Shootaround: Vince CarterMavs G-F Vince Carter talks about the importance of setting a tone in Game 1 and says the team believes in themselves and is prepared to win.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the key matchups to watch for, let’s take a look at some of the key plays the Mavs and Spurs have found success with against each other this season.
The Spurs’ offense moves at a chaotic pace, but for as fast as the pieces move, everything San Antonio does on that end of the court is very controlled and disciplined. This makes for a very difficult defensive gameplan. However, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has four games of film this season to review to devise a scheme that can hopefully limit some of the things San Antonio does best, namely running a terrorizing transition offense and finding open corner jumpers.
THE SECONDARY BREAK
During their games earlier in the season, Dallas allowed too many layups on fast breaks. In the latter two matchups (especially in the April 10 game) the Mavericks made a concerted effort to limit easy attempts at the rim when San Antonio ran in transition. The plan worked, but it opened up another can of worms. The Spurs run a tremendous secondary break, which often results in quality looks from beyond the three-point line. (Click to enlarge each image.)
In this first example, Patty Mills received an advance pass from Kawhi Leonard in transition. It looks like he’ll be attacking the rim, but he instead pulled up and delivered a pass to the trailing Green, who found an open three-point look.
In this example, Mills and Tiago Splitter ran a quick pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor while Green trailed on the right side. Instead of attacking the rim, Mills again opted to dish a pass to the trailer. The result? An easy look and three points.
Why it’s difficult to defend: Mavericks defenders are concerned with the ball-handler, who is a much more apparent threat than any trailers. It’s easy to lose track of players who are 30 feet away when you’re trying to stop the ball 10 feet away.
How to stop it: Make shots. The Spurs capitalize on secondary breaks off missed Dallas shots, especially ones near the rim. Secondary breaks are set up by crisp outlet passes, but those aren’t always possible off a made basket. In this case, the best defense is a good offense.
THE CORNER JUMPER
The Spurs’ dizzying offense features a ton of cross-court passing, just as Dallas’s offense does. It’s easy to lose track of shooters who remain stagnant for more than one or two seconds, but when a defender pays attention to something else for just half a second, San Antonio is quick to take advantage.
You see a lot of this when watching the Spurs, and they do it better than just about any other team in the league. San Antonio led the league in three-point shooting this season for a reason. Tony Parker and Patty Mills are surrounded by players who can catch and shoot with the best of them. Corner three-pointers are the second most-efficient shot on the floor (behind a layup), so it’s vital for a defense to take away as many of those opportunities as possible.
Why it’s difficult to defend: The Spurs use a ton of misleading action in their offensive sets, so an extremely minor mistake can result in an open look.
How to stop it: Excellent rotation defense can limit corner opportunities, as can better on-ball defense against pick-and-rolls if Parker tries to knife his way in the lane. Anything that can slow down ball movement.
Although a majority of San Antonio’s offense consists of Tony Parker spreading the ball around the arc, Spurs big men still get plenty of looks. Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are two of the better back-to-the-basket players in the Western Conference, meaning Dallas’s post defense will need to be top-notch in order to win the series. More specifically, it means the Mavs will need to limit mismatches as much as possible. Shawn Marion is one of the best defenders in the league, but if he’s matched up against Splitter, the Spurs will have the advantage.
In the above play, Monta Ellis, in charge of defending Parker, is forced to abandon his man to double-team Splitter in the post. Splitter is also a very talented passer for a man his size, so he’s able to deliver a cross-court pass to Parker for a jumper from — you guessed it — the corner.
The best way to combat this type of offense, except of course from avoiding mismatches as much as possible, is to keep active hands in the passing lane. The Spurs run a very pass-happy offense, and there are plenty of opportunities to disrupt the passers if they make a mistake.
For example, Dallas enjoyed a nice run of success when playing in the 2-3 zone in the teams’ most recent game in April. It forced the Spurs into several offensive mistakes, and the Mavs were able to capitalize on the extra opportunities.
Ellis recognized that Manu Ginobili wanted to deliver a pass to Splitter. Ellis is one of the best players in the league at jumping the lane and deflecting or stealing a pass, and that’s what he did here.
If Splitter and Tim Duncan are going to post up and look to make passes out of double-teams, the Mavs will need to make sure their hands stay as active as possible. Again, against a team that often attempts several long, difficult passes per possession, taking a gamble to go after a pass or two could work out.
Why it’s difficult to defend: The Spurs create matchup problems with their big men, especially when Dallas goes small.
How to stop it: Keep active hands in the passing lane so the Spurs’ bigs have trouble passing out of potential double-teams. In fact, keep active hands in lanes all the time.
Of course, there are two ends to a court, and Dallas found some success on the offensive end against the Spurs. Here are some ways the Mavs can ring up some points against their in-state rivals.
ATTACK THE BASKET
It’s something only two players in the league did better than Monta Ellis this season. And as a team, the Mavs scored more points (12.5 per game) off Ellis drives than any other team/player combination in the NBA. When he gets to the rim, good things happen. Against a team as disciplined as San Antonio, the Mavs might have Ellis attack the rim from multiple different angles in order to generate as many different looks as possible. For example, Dallas found an easy look off of this Ellis drive on March 2.
Ellis drew in four Spurs defenders, and both Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are open. Ellis ended up taking the shot, and it was blocked, but Dallas got the rebound and Carter ended up getting the look he wanted.
The Spurs frequently play with two seven-footers, and oftentimes those big men will be under the rim at the end of an offensive possession. That means off of any long rebound, Dallas will have a small window of opportunity to run the floor with numbers. In this example, the Mavericks had a 5-on-4 advantage and found an open look for Vince Carter (on a secondary break of their own).
In this instance, Duncan was behind the play. Because Ellis had the ball, every Spurs defender was concerned he’d flip on the jets and attack the rim. Instead, he swung the ball cross-court to the trailing Vince. The Mavs will need to create easy points in games that are sure to be high-scoring, and this is one way to do it.
This is the staple of Dallas’s vaunted offense, and rightfully so. The Mavs run the pick-and-roll better than any other team in the league, mainly because they can run it with so many different combinations of players. Ellis, Carter, Jose Calderon, and Devin Harris are all very capable ball-handlers, and Dirk Nowitzki, Sam Dalembert, Brandan Wright, and DeJuan Blair are all beyond competent rollers. Earlier it was mentioned that Dallas is at a defensive disadvantage when going small, but the same holds true for San Antonio against the Mavs’ small lineup. When Splitter or Duncan are busy guarding Shawn Marion on the perimeter, it opens up all sorts of lanes toward the rim, and who better to take advantage of those opportunities than Brandan Wright?
Notice how Splitter’s body is facing Marion, who’s turned into a quality corner three-point shooter. Duncan, meanwhile, guarded the driving Vince Carter, leaving Wright all by his lonesome to finish at the rim.
These are just three or four very simple strategies each team attempts to execute throughout the course of the game, but get used to seeing these routine plays over and over again during the series, one that’s sure to be high-scoring and entertaining. Both teams are unbelievably efficient offensively, so needless to say it will be interesting to see how either team’s coach draws up a scheme to stop what the other does best.
Shootaround: Rick CarlisleMavs head coach Rick Carlisle says the team is doing well health-wise and is ready to go for Game 1 against the Spurs tomorrow afternoon.