A lion’s share of why San Antonio has the upper hand in the first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks hinges on the Spurs’ ability to perfectly execute the pick-and-roll play.
If it’s not Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills or Boris Diaw popping in a jump shot off the pick-and-roll, it’s Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter or Diaw rolling to the basket for a layup. Or Ginobili or Parker scurrying around the pick while driving to the rim for a layup.
Either way, the pick-and-roll has been very effective for the Spurs and a mighty mystery for the Mavs.
“They’ve been hurting us with pick-and-rolls, no doubt about it,” coach Rick Carlisle said after Thursday’s practice. “And today we spent a lot of time on our pick-and-roll defensive execution, which needs to be a lot better.
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“We’ve got to do it better, and we’ve got to do it harder. Their level of force was above what ours was [Wednesday] night.”
The Spurs made a beeline to the layup line during Wednesday’s 109-103 victory in San Antonio over the Mavs in Game 5 of this best-of-seven series.
Splitter scored nine of the Spurs’ first 14 points of the fourth quarter, with three baskets coming after he set a screen then received a pass as he rolled to the basket, and the other three points coming from the free-throw line, when the Mavs tried to mitigate his damage by fouling him.
“They obviously adjusted to what we were doing the first couple of outings, and they got better and better attacking it,” forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “One thing’s for sure, we’ve been doing a decent job with the 3s, but you can’t give up layups after layups, especially in the fourth quarter when we’re actually trying to make a run, and they just lay the ball in every time down.
“We’ll see if we do a little better job [Friday]. And we definitely need to if we want to force Game 7.”
The Spurs lead this best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 tipping off at 7 p.m. Friday at American Airlines Center. If necessary, Game 7 will be in San Antonio on Sunday.
But before the Mavs can stretch the series to a seventh game, they need to find a better way to defend the pick-and-roll, because the Spurs have made it look like child’s play.
“We’re right there,” forward Shawn Marion said. “It’s just a couple of things that they might have gotten away with —miscommunications, lapses here and there.
“For the most part, I mean, we’ve just got to get after it. Coming back home here, we’ve got to bring it.”
Certainly, the addition of DeJuan Blair should help the Mavs’ pick-and-roll cause. The backup center is the Mavs’ most aggressive player and is efficient at preventing opponents from exploiting his team’s lack of pick-and-roll defense.
Blair, however, watched Game 5 from his San Antonio hotel room while serving an NBA-mandated one-game suspension without pay for kicking Splitter in the head in Game 4.
Blair is much quicker than Samuel Dalembert, Brandan Wright and Nowitzki — the Mavs’ big men assigned to successfully defend the back end of the pick-and-roll. And Blair will be back in uniform Friday, and more than eager to help out in pick-and-roll coverage.
“We’ve just got to switch, make adjustments and do what we’ve got to do,” Blair said. “That’s all.”
Well, actually, according to Nowitzki, there’s a bit more to it than that. Nowitzki said: “We’ve got to bring a little more energy into it.”
Taking Nowitzki’s comments a step further, Carlisle said: “We’ve got to do a better job covering them. They’re getting us on rolls, they’re getting us on drives.
“We’ve just got to keep working and keep executing the coverages better.”
And keep focusing and concentrating on whatever adjustments that were implemented in practice Thursday.
“I think there are some small adjustments that we need to make,” forward Vince Carter said. “They do a great job of just moving the ball and reading the situations.
“They put pressure on the defense, and with Manu’s ability to score in the paint with a hand in his face — and he’s a great passer at the same time — it’s going to be tough. We gave them a different look early, they made adjustments and now we have to do the same.”
The San Antonio Spurs, keyed by their proficient pick-and-roll offense, have outscored the Dallas Mavericks in the paint in four of their five playoff games this series: