One of the cornerstones of the Dallas Mavericks’ run to the playoffs this season has been the efficiency of their bench.
At any time, any one of the eight reserves has entered the game and made solid contributions that enabled the Mavs to secure a 49-33 record and No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. But Dallas’ bench was severely outplayed Monday when San Antonio evened this best-of-seven first-round series at 2-2 with an emotionally charged 93-89 victory at American Airlines Center.
Manu Ginobili, whom the Mavs have yet to contain in this series, came off the Spurs’ bench in Game 4 to contribute 23 points and five assists. When Ginobili wasn’t burying jumpers — he was 7 of 14 from the field — he was shredding the Mavs’ defense and getting to the rim with ease.
“We’ll figure it out,” forward Vince Carter said when asked how and when the Mavs will slow down Ginobili.
They will get another shot at trying to contain Ginobili when they play the Spurs at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center in Game 5.
Of course, priority No. 1 for the Mavs is to win. But Carter and the reserves regularly check the stat sheet to see if the Mavs’ bench held up their end of the bargain.
“Our bench, we pride ourselves on dominating the other team’s bench,” Carter said. “That’s one of our jobs we feel like we have to take care of, and we didn’t get the job done [Monday], and it resulted in us not winning.
“So back to the drawing board.”
In Game 4 the Spurs’ bench produced 50 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Besides Ginobili’s contributions in that game, San Antonio also received 17 points from Boris Diaw and 10 points and two steals from Patty Mills.
Plus, Diaw is the player who nailed the 3-pointer that gave the Spurs a 90-87 lead with 32.9 seconds left in the game.
Meanwhile, the Mavs’ bench produced 30 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists in Game 4, with DeJuan Blair hustling for 12 points and 11 rebounds in 16 minutes. But the Mavs will be without Blair in Game 5 because the NBA suspended him for kicking Spurs center Tiago Splitter in the head in Game 4.
Still, the Mavs’ reserves can ill afford to be outplayed by their Spurs’ counterparts if Dallas has designs on winning this series.
“They had a good game and we didn’t meet them with enough force, particularly in the first half and particularly in the second quarter,” coach Rick Carlisle said of the Spurs’ bench. “Ginobili was a key guy for them both as a scorer and a playmaker, and we’ve just got to do a better job on defense.
“Teams get going when they get scoring, and we got ourselves going in the second half when we started defending better. So our commitment to the defensive end has got to be more even, and it’s got to be more consistent and we’ve got to sustain and we’ve got to finish possessions.”
Ironically, in the two games the Mavs have won in this series, the Spurs also outscored them off the bench.
In the Mavs’ Game 2 victory, they had 40 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists off the bench, while the Spurs generated 51 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists from their reserves.
And in the Mavs’ Game 3 triumph, they collected just 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists from their bench, while San Antonio’s reserves contributed 33 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.
The only game in which the Mavs’ bench outplayed the Spurs’ was in the 90-85 loss in Game 1 when they outscored the San Antonio’s bench-warmers 46-23.
A troubling development for the Mavs in Game 4 was that of the Spurs’ 32 second-quarter points, 18 came from the bench. That alone easily was more than the 13 the entire Mavs’ squad tallied in the second quarter.
“They were hitting shots, they came in aggressive,” Carter said. “I thought Patty Mills was extremely aggressive and got some shots off.”
Ginobili is averaging 19.8 points per game in this series and is carrying the Spurs when he takes the court. Carlisle said it’s going to be an in-game decision as to how he’s going to get his best defender, Shawn Marion, some time away from defending Tony Parker so he can slow down Ginobili.
“We’re going to continue to most likely have him on Parker to start the game,” Carlisle said. “But if there are ways to tweak the rotation to get him on Ginobili more, I’ll certainly look at it.
“But we’ve got to have other guys that can step up and be able to guard him.”