Rarely can a player change the momentum of a game in 12 minutes of play, but in Sunday night’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks, that’s exactly what DeJuan Blair did. Blair finished the game with seven points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot.
Blair checked into the game with 1:52 left in the first to give Tim Duncan a breather. Right away, Blair missed an early lay-up against Brendan Haywood, but that would be Blair’s only missed field goal of the night. With time running out in the first, Tony Parker made a strong move to lane but was blocked by Haywood. Blair recovered the loose ball and was able to find George Hill in the corner for a three as time expired. Blair’s assist gave the Spurs a three point lead heading into the second quarter.
In every game this series, the team winning the first quarter has gone on to win the game. Recovering loose balls, or as Rick Carlisle called them in his post game interview 50/50 balls, would be a reoccurring theme for Blair the rest of the game.
Blair started the second quarter in place of Duncan. Three minutes into the second quarter, Blair made a tough, physical move on Haywood, using his body to push off him and creating enough space to finish with an easy lay-up over the bigger Mavericks center. Blair made the best of his minutes and gave Duncan needed time to rest.
Unlike the previous three games, Blair showed up big for the Spurs in the second half. He came in for Duncan with 3:13 left in the third and picked up were he left off in the first half. He recovered another 50/50 ball then scored another lay-up.
On the next Dallas possession, after a Ginobili loose ball foul, Blair picked off Caron Butler’s inbound pass and knocked it to Richard Jefferson. Jefferson passed it to Ginobili who missed a contested lay-up, but Blair was there and grabbed another one of his five offensive rebounds, and got fouled going strong to the rim. Blair and Mavercks star Dirk Nowitzki got into it after Manu hit free throws for a technical on Nowtizki, but Blair made the right decision and calmly walked away, not risking the chance of getting a technical and giving the Mavs easy points.
When the fourth quarter started DeJuan Blair was still on the court, and Duncan was on the bench, resting his now 34-year-old knees. He grabbed his fourth offensive board off a missed Jefferson three, then passed it to Ginobili who was clotheslined by Edurado Najera. Najera was called for the flagrant two foul and ejected from the game. Ginobili made both free throws and the Spurs retained possession of the ball. Blair then grabbed his fifth rebound of the night and scored his sixth and seventh point on the tip in of a Ginobili miss. On the very next Mavericks possession, Blair blocked a J.J. Barea jump shot. But with tensions running high between these bitter two rivals, after a missed Tony Parker shot, Blair hit Jason Kidd across the face and was called for a flagrant one foul. Duncan came in for Blair at the 10:07 mark in the fourth.
Playoff basketball is extremely emotional, and Blair being the young player that he is might have got a little two emotional. But that’s exactly what we want from Blair. A player who leaves it all out on the court and gives everything he has to the team.
Sunday night, that’s what Blair did. He sacrificed his body and left it all out on the court in the little amount of time he had. I think we might see Blair play a couple more minutes per game. And I can’t wait.