Practice Report: Dirk Nowitzki
Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on the positives the team took away from Game 1 and the adjustments needed going forward for Game 2.
The Mavericks very nearly pulled off the upset in Game 1, relying on quality team defense and a healthy dose of bench scoring. The four Mavs reserves who played more than 10 minutes each finished with a positive plus-minus, as has been the case for most of the season. It was the Dallas second unit that strung together a run of buckets and stops to extend the team’s lead to 10 midway through the fourth quarter of Game 1, but ultimately the Mavs came up just short at the end and couldn’t grab the win.
It seems like every time the five-man grouping of Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright share the floor, good things happen. That was certainly the case in Game 1, as the second unit jump-started a 16-6 Mavs run to begin the fourth quarter, extending the Dallas lead to as many as 10 points. Although the Spurs ultimately completed a comeback, stealing Game 1, there are plenty of things from the loss the Mavs can carry with them into Game 2.
As you read in Mavs.com’s playoff preview, one of the keys to beating the disciplined Spurs is by forcing them into mistakes. That’s exactly what the second unit did toward the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Mavs recorded three steals and one block in the first 4:03 of the final frame. Dallas was then able to convert those turnovers into points by attacking the basket on the opposite end using their patented pick-and-roll. In order to beat a team like San Antonio, you have to do the little things. During the Spurs’ first possession of the quarter, Wright deflected a Manu Ginobili lob pass to Tiago Splitter.
The lengthy Wright was able to jump into the passing lane and disrupt a San Antonio pick-and-roll. Would he have opted instead to try defending Ginobili straight up, Splitter might have ended the possession with a layup or dunk. Instead, it turned into two Mavs points the other way.
Not long afterward, Wright again used his length and quick hands to disrupt Ginobili as he attacked the basket. Ginobili is left-handed and almost always finishes to that side. Knowing this, as Ginobili neared the rim, he crossed over from Wright to left. As it happened, Wright got a piece of the ball and kick-started a Dallas fast break, ending with two points for Vince Carter.
That leads to the key adjustment to watch for in Game 2. The Mavs’ second unit was able to get to the rim mostly at will when it took the floor in the final frame. Dallas used a bevvy of pick-and-rolls to send both Dirk and Wright downhill toward the rim, and the Mavs reaped the benefits.
In the above set, Nowitzki and Wright set a double-screen for Harris. Typically, Nowitzki will pop to the three-point line while Wright rolls, but in this particular set Nowitzki moved toward the rim, Harris found him with a bounce pass, and That Dude laid it in for two.
Not long after, the Mavs ran a similar set on the opposite side of the floor, this time sending Wright to the rim. Again, it turned into an easy two points, and Wright even drew a foul.
The second unit was able to execute those sets and find the rim, but the starting unit could not consistently find the same opportunities, as the Spurs zeroed in on keeping Monta Ellis out of the lane. Expect Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle to find ways to get Ellis and Harris inside the lane more, so they can either create for others or finish themselves. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are two very good, long perimeter defenders, so getting in the paint is not as easy as just turning on the jets and taking off toward the rim. A good place to start, as Dallas showed in the first quarter, is by setting off-ball screens for Ellis so he can turn downhill unguarded.
During this play, Ellis came around the baseline before running off a Dirk screen at the elbow. As that screen took place, ultimately removing San Antonio’s Leonard from the equation, Jose Calderon delivered the pass to Ellis. At that point, Tiago Splitter must decide whether he should abandon his man, Nowitzki, in favor of attempting to stop the speedy Ellis. By the time he can make up his mind, however, the Mavs’ No. 11 is already laying it up and in. Ellis is one of the game’s best drivers, but Leonard is such a terrific defender that he can stay in front of Monta unless Dallas finds creative ways to get him moving. Any off-ball screen involving Nowitzki and Ellis has usually ended well for the Mavericks this season, as both players cause such mismatch problems that defending the action is just a nightmare for opponents. Don’t be surprised if we see more plays like this on Wednesday night.
We’ve talked enough about offense. Now it’s time to turn toward the defensive end where, overall, the Mavs did a great job keeping the Spurs off the three-point line. Dallas held three-point shooting leader San Antonio to just 3-of-17 beyond the arc in Game 1, and many of the looks were contested or forced. However, Parker was able to slice and dice his way into the lane throughout the first half, and the Spurs’ pick-and-roll keyed the comeback charge late in the game.
When Dallas defenders were able to keep Parker out of the paint, San Antonio’s point guard was not nearly as successful from the field. Parker was 8-of-11 from inside eight feet but just 1-of-5 from beyond. The Spurs always throw multiple screens Parker’s way to get the Frenchman moving toward the rim — very similar, in fact, to the way Dallas manages to get Monta Ellis driving lanes.
The Mavs ran a switch-heavy defense when Parker ran the point, meaning after every San Antonio screen the big man would guard the little man, and vice versa. It worked for long stretches of the game, but eventually Parker was able to knife his way into the paint. It will be interesting to see if Dallas keeps the same defensive strategy in place during Game 2, or if Carlisle and the coaching staff might implement a new strategy in an attempt to throw off San Antonio’s gameplan.
The larger problems actually didn’t have much to do with Parker at all, however. Manu Ginobili was the key to some of the more dangerous pick-and-rolls San Antonio executed during Game 1. Dallas defended Ginobili completely differently than it defended Parker. Manu’s defender, instead of switching onto the screener, would stick to Ginobili’s hip as he used the screen. The bigger Mavs defender, meanwhile, would show on the screen before scrambling back to his own man. For example, here’s one the Spurs ran early in the game.
The problem, though, is Ginobili is such a gifted passer that he was able to find rolling big men after the screen took place. In the above example, Ginobili tossed the ball to Duncan, who laid it in. It’s understandable that Dallas would defend Ginobili pick-and-rolls this way, especially when he’s going to his right, as the Argentinian is left-handed and nearly always finishes going to his left. Therefore, by sticking to his left hip as he dribbles off a screen, the defense is preventing him from pulling up for a shot or crossing back over to his preferred hand.
However, as good as Ginobili is with the ball in his hands, it’s extremely difficult for the isolated big man — Nowitzki, in this case — to stop both Ginobili’s drive and Duncan’s roll. Dallas might alter this coverage scheme in Game 2, and it might not. San Antonio doesn’t run many pick-and-rolls with Ginobili as the ball-handler, especially when Parker is on the floor, and the Mavericks still tricked Ginobili into four turnovers. It’s a very small aspect of the team’s offense, but in the playoffs, every possession is extremely important.
The Spurs showed today that Dallas must bring its “A” game on both ends for 48 full minutes to get the win. The Mavs were able to find good looks in crunch time, and their defense was good enough to hold the Spurs to 90 points, well below their season average. But Dallas must knock down its jumpers and further contain the Spurs’ ball-handlers should the Mavs pull off the 8-1 upset. Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle are two of the best head coaches in the NBA, so there are likely plenty adjustments ahead to be made by both teams before Game 2, which is sure to be another close, gritty battle between two longtime rivals.
Practice Report: Rick Carlisle
Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle says the team did a lot of good things against the Spurs in Game 1 but they just have to make some minor adjustments going forward in Game 2.