The Mavericks got an inspired defensive effort in Game 3, took the lead early and never looked back in taking a 2-1 series lead. Dallas got their running game going and overwhelmed the Spurs in the first half, causing Gregg Popovich to concede early and rest his stars for the pivotal Game 4.
• The Spurs were back on their heels right from the beginning of Game 3, and Dallas got most of its early lead from penetration in transition. The made shots and slow tempo in Game 2 turned into misses and fast breaks in Game 3.
• San Antonio is typically an excellent transition defensive team, but they allowed Josh Howard and Jose Juan Barea early drives into the middle, which opened everything up for the Mavericks' offense. With the crowd in a frenzy, the Spurs could never catch their breath.
• The Spurs' defensive emphasis in Game 4 will be to protect the paint in transition, with a special emphasis on defending the interference Dampier creates as he comes down the middle, allowing the guards to change sides of the floor and turn the corner.
• In Game 4, expect an earlier pickup of the ball to funnel the dribbler to one side, and better help on any drive attempts. The Spurs won't worry about 3-point shooters in the first quarter.
• If Dallas can run in Game 4, the Spurs are in trouble. It won't matter what they do in their half-court defense if they can't stop the break.
• Offensively, the Spurs must find more ways to get their 3-point shooters involved early on, as they relied almost solely on Tony Parker's penetration and Tim Duncan post-ups in the first quarter. After scoring 30 and 29 points in the first quarters of Games 1 and 2, San Antonio scored a series-low 16 points in the first quarter, followed by 14 in the second and 12 in the third.
• In Game 4, the Spurs must have a more diverse attack, with action for 3-point shooters Roger Mason and Michael Finley, who went 9-for-12 from the 3-point line in Game 1, 3-for-8 in Game 2 and only 1-for-4 in Game 3. They are becoming less involved as the series goes on.
• The Spurs have become dependent on Parker's dribble penetration in the half court. Early in Game 3, he seemed intent on taking on the entire Mavericks team, which played right into the hands of Dallas' containment defense.
• In Game 4, look for San Antonio to emphasize better ball movement, with Parker kicking to shooters earlier in his drives, and also playing off the ball so that he catches later in the shot clock and can attack the defense while they are in motion. This makes his defender chase him, keeps the defense from digging in and doesn't allow the help defenders to lay in wait.
• The Spurs are an excellent ball-reversal team, but that disappears when their offense becomes all Parker all the time.
• With Erick Dampier keeping Duncan in check in the post, also look for more of the ballscreen action in Game 4 between Duncan and Parker, which puts Dampier in motion and negates his size and strength. If Duncan does catch in the post, expect a quick face-up, jab or rip to the basket to put Dampier in motion.
• Also expect more flashes into the high post area or pinch post action so Duncan can face up with space.
• The Mavericks' primary objective in Game 3 was to stop Parker's dribble penetration, and an inspired effort from Jason Kidd gave Dallas the early lead. Kidd used his size to try to make Parker a jump-shooter and was able to contest him better at the rim in the game's first few possessions. Dallas then came with Barea, who is quicker and can harass Parker with more pesky pressure. This gave the Mavericks an effective one-two punch, and with the other Mavericks defenders much more active and involved, Dallas cut off the head of the Spurs' offense.
• With Dampier using his size effectively against Duncan in the post, the other Mavericks defenders could shade the Spurs' shooters. San Antonio's offense accumulated just 42 points in three quarters, after averaging 53 for the first half in the previous two games.
• The Spurs' 3-point shooters were rushed and hurried into 2-of-17 shooting in Game 3. If the Mavericks play with the same energy and effort, they feel they have found their plan to win Game 4. Don't expect many changes from Dallas on the defensive end.
• Offensively, Dallas was able to run more in Game 3, as they got consecutive stops on Parker, which led to multiple fast-break opportunities in the first quarter.
• If the Mavericks want to run and get that home crowd rocking with them, they must get stops first. That message will be hammered home before Game 4, as the Mavericks can bet on a film session contrasting their defensive efforts in Games 2 and 3.
• In the half court, Dirk Nowitzki was more active without the ball and attacked quickly when catching the pass, which negated the Spurs' efforts to crowd him and trap on his drives. When Dirk is aggressive and quick on the catch, he is almost impossible to guard. Expect more of the same aggressiveness in Game 4.
• The Mavericks also got great creation off the dribble from Barea, Howard and Jason Terry, which becomes even more effective when Nowitzki is on his offensive game. Look for continued attacking off the dribble from the Mavericks' perimeter players.
• Drew Gooden was 2-for-12 from the field in Game 3, after going 6-for-9 in Game 2. If Duncan continues to be ineffective, Gooden's offensive contribution could be a key for the Spurs, especially in a slower-paced game.
• Dallas is 48-for-56 (85.7 percent) from the free-throw line in this series. The Mavericks like their chances at the line in a close game.
Dallas followed their Game 1 win with a clunker of an effort in Game 2. With a chance to take a commanding lead in the series, expect them to play with the appropriate sense of defensive urgency to initiate their running game. San Antonio threw in the towel in Game 3, and has regrouped to circle the wagons for the most important game in the series. Without a big game from Duncan, they won't win.
Mavericks Win Game 4
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.