At the end of a game in which they trailed by as many as 20 points and shot below 39 percent as a team, the Mavericks were still in position to tie the game with three seconds left on the clock. There’s no such thing as a moral victory in the playoffs, but the Mavs outscored the Spurs by 10 in the second half and nearly stole a game that seemed to be under San Antonio’s control for most of the contest.
As has been the case throughout the entire series, a reserve played a key role in jump-starting a second-half run. In Game 4, DeJuan Blair’s hustle gave the Mavs the energy boost they sorely needed. In just over 13 minutes in the second half, Blair hit all five of his field goal attempts and grabbed nine rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. Dallas scored eight second chance points in the second half, and Blair had plenty to do with it. He also swiped two steals, upping his series total to six.
Unfortunately, he faced an early exit from the game as he was ejected with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs up by one point. Still, he was +6 in the second half and, if nothing else, brought Dallas out of a 20-point hole with the effort and emotion we’ve come to expect from the center.
“He did a great job,” Monta Ellis said of Blair’s play. “He came in and gave us energy and tough defense. He got rebounds and a lot of put-backs. He was a big part of us making that run to get back into the game.”
Added Dirk Nowitzki: “He was fantastic. I thought his energy was great. He was into it.”
Blair has played just 37 minutes thus far in the series — primarily finding minutes in Games 2 and 4 — but he’s made that precious playing time count. The Mavs’ numbers are better across the board when Blair takes the floor, and he has a hand in most of it. When he’s on his game, flying around the floor and creating second chances, he’s dominated the series and the Mavericks are reaping the benefits.
|Blair Off||Blair On|
|Mavs points/100 possessions||103.1||124.4*|
|Mavs pts allowed/100 possessions||103.9||99.7|
|Mavs net rating/100 possessions||-.8||24.8*|
|Mavs offensive rebound %||26.4||35.7*|
|* denotes team-high in respective category|
So what must Blair do to find more playing time? The center, though he stands at just 6′ 7″, showed in Game 4 that he has the strength to defend Spurs big men. In fact, Tim Duncan has hit just 40 percent of his shots in the series when Blair has been on the floor versus 57.8 percent when he rests. If Blair can stay active on both ends, he shouldn’t have a problem finding playing time throughout the rest of the series.
There was plenty else to watch in Game 4, of course. Here’s a brief rundown of the Mavs’ offensive and defensive performance in yet another close contest.
The Mavericks have done well to limit Tony Parker and Tim Duncan throughout the series, especially in Games 2-4. It’s the third member of the Spurs’ longtime “big 3,” Manu Ginobili, who’s had the biggest impact in this series. The Mavs have had difficulty guarding him in the pick-and-roll — that is, until the second half of Game 4. A pretty simple adjustment made it all possible.
The left-handed Ginobili relies almost exclusively on his strong hand as he attacks the basket. He might begin a drive by moving to his right, but he will usually crossover back to his left before taking the shot. It might look like he had another big game last night — 23 points and five assists on 50 percent shooting — but Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder were able to hold Ginobili to just eight points, one assist, and one turnover in 14-plus second-half minutes. The secret? They made him go right.
Marion has spent most of his time and energy checking Spurs’ point guard Tony Parker, but due to both Marion’s defense and Ginobili’s stellar play, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has run most of the offense through Ginobili in second halves. Last night, Marion switched over to guarding Ginobili instead of Parker, and the results paid off. Below is an example of Crowder forcing Ginobili to his right in the pick-and-roll.
As Tim Duncan approached Crowder, the Mavs’ wing chose not to accept the screen and instead literally act as a wall, essentially blocking off Ginobili’s strong hand and in effect isolating Blair against the Spurs’ veteran guard. But, in what was nearly identical to a sequence we saw in Game 2, Blair was able to strip Ginobili as he came off the screen and it resulted in a Spurs turnover. Ginobili might end up in the Hall of Fame some day, but no player is perfect. Manu struggles going to his right, and the Mavs took advantage.
Marion covered Ginobili the exact same way Crowder did in the second half. For example, here’s another example of a Mavs wing teaming up with Blair to force him right.
Dallas was even more successful this time around, as Ginobili was blocked off entirely from the basket with just nine seconds left on the shot clock. In a hurry, he fired a cross-court pass to Kawhi Leonard, who immediately caught and drove to the rim, drawing a foul in the process. The Mavs could even take their aggressive defense a little further in the future by having Monta Ellis worry only about his man, Leonard, and completely ignore Tim Duncan as he rolls to the rim. If Ellis had taken a risk by playing the passing lane more aggressively, the possession might have ended in a fast break for Dallas.
The coverage scheme only appeared for one half, and Dallas still lost the game, but it will be interesting to see if Carlisle elects to continue defending Ginobili’s left hand the same way moving forward. It greatly limited the Argentine’s scoring output in the second half and forced the Spurs into some difficult late-clock situations, so it might be worth a shot. However, it could also mean moving Marion off of Tony Parker for longer stretches of the game, meaning Parker could see some extra chances on the ball. The Spurs are the No. 1 seed for a reason: They have plenty of weapons. Stopping them isn’t easy, but Dallas has been able to do so for prolonged stretches in every game thus far.
DeJuan Blair wasn’t the only player to bring some energy to the floor. The Spurs played with desperation in the first half, and that extra fire played no small role in building their 14-point halftime lead. San Antonio held Dallas to just 29.3 percent shooting in the first half before the Mavs bounced back to shoot at a 46.5 percent clip in the second act. The key behind the second-half push — for the umpteenth time this season — was the team’s insistence on getting shots at the rim.
The Mavs attempted just five shots at the rim in the first half, hitting only two of them. All in all, Dallas took just one less three-pointer (13) than shots in the paint (14) before the break. In the second half that trend reversed, as the Mavs took 18 shots in the paint compared to just 11 beyond the arc.
And for the second consecutive game, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle drew up a play to get Monta Ellis running toward the rim in the final seconds. In Game 3, Ellis was able to convert a tough runner over Tim Duncan, but Monday night Monta’s attempt against Duncan rimmed out. Following the game, all Carlisle said about the play was that the Mavs don’t want to find themselves in last-second situations, especially during games in which they fall behind so early. However, it’s safe to bet Carlisle’s squad was thrilled with the chance Ellis had to tie the score at 91. The Spurs know by now that Ellis is perhaps the most lethal driver in the game, and Popovich’s team has geared its defense accordingly, but Ellis was still able to beat them for six shots in the paint in the second half alone.
Many times this season, it appeared as if Dallas might have been forcing the three-point shot even when it wasn’t falling, but that wasn’t the case in Game 4. The Spurs led the league in fewest three-point attempts allowed per game, but Dallas managed to shoot 24 three-pointers Monday night and many of them were extremely good looks. If the Mavs can cobble together during Game 5 the same types of looks they found in Game 4, it will likely mean good things for the boys in blue.
The team executed Carlisle’s gameplan yet again in Game 4, especially in the second half, and Dallas was once again in position to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds. Considering the Mavs are the underdogs in this series, that isn’t such a bad scenario to be in moving forward.
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