As Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, and every other Maverick said heading into Game 6, it all starts with defense. Dallas was able to get the win last night for many reasons, and most of them had to do with what the Mavs were able to accomplish without the ball. Despite giving up 111 points in Fridays win, it was the Mavs’ defense in the middle of the fourth quarter that propelled the team to a 16-4 run, awarding Dallas a lead it never surrendered.
Nowitzki pointed out after Game 5 that much of his offensive success late in the loss came after Dallas was able to push the ball after a stop at the opposite end. The same held true for the Mavs in Game 6, only this time Monta Ellis was the beneficiary. He put together a masterpiece in the decisive final frame on Friday night, scoring 12 of the Mavs’ last 22 points of the game — eight of which followed a Spurs miss.
Let’s take a look at each possession and see how those points came to be.
A staple of the Dallas offense throughout Nowitzki’s entire career has been the pick-and-pop, a set during which Nowitzki sets a ball-screen and then fades backward or sideways before spotting up for a jumper. It’s a nearly impossible play to defend, regardless of the ball-handler, because Dirk is such a terrific spot-up shooter. Ellis only creates more problems in such sets, as his driving ability and pure speed give opponents one more element to consider when drawing up a defense. Dallas has run the set several times throughout the series, and it gave Ellis a wide-open look at a three-pointer in Game 6.
Manu Ginobili was so concerned with giving Nowitzki an open shot that he stuck with him until Tiago Splitter could recover, which left Monta all alone behind the arc. We’ve seen Ellis hit that shot many times this season, and he drilled this one as well to give Dallas a 94-92 lead.
But it didn’t stop there. As we all know, Ellis is perhaps the most dangerous player in the open floor in the game. With 3:28 left in Game 6, Tim Duncan missed a jump shot and the Mavs pushed off the miss. Devin Harris carried the ball up the floor before tossing it behind him to one of the fastest players in the game.
In a 3-on-3 situation with no San Antonio big man to protect the rim, Ellis will win this battle every time. Manu Ginobili tried drawing a charge, but was called for a blocking foul instead and Monta came away with an and-one. Had Ginobili committed to defending the drive earlier, Ellis could have swung the ball to Vince Carter in the corner for an open three-pointer. Dallas ran this specific fast break perfectly, and it resulted in three points. Watch the whole play below.
As big a threat as Ellis can be in the open floor, he’s just as lethal in halfcourt sets if he has the room to turn the corner off a screen and barrel into the lane. That was the case on the Mavs’ next possession after his and-one layup. Marion advanced the ball up the floor to Ellis, but the 2-guard held the ball and waited for a DeJuan Blair screen. Carter once again moved to the corner to spot up. But watch what his defender, Ginobili, is looking at as Ellis takes the Blair screen.
Unlike the fast break a few seconds prior, Ginobili above has his back turned to the ball carrier. He simply is not in position to help against a drive. So as Ellis turns the corner, all that stands between him and a layup is Tim Duncan — still an imposing defender at this stage in his career, but without any help from Ginobili even Duncan is at a disadvantage against Monta.
The result: Ellis flew through the air and delivered a floater that extended the Mavs lead to 102-94.
This is why the Spurs have focused so much on keeping Ellis out of the lane. Once he gathers a full head of steam, not many players in this league — even future Hall of Famers — can stop him.
So, to review, Ellis scored eight of his 12 points off of Dallas stops by:
1. Running a quick pick-and-pop with Nowitzki
2. Attacking the rim at full speed in the open floor
3. Waiting for a screen, then attacking before the defense can get set
The Mavs must take advantage of Spurs misses by attacking early in the shot clock before San Antonio’s defense has time to get set. If Dallas can do that in Game 7, and if Ellis can remain aggressive, the Mavs have a shot at pulling off the upset and advancing to the second round.
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