The Dallas Mavericks just won’t go away. Despite being swept by the Spurs in the regular season and having lost 10 straight against the Spurs going into Game 2 of this series, Dallas has pushed this first round series to seven games.
We’ve seen Manu Ginobili come up with some big games, a game-winning shot from veteran Vince Carter, and a San Antonio defense that was ranked third in numberFire’s defensive ratings give up 102 points per game. We’ve noted Tim Duncan's inconsistencies for the Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki's slow start for Dallas as well.
That brings us to the Game 7 showdown in San Antonio. Who gets the right to advance to the second round and face a Trail Blazers team that is as hot as any? Will Duncan have another career-defining game? Will Nowitzki continue his hot streak? Will the Spurs be able to stop Monta Ellis? Can Ginobili and Tony Parker get some assistance in the backcourt? To find the answer to these and other questions, let’s take a look at what each team needs to do offensively and defensively to advance to round two.
How the Spurs Can Win
The Spurs need to go back to the Big Three. In two of the three losses for the Spurs in this series, Duncan has had a usage rate below 20% and was as low as 12.6% in their Game 2 loss. In their wins, it's been as high as 29.4%.
If the Spurs allow Duncan to get into his rhythm, he can take some of the scoring load off of Parker and Ginobili, who have held two of the top three usage percentages each game for the team throughout the series. The Spurs are having trouble in the paint, so they will already have two big bodies on the floor offensively. Isolating Duncan down low will allow for better spacing which will lead to better looks at the basket for the team’s bevy of sharpshooters.
Defensively, the team needs to just clone Tim Duncan. While that’s not really possible, the hope is that Tiago Splitter can return to form against Dirk Nowitzki (Nowitzki shot 33% against Splitter in the first four games of the series) and become Duncan 2.0 on the defensive side of the ball for the Spurs.
Coach Popovich will need to throw various looks at Nowtizki throughout the game. Splitter has shown good defense against him in stretches as has Boris Diaw (Nowitzki was 0-3 against him in Game 6). And in Game 5, Duncan only allowed two baskets out of 13 attempted against him in the halfcourt. If they mix up their looks against Nowitzki, the Spurs have a good chance at keeping the Mavericks offense in check.
How the Mavericks Can Win
Dallas’s offensive success will have to be two-fold to win Game 7 on the road. First, Dirk Nowitzki needs to play well. As mentioned in at the top of the article, Nowitzki got off to a slow start in this series as he averaged a usage rate of 22.6% in the first three games. He has increased his usage rate to 29% over the last three games.
Of course, as his usage rate has gone up, so has Dirk’s scoring. He went from averaging 15 points per game in the first three matchups to 22.3 points per game in the last three matchups. Monta Ellis has been nearly unstoppable for the Mavericks in this series (nearly 22 points per game) but having Nowitzki help shoulder the scoring load will only improve the offense.
Secondly, the Mavericks need to win in the paint. In Dallas’ three losses, they were outscored 156-88 down low. If the control the game play under the basket on one end of the floor and keep feeding Nowitzki at the other end, they will show the Spurs why they were the third highest offense in the league according to our numberFire metrics.
Since the Spurs have so many options, the defense needs a two-fold attack here as well. You know you have to stay on your toes when you keep Danny Green in check for five games (a total of 17 points) and then doubles his total for the whole series in just one game (17 points in Game 6 alone). But Manu Ginobili has been the biggest driving force for the Spurs all series.
The Argentinian has averaged over 17 points a game in the series, always finding a way to make his acrobatic shots. However, Dallas did something right against him in Game 6, holding him to just six points with only one made field goal. Ginobili was scoring nearly 20 points per game going into Game 6, and if Dallas allows him into the game at all in Game 7, they may have a tough time keeping up.
But if stopping Ginobili comes at the expense of leaving Duncan open looks, there won't be much to be gained by Dallas. They need to hope Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair can repeat their Game 4 performance of holding Duncan to 2 of 11 from the field, his poorest shooting of the series. The Spurs have relied upon Ginobili and Duncan for many years but if the Mavericks find a way to stop both in one game, they should survive to play another playoff series.
Will the Mavericks Pull it Off?
The Spurs love to keep their fans on the edge of their seat - if they pull off the win, it won’t be by a big margin. The Spurs not only need their Big Three to step up all at once, but contributions from the other starters to the last guy in the bench rotation are also necessary.
If Dallas wins, it will be because of Dirk Nowitzki. He’s been getting better every game this series, and the window gets smaller every year for him. Closing out the West's top seed will be a huge momentum swing for a team that barely made the playoffs.
numberFire algorithms: 75.4% chance the Spurs beat the Mavericks
My prediction: It will be close until the end, but I feel the Spurs will move on to the second round.