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Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Does Ellis on Leonard have a side effect?

By Tim MacMahon

DALLAS -- As smart as three-time Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich is, it’s stunning that the San Antonio Spurs didn’t exploit their biggest mismatch against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1.

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.

“Hey, Leonard’s a terrific player,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s one of the guys on their roster that’s taken quantum leaps the last two years. We know that he’s a major threat. Whoever guards him is going to have their hands full.”

Perhaps that mismatch, caused by Dallas deciding to use small forward Marion on Parker, proved problematic to the Mavs despite Leonard’s subpar offensive outing.

Can Ellis still carry a heavy scoring load for the Mavs while fighting a guy a few weight classes above him on the other end of the floor?

Ellis was pretty much all the Mavs had going offensively in the first quarter of Game 1, when his six points on 3-of-4 shooting represented half of Dallas’ scoring total after a dozen minutes. But he only knocked down one of his 10 shots from the floor the rest of the game, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

Ellis, who easily led the Mavs in minutes this season, hasn’t made himself available to the media since the playoffs started and wouldn’t admit feeling fatigue anyway. But it’d be foolish to ignore the impact Ellis’ defensive assignment might have on the Mavs’ second-leading scorer.

“It’s tough. It’s a challenge,” Marion said. “When you guard a bigger guy, the thing is it’s not so much that you can’t guard them, but sometimes they just wear on you. Through the course of the game, they can wear on you, make your legs heavier. Your shots become heavier, everything becomes heavier.”

Just imagine the weight on Ellis if the Spurs decide to pound the rock into Leonard on the block.