the white guy), he’ll kill ‘em.” “Of course we can, Hollins isn’t ascared ah nobody. He can push Duncan out of the paint. Didn’t you see his dunk last game?” “Oh yeah, time to retire Timmy, you’re washed up”

    About the only thing they did get right was cheering for Matt Bonner to shoot (if you’re only job on the court is to shoot, and you’re horrible at everything else, what does it say about you that the opposing team’s fans are begging for you to shoot it every time?)

  • Carlos Romao

    Hello guys,
    I live in Brazil, and as such, follow Spurs games as much as I can , albeit from very far. I believe the Spurs demise this season is the result from three glaring mistakes commited by Pop the last couple of seasons: first mistake, the most horrendous one, was gift-wrapping Luis Scola do the Rockets after having just drafted him. Scola is the most consistent player and, more often than not, THE BEST PLAYER on the Rockets team! I do not believe the reason for that stupid trade was money alone. Pop must hav had second thoughts about having three argentineans disrupting the chemistry of the team (like “would they just start speaking in spanish and fixing plays among them ?” :) ). Keeping Scola would give a much better and trustfull sidekick to Timmy than Bonner (which all of us agreed was good until teams started watching films, i.e. around the second half of the season) and error-prone-Gooden (which, after bouncing from team to team, still believes he is much better than he really is). Second mistake, forcing Mason to play point guard , when he clearly was not suited for that position. Besides the fact that this move turned the offensive scheme of the second unit a complete chaos, had the side effect few mentioned of killing any offensive output from him (who, by the way, on the other hand, continued to be a complete liability on defense). At least, Hill’s confidence was not affected by this Mason PG experiment (maybe he knew what it would lead to). Third mistake, resting players TOO MUCH at certain moments of the regular season . That Denver game was a glaring example. The team had something like 5 days off after that game, was not well positioned in the playoff seeding, and still rested players when they clearly did not need so. They are payed millions TO PLAY. That decision was very arrogant and disrespectful to the fans in Denver (and , eventually, very costly). Resting Duncan, or even Duncan and Ginobili woud be one thing; resting four starters, for no aparent reason, is another. There where other games (Thunder, Bucks, Toronto, New York, to mention only losses to the lottery-bound-teams) that a little more effort and a little less resting could have brought a victory and, ultimately, a better seeding (for instance, 2nd seed against 7th seeded and equally depleted New Orleans Hornets would be a better draw than Dallas). Anyway, I do not blame Finley, Bowen and Thomas for the Spurs demise. I just do not think that, at this point in their career, they shoud be giving much needed stability to the second unit, playing no more than 20 minutes per game. Duncan continued to elevate his play in the playoffs, and Parker played spectacularly, and those were the only good sightings in a rather melancholic end-of-season. Let’s see what changes the FO bring for the 2009-2010 season.

    Above all, though, Go Spurs!

  • Kazar

    As a transplanted Spurs fan (now living in the NBA deprived Midwest) I don’t get to watch many Spurs games. But I could always count on them being televised nationally during the playoffs. I looked forward to the late nights staying up to watch the games. But now with the early exit I begin to see what every one is writing about today – the end of the Spurs dynasty. I personally don’t subscribe to this line of thought – not as long as TD and Parker are on the court. But it brings to light a fact we all begrudgingly admit – TD is going to retire at some point. What do we do then? You don’t easily replace the best power forward to ever play the game. My hope is that this early departure serves as a warning to Spurs leadership that a youth movement is needed. We need to find our next TD now so we can count on him when TD is truly gone.

  • http://resident-theology.blogspot.com/ Brad E.

    Agreed on the sadness of last night…but there was also so much promise. Parker has proven himself a go-to #1 guy. Duncan can still dominate. Hill truly has the seeds of a Bowen-like stopper combined with an athleticism to slash and dunk (let’s just work on that jump shot over the summer!). Mason will improve his defense. Pop is still there. Manu will heal.

    What to do with Gooden, Bonner, Finley, Bowen, Thomas, Oberto, et al? That’s the question.

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  • Andres

    Hello everyone!

    I thought that the “easiest” way to the western finals was throught Dallas but I was mistaken.

    Dallas played with great desire and were focused in defense. Good luck.

    For the Spurs, the rest “earned” from this early elimination will have results the next season, the big 3 will have some time to heal and improve their weakness (i.e. TP 3 pt shot, with that he would be lethal!!!).

    Go Spurs!!

  • NickyDubs

    Jesse B., my sympathy. Sounds like salt in the wound.

    Looking forward to next season. I’m eager to see what kind of changes we make, regardless of whether they are perceived as major or minor. I hope Hill plays a more prominent role in our team next season. In absolutely every single minute he has played, he’s certainly earned it, even with Pop publicly stating his lack of confidence in Hill. And Duncan – what a guy. A gentleman and a scholar. Indeed.

    Thanks Tim and Graydon. I’ll definitely keep checking this blog through the off-season, as I know you guys will have some gems of knowledge to disseminate.

    Spurs 4 Life dudes.

  • Big D in SD

    Carlos Ramao got it right.

  • alleghenybaby

    Love the Spurs. Sorry their season has ended, but the writing on this site is amazing. I’m actually becoming a REAL basketball fan. Love the Spurs, Steelers, and the University of Pittsburgh. Read your column everyday, Graydon.

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