Commentary

It's now or never for Mavs' defense

With backs to wall, players need to show the effort Carlisle has been demanding

Updated: May 2, 2014, 9:31 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

Manu GinobiliSoobum Im/USA TODAY SportsDallas has held Manu Ginobili and the Spurs slightly below their regular-season clip from long range.

DALLAS -- No one expects the Dallas Mavericks to be a good defensive team. No team that starts Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis relies on its defensive prowess.

But the Mavs can play much better defense than we've seen in the past three games against the San Antonio Spurs. Don't scoff -- we saw them do it in the first two games of this Western Conference quarterfinal series.

To do so, the Mavs need to play with more tenacity. And more effort. And more desperation.

[+] EnlargeTim Duncan
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTim Duncan and the Spurs' front line have benefited from the Mavericks' focus on defending the perimeter.

If the Mavs want to force Game 7 with a victory Friday night at home, they must have these things. Coach Rick Carlisle says he believes they will, even though he has been talking about it nonstop for the past three games and his team has yet to respond.

"There are just things we're going to have to do better in Game 6 that are all about guts and digging down," Carlisle said. "We can do it, and we will do it.

"I know things about our guys. I have a great belief in them.

"They've really been battling three months just to make the playoffs. We've been in more big, meaningful games with true playoff ramifications than just about any other team except Phoenix and Memphis.

"We've been down this road. We've had a lot of difficult losses and we always find a way to bounce back, and that's what we're going to do in Game 6."

While Calderon, Nowitzki and Ellis aren't good individual defenders, the Mavericks are capable of playing good team defense when they adhere to the principles Carlisle and defensive coordinator Monte Mathis have put in place.

San Antonio finished with the NBA's best record because it takes a simple approach offensively.

Tim Duncan scores in the post and Tony Parker consistently maneuvers into the lane, where he can hit an array of floaters and driving layups. And if you choose to double-team Duncan, he's good at moving the ball to catch-and-shoot specialists such as Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.

Manu Ginobili is also adept at driving -- when he's not hanging around the 3-point line, where he excels at hitting the long-range shot.

Among the reasons the Spurs swept the Mavs in the regular season is that they hit 42 3-pointers in four games against Dallas -- including a combined 26 in the final two regular-season meetings.

Wow.

Now you know why the Spurs are dominating inside in this series. The Mavs don't want to give up uncontested 3-pointers, even if it means Duncan and Tiago Splitter score rather easily inside because they're getting one-on-one matchups.

You can't stop everything, and giving up two points is better than giving up three. San Antonio has made 32 of 88 3-pointers in the series.

When the Mavs' rotations are crisp and they pay attention to detail, their defense is good enough to ignite their offense, which is what this is really all about. The Mavs have to play good enough defense to get into transition and attack San Antonio's defense before it can set up.

Any coach will tell you that so much of defense is about effort. By way of illustration, Carlisle pointed out that, in the team-specific stats the Mavs keep, defensive deflections have been subpar the past three games.

And as Nowitzki said, forcing only six turnovers against the Spurs in Game 5 is a joke. The Mavs simply aren't going to beat this team too many times when giving up 109 points.

In the past three games, the Spurs have had five 30-point quarters. They had none in the first two games.

"They really want us to have two or three guys in the paint," Nowitzki said. "That's how they killed us in the regular season, when we gave up 15, 16, 17 3s. It's no secret, obviously, we're trying to stay home more. They've figured it out the last couple games, and we'll see what happens in Game 6.

"We'll watch the film, and if we need to adjust, we'll adjust. But we have to have more energy about our defense. We have to be the more desperate team if we want to win."

Carlisle has been saying that for three games. It's time for the players to respond.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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