Certainly. But somebody still is going to have to stop Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, among other San Antonio Spurs, and therein lies the never-ending problem for the Dallas Mavericks.
As Sunday’s Game 1 reminded, there are trade-offs in this first-round series against the Spurs. The Mavericks must pick their poison.
“They’re a good defensive team,” the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 1. “They’re not necessarily athletic and long, but they’re very smart.
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“What they want to do is take you out of your comfort zone. If you like one move, they won’t let you get that one move.”
It’s not likely, therefore, that coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs spent a lot of time this week worrying about whether the Mavs’ Rick Carlisle starts Jose Calderon or Devin Harris.
Calderon can shoot. Harris can drive. But on defense, neither of them can stay in front of Parker.
After the Mavericks struck for an 81-71 lead Sunday, much anguish was expressed over the team’s inability to score in the final 7:45.
San Antonio made 35 field goals Sunday. Twenty-eight of them came in the paint. Down by 10 points, the Spurs roared back, mostly with layups and little jumpers by Duncan, and that was that. Their longest shot in the final eight minutes was 13 feet.
Harris, on occasion, can be a good defender. But like most of the rest of the league’s guards, he can’t handle Parker. That’s going to take help.
Any suggestions on that?
Center Samuel Dalembert’s improved play helped to get the Mavericks into the playoffs, and he was expected to play an important role in the first-round series. But on Sunday, even with Dalembert avoiding foul trouble, he played only 17-plus minutes and had minimal impact on the outcome. The game seemed to be moving too fast for him.
Brandan Wright logged 26 minutes in the middle, scoring 11 points, but Duncan was his customary Hall of Fame self down the stretch.
So, lineup changes?
There isn’t much that Carlisle can do to leapfrog the problem, offensively or defensively.
The Spurs appeared willing Sunday to live with concentrating on Nowitzki and letting Harris and Monta Ellis shoot. But San Antonio’s quickness seems to force opposing shooters to fire a half-second early or a half-step behind. Ellis and Dirk were a combined 8 for 28 from the floor.
Calderon had a stressful game Sunday, but a benching at this point smacks of desperation. Together, he and Harris likely will give Carlisle what he needs on offense.
Again, though, who’s going to guard Parker? And Duncan? And who guards the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard when Ellis can’t?
Duncan alone foiled the Mavericks’ plan to pressure the Spurs’ 3-point shooters. Dalembert has to decide to join the series.
But lineup changes? Who, where, what?
The Mavericks need an outcome change not a lineup one. While the law of averages suggests that San Antonio can’t extend its dominance over the Mavericks to 11 games in a row, there’s the gnawing feeling that Game 1 might have served as a wake-up call for the four-time champs.
Maybe, if we’re allowed a trite second guess, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea would have figured out a way to close the deal Sunday in San Antonio. But that’s River Walk water under the bridge.
This series is all about the Mavericks picking their poison and hoping that somebody, somewhere, some way helps out.
And then do it four times.