Dallas Mavericks: NBA
If Devin Harris continues get the majority of playing time in this first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, that’s cool with Calderon.
“If I’m not good out there, I’m the first one to want to be on the bench because someone is doing better. With that, I’ve got no problem. We are 15 guys for a reason. Coach has got to decide. It is what it is, but we cannot be changing everything after one loss or one game.”
If the Mavs make a lineup change for Game 2, it will be a surprise. Dirk Nowitzki declared Monday that the Mavs would stick with Calderon as the starter, which coach Rick Carlisle confirmed the next day.
That makes sense given the chemistry of the Mavs’ bench, especially considering that Harris did the majority of his damage during his 19-point, five-assist performance when matched up with Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills.
Calderon had a horrible first quarter, when he was 0-of-4 from the floor as the Mavs fell behind by 12 points. He was much better to start the second half, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in a seven-minute stint in the third quarter.
“I liked the way he approached both situations,” Carlisle said. “It’s just the third quarter, the shots were going down. That’s the only difference.
“We need him to just be aggressive. For 80 or 82 games or whatever he played this year, he was a key guy for us. He was key for us because he was aggressive looking to score, he was a set-up man on offense and he was a guy who could scramble on defense. We need him to do those things.”
Is the 11-point, 4-of-14 performance in Game 1 by Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis more concerning?
Gutierrez: It has to be Ellis. Nowitzki has seen everything in terms of defensive schemes, especially from the Spurs. He got looks from his favorite spots. Sunday's opening tilt just provided a game where the ball didn't go in the basket. The Spurs attempted to make Ellis settle for the dreaded long two-point shots rather than getting to the rim. The Mavericks will have to continue to find ways to get him to the rim. A byproduct of him getting to the rim is manufacturing more trips to the free throw line. Dallas only had 13 more free throw attempts. Easy points come at a premium and Ellis can help in that department. If opportunities aren't created for that to happen, the concern will continue to grow.
Taylor: Ellis' poor game is definitely more disturbing because he has no real playoff track record. We know what Dirk can do and we've seen it 10,000 times. He's played in 129 playoff games and won an NBA Finals MVP; Ellis has played in 16 playoff games and only started 11. Ellis had a really nice regular season, but we all know playoff basketball is different. We can assume he'll bounce back and play well, but there's no guarantee.
MacMahon: Ellis has never had it all during the playoffs. It’s not much of a track record -- and most of it is from his second NBA season, when he was the fourth or fifth option on the “We Believe” Warriors -- but it’s butt ugly. His averages from 16 career playoff games: 9.8 points, 39.7 field goal percentage, 2.1 assists, 2.0 turnovers. Nowitzki, on the other hand, has a Finals MVP and is one of four players in NBA history with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. We know Dirk delivers during the playoffs much more often than not. Ellis has to prove he can perform in the postseason.
Should Rick Carlisle change the starting lineup for Game 2?
Devin Harris as the starting point guard for Jose Calderon. I don't think it is the wisest decision, though. There are no assurances that Harris would bring a better start to the games. What we do know is that he's a vital cog in the dynamic bench Dallas has. Even if he still is on the floor with some of them, moving him to the starting lineup disrupts the cohesion that has been established with the bench. The more reasonable option is shifting the workload of minutes in favor of Harris.
Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team won 49 games and pretty much achieved as much as it could with this roster of players who struggle to defend and rebound. Changing the lineup now would be a panic move. The Mavs have spent the season creating roles for players, so that guys are comfortable with what they're supposed to and when they should expect to get into the game. Changing the lineup for a streaky guy like Harris makes no sense. If he's hot, he'll play more. If not, he'll get his usual minutes.
MacMahon: I remember a couple of “panic moves” that worked out pretty well for the Mavs -- starting Harris for Game 2 against the Spurs in the 2006 West semis and starting J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals. I just don’t think the Mavs benefit from this potential lineup switch, because it’d break up the best thing they have going, which is the chemistry of the bench. Plus, Harris did the vast majority of his damage when matched up with backup point guard Patty Mills in Game 1. The Mavs want that matchup again.
Did the Mavs pick the right poison by deciding that defending the Spurs’ 3-point threats was a bigger priority than stopping Tim Duncan and Tony Parker?
Gutierrez: Nowitzki is one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. In his spare time, he also doubles as a mathematician. He stated that they got killed on 3-point shots in the regular season against the Spurs, so the better prospect was to give up twos instead of threes by switching on most of the screens. It's likely that the Mavericks will continue to sacrifice twos for threes, maybe just with tweaks along the way. There's danger looming with Kawhi Leonard being another big benefactor of the switching. There were multiple times where he had a smaller guard switched onto him. An adjustment the Spurs can make is taking advantage of those mismatches. While it just presents another problem, Dallas will trade twos for threes every day.
Taylor: Absolutely. They held the Spurs to 90 points and stopped the crowd from getting really engaged by making the Spurs' litany of catch-and-shoot players essentially non-factors. You can't stop everything. Let Duncan get his and contain everyone else is a sound strategy. The problem wasn't on the defensive end, it was Nowitzki and Ellis making only 8 of 28 shots.
MacMahon: The Spurs averaged 112.5 points in their four regular-season meetings against the Mavs. They scored 90 Sunday. I’d say Dallas’ defensive strategy was pretty darn smart. San Antonio torched the Mavs from the perimeter during the regular season, going 42-of-97 from 3-point range. The Spurs were 3-of-17 from long distance in Game 1. Great adjustment by Carlisle. The concern now: Will the Spurs exploit the mismatch of Leonard posting up Ellis, assuming Shawn Marion opens up on Parker again?
"Right now, I'm on a team with him, so I can't go back to guarding him," Marion said after Tuesday's practice at the American Airlines Center before the Mavs returned to San Antonio for Game 2 with the Spurs. "It's like basically irrelevant now."
Here's why it's at least somewhat relevant right now: Nowitzki was coming off a horrendous performance in the previous game, scoring only 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting in a series-tying loss. His 50-point explosion a couple of nights later is an extreme example of Nowitzki's tendency to have big bounce-back games after off nights in the playoffs.
Sunday's Game 1 loss to the Spurs marked the ninth time out of Nowitzki's 129 career playoff games that he scored fewer than 15 points and shot worse than 30 percent from the field. One of those was when the Golden State Warriors eliminated the top-seeded Mavs in Game 6 of the 2007 first round.
After the other seven Dirk duds, he delivered an average of 27.1 points on 48.8 percent shooting in the next game of the series. That's the kind of performance the Mavs need from the 2011 Finals MVP to steal Game 2 on the Spurs' home floor and even this first-round series.
Some of Nowitzki's most memorable playoff performances have come immediately after poor outings. A few examples: a 33-point, 10-rebound night against the Utah Jazz in the first playoff win of his career; a 31-point, 11-rebound gem in Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2003; and his 50/12 against Phoenix in 2006.
Dallas got away with using undersized shooting guard Monta Ellis to defend muscular small forward Kawhi Leonard for long stretches.
That apparently won’t happen again.
“Because of the way they play defense, Kawhi has got one of the best matchups,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker told reporters. “If they’re going to keep Monta on him and have Shawn Marion on me, we should take advantage.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Leonard, who is four inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Ellis, had only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 1.
Leonard averaged 12.8 points on 52.2 percent shooting this season. He’s a phenomenal finisher and the second-most efficient post-up scorer in the league according to Synergy Sports data, averaging 1.16 points per possession. Yet Leonard only attempted five shots in the paint Sunday despite the mismatch with Ellis.
All signs point to small forward Shawn Marion, the Mavs’ 35-year-old defensive Swiss Army Knife, opening Game 2 on Parker again. Backup point guard Devin Harris, who will probably play significantly more minutes than starter Jose Calderon in this series, will get plenty of time on Parker.
Marion has guarded everyone from point guards to power forwards for years, but he admits to a certain level of uncomfortableness chasing around the Spurs’ blur, but it’s a challenge the man known as “Matrix” embraces for the good of the Mavs.
For Harris, this feels like the good ol’ days during his first stint with Dallas.
“It’s fun,” said Harris, who played a key role as a second-year guard when the Mavs beat the Spurs in seven games during the 2006 West semifinals. “When I was here before, he was happy to see me go. I’m looking forward to matching up with him again.
“He got the better of us in Game 1. We have to try to return the favor.”
For example, it’s hard for me to look at the San Antonio Spurs' recent dominance of their old Interstate 35 rivals and envision anything other than the West’s top seed advancing to the second round. With the Spurs winning 10 straight over the Mavs, it’s tough to forecast Dallas winning four of the next six games.
It’s not my job to pump sunshine when black-and-silver clouds fill the sky. But I am here to serve the fans, and I must commend some of you MFFLs on your blind faith and enthusiasm.
Case in point: The first question of this week’s playoff-edition mailbag.
Jake, I must admit that I hadn’t given this subject a second of thought before reading your question. The easy answer is the Mavs would be absolutely ecstatic to have the chance to play either one of them.
The Mavs actually fared pretty well against both Portland and Houston this season. They went 2-1 against the Trail Blazers, winning in Portland on Monta Ellis' buzzer-beater and in Dallas despite blowing a 30-point lead. They split four games against the Rockets, including a classic Mavs comeback win at home.
I’d say flip a coin. Both potential opponents present major defensive challenges for the Mavs, featuring two stars (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard for the Blazers and James Harden and Dwight Howard for the Rockets) with talented supporting casts.
But if you pin me down and make me pick one, I’d take Houston. They don’t have an answer for defending Dirk, who averaged 31.5 points in the four games against the Rockets this season.
There’s no doubt that the fight against Father Time is especially tough late in tight games, especially if the 35-year-old star’s minutes were extended that night.
According to NBA.com’s clutch stats (score within five points in the final five minutes), Nowitzki is averaging a still extremely respectable 37.2 points per 48 minutes in those situations, plus 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. However, his percentages plummet: 39.2 from the floor, 20.7 from 3-point range. Yet his plus-minus (plus-25.6 per 48 minutes) is phenomenal, a testament to Dirk’s value as a decoy and Ellis’ ability to take advantage.
By comparison, Nowitzki averaged 41.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per 48 clutch minutes in 2010-11, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor but only 12.5 percent from 3-point range. His per-48 plus-minus was 38.3.
During the 2011 playoffs, when Nowitzki went on one of the great closing runs in NBA history to key the Mavs’ title run, those numbers were absolutely ridiculous. In 49 clutch minutes that postseason, Nowitzki put up 66 points, 11 rebounds and three assists while shooting 53.6 from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range. The Mavs outscored their opponents by 73 points in those 49 minutes. SEVENTY-THREE POINTS!!!
Nowitzki’s OT numbers this season are actually pretty darn good: 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-7 from 3-point range), six rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
Do you think that our flaws exposed by playing the Spurs will affect what kind of player we target in free agency? For example, going after a more athletic/offensive center versus a SF. – Micah (Stephenville, Texas)
No, because it’s not like the Spurs will expose flaws the Mavs didn’t know about. They’ll be in the market for an all-around small forward and an upgrade at starting center regardless of what happens in this series. It’d be nice to get a center with scoring ability, but the Mavs’ priority this summer will be drastically improving the defense.
This is an elite offensive team and a below-average defensive team. The result is a 49-win season and an extreme long shot to win a playoff series in the West.
Given the circumstances, why shouldn’t Rick Carlisle give history a chance to repeat itself?
You won’t get Carlisle to say much on the subject -- much less confirm that he’s sticking with Jose Calderon as the starter, although Dirk Nowitzki did it for the Mavs' coach -- but his reasoning might be that he doesn’t want to mess with one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Sure, Dallas’ normal starting lineup has been a disaster against the Spurs, getting outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes this season. Calderon’s inability to defend Parker, prompting Carlisle to put 35-year-old small forward Shawn Marion on the Spurs’ All-Star point guard to start the series, is a big part of the problem. If Calderon isn’t an impact offensive player, it’s a pretty safe bet that Carlisle will have a quick hook for him again.
But the Mavs still had a golden opportunity to win Game 1, primarily because a bench led by Harris (19 points, five assists) played so well. Is it worth potentially killing the chemistry of the Mavs’ second unit to get Harris in the starting lineup?
“It’s been one of our strengths, so there’s a lot of value in it,” Carlisle said of the Mavs’ bench. “[Harris has] been one of the keys to our team since he came back. NBA games are long. There is a lot going on out there.”
“We're due for one,” Devin Harris said after the Mavericks’ Game 1 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Delusional? Maybe. But it’s definitely the right mindset for the Mavs to have.
The Mavs know better than anyone just how hard it is to beat the Spurs. They understand the need to execute almost perfectly and play as hard as possible just to have a chance to pull out a win over the Western Conference’s top seed.
The Mavs put themselves in position to end their drought against the Spurs and strike the first blow in the series Sunday afternoon, only to crumble in crunch time. They acknowledge that they let a great opportunity slip away, but choose to view the outing as one that confirms their confidence that they can compete with a foe that has dominated Dallas the last couple of seasons.
However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.
The Mavs face a major mismatch at point guard because of Calderon’s defensive limitations, and he struggled offensively in Game 1, scoring seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in 16 minutes. Small forward Shawn Marion opened the game defending All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who had nine points in the first quarter as the Spurs raced out to a 21-9 lead.
On the other hand, Harris had the hot hand, leading the Mavs with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting and five assists in 32 minutes off the bench.
That might sound crazy to say about an NBA legend who ranks sixth on the league's all-time postseason scoring list, but it's based in sound logic.
The Mavs picked their poison in Game 1 of this playoff series, making their defensive priority denying the Spurs open looks on the 3-point line. Duncan made them pay, scoring a game-high 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
"Their game plan was to get up in our shooters and make us do something else, so my role was a little bit bigger tonight," said Duncan, who averaged 18.5 points on 48.9 percent shooting against Dallas during the regular season. "I got some great passes from my guards, some great dump-offs. My job was just to finish the plays."
Credit Mavs coach Rick Carlisle for coming up with a defensive game plan that worked.
No, it wasn't good enough to get the win. But place the blame for the Mavs' 90-85 loss Sunday on the fact that an elite offensive team was held scoreless for a stretch of almost six minutes in the fourth quarter.
This was by far Dallas' best defensive performance against San Antonio this season. With the Spurs going only 3-of-17 from 3-point range, they scored 15.4 points fewer than their regular-season average -- and 22.3 under their norm against the Mavs.
Danny Green, who was 12-of-20 from 3-point range against the Mavs this season, was shut down in the series opener. He was scoreless and managed to attempt only one 3-pointer.
Patty Mills, fresh off swishing six 3s in a 26-point performance during the Spurs' April 10 win in Dallas, was also a nonfactor in Game 1. He was held to two points and was 0-of-3 from long range.
"We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so it was no secret," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We stayed a little more at home on the 3-point shooters. I mean, you've got to give them something. Duncan in there is obviously still solid. He can go over both shoulders, has a little face-up and is very good on the block, but I guess two points is better than three."
That logic still makes sense despite Duncan's dominant performance.
"Closing games is more about getting stops than shot-making," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after Sunday's 90-85 loss. "If you build a lead, you've got to close it with defense."
They had to close it with defense, but their best defensive options, Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert, didn't log a single second of playing time in the fourth quarter.
Marion declined to comment on sitting out the entire fourth quarter, but Dalembert voiced his opinion about the situation.
"It is very frustrating," Dalembert said. "We'll just learn from it. We have to learn quickly."
The Mavs had good looks to finish out the game. The execution was solid, but they didn't get the desired result. Hindsight is clearly 20-20, and Carlisle made his choice to go with offense over defense.
"That's a judgment call," Carlisle said. "And at that point, we had a good rhythm going offensively. Then we just got in a situation where we needed to score, so I elected to stay with that group.
"And I'll look at that. That may be something I've got to reevaluate for Game 2."
Ultimately, Carlisle played only six players in the fourth quarter. He went without those two defensive starters as well as Jose Calderon. The point guard might have helped with a timely bucket, but the bigger issue was clearly on the other end of the floor.
When Tim Duncan was defended by Dirk Nowitzki, Brandan Wright or DeJuan Blair, Duncan went 9-of-11 from the floor. When he was defended by Dalembert or Marion, Duncan went 2-of-6 from the floor. Nowitzki guarded six of Duncan’s shots, giving up five made field goals. Dalembert guarded five of Duncan’s shots, giving up only two made field goals.
Duncan went 4-of-5 from the field in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of San Antonio’s 25 points in the fourth quarter.
Shot-making comes and goes, so having defensive options on the court might be able to help stem the tide.
If Carlisle really believes he has to help his guys finish better, Marion and/or Dalembert have to be options down the stretch.
But at least Dallas proved it can play against the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise that has dominated its Interstate 35 rival for the last few years. The Mavs managed to build a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining, a minor miracle considering that Dallas led during their four regular-season meetings against the Spurs for a grand total of 10 minutes, 45 seconds.
The Mavs’ success for the first 40-plus minutes Sunday at the AT&T Center doesn’t make their 90-85 loss any easier to swallow, however. If anything, it makes their 10th straight loss to the Spurs feel even more like a kick to the stomach.
“I’m always frustrated after a loss,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who fell far short of his lofty postseason standards with an 11-point, 4-of-14 outing. “Maybe I’ll see the positive tomorrow, but as of today, we had our chance.”
The Mavs couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to end their losing streak to the Spurs and start this series against the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs.
This game was there for the Mavs to take, especially after backup center Brandan Wright’s and-1 layup with 7:45 to go gave Dallas a double-digit lead. Then the Mavs melted down. Or the Spurs flipped the switch, depending on your perspective.
"Harris played terrific," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss.
After starting 1-of-5 from the field, Harris hit seven of his next 11 shots and exploded for a team-high 19 points. His effort alone nearly led to the Mavericks being able to pull off the improbable Game 1 upset over the Spurs.
The Mavericks needed Harris in a big way as Jose Calderon was struggling to start the game. Early on, Calderon showed signs that he might be ineffective in a series against the Spurs as he started 0-of-4 from the field and was subsequently pulled from the game by Carlisle in favor of Harris. The backup guard led the bench as they had a 46-23 bench scoring advantage against the Spurs. With the starters having a lull to start the game, Harris and the bench stepped up.
"Our bench has been big all year long," Harris said. "It's an important part of our team and what makes it so dynamic, so I think we're a big part of this series."
After getting out of the blocks slow, Harris was able to turn things around and delivered the full offensive repertoire against the Spurs. A majority of his efficiency came due to being able to get a quick first step along the perimeter.
How it happened: The Mavs became a mess after building a double-digit lead.
After Brandan Wright’s and-1 free throw put the Mavs up 10 points with 7:45 remaining, the Spurs locked down defensively, holding Dallas scoreless for the next five minutes, 40 seconds. San Antonio seized the lead for good by scoring 15 points during that span, including seven by future Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan.
Dallas didn’t score again from the floor after Wright’s bucket until Devin Harris’ meaningless layup with one-tenth of a second on the clock.
It was a sensational outing for Duncan, other than a scare when he banged knees with Mavs guard Monta Ellis during the third quarter, sidelining him briefly. Duncan scored a game-high 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ future Hall of Fame power forward, couldn’t come close to matching his longtime foe. Nowitzki never got in a groove, scoring only 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
After a slow start, the Mavs got a big boost from their bench, which scored 46 points. Harris had 13 of his team-high 19 points in the first half.
However, the Spurs got big games from the foundation of their last few championship teams. Tony Parker (21 points, six assists) and Manu Ginobili (17 points) served as sensational complements to Duncan.
What it means: The Spurs took a 1-0 series lead, extending their overall winning streak against the Mavs to 10 games. Dallas still hasn’t won a playoff game since clinching the 2011 championship in Miami.
Play of the game: After Nowitzki missed a wide-open layup, Duncan grabbed the rebound and threw an outlet pass to Parker to spark a one-man fast break. Parker spun past Harris in the lane and finished with a right-handed layup to give the Spurs the lead with 3:25 to go.
Stat of the day: Ellis’ plus-minus was minus-23 in 36 minutes.
Cuban infamously referred to one of San Antonio’s most popular tourist destinations as the “ugly-ass, muddy-watered thing they call a River Walk” during the epic 2006 Western Conference semifinals between the Mavs and Spurs. He’s taken several verbal jabs at San Antonio and the River Walk in the years since then.
But Cuban was lobbing verbal bouquets before Game 1 at the AT&T Center.
“I couldn’t ask for a better view out of my hotel room,” Cuban said, smirking.
Did the water look clean?
“I’m assuming it was pristine,” Cuban said. “It was dark, so it was hard to say, but I saw people with straws.”
Cuban has admittedly enjoyed riling up San Antonio citizens over the years. Asked why he was being so politically correct, Cuban cracked, “Because I’ve come to realize that [the media] gets the greatest benefit out of it.”
Let the games begin.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.