The video clip of the shot below is Dallas Mavericks forward Vince Carter’s game-winning shot in the fourth quarter Saturday, as the Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 109-108 to take a 2-1 series lead in the opening first round series. Had the shot gone out, the Spurs would be the ones sitting at 2-1, but instead, it went in, and the heavy favorite in the series (San Antonio), now find themselves in desperate need of a win on Monday, in Game 4. Here were a few keys to the Spurs’ loss.
The Spurs’ defensive issues
If there’s one trend that continues to keep reappearing in the series, it’s the Spurs’ issues on the defensive side of the ball. Through 12 quarters of the series, the Mavericks have already scored 30 or more points in 5 of the 12 quarters. Check out some of the Spurs’ defensive stats from the regular season in comparison to the playoffs.
Opponent Field Goal Percentage: Regular season 44%, Playoffs 47.1%
Opponent 3PT Field Goal Percentage: RS 35.3%, PO 37.1%
Opponent Points: RS 97.6 points, PO 102.3 points
Defensive Rating: RS 100.1 points per 100 possessions, PO 108.2 points per 100 possessions
The Spurs contested 63% of the Mavericks’ baskets Saturday, but in the playoffs, a lot of the game comes down to individual matchups, and Saturday, the Mavericks’ guards were the ones who presented those issues. Monta Ellis led the Mavericks with 29 points on 12 of 22 shooting Saturday, but it was Jose Calderon who was one of the X-Factors for Dallas, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Through three games, the Mavericks have three guards averaging double-figures per game: Ellis (20.3 points, 42.9% FG), Devin Harris (13.3 points, 53.3% FG), and Calderon (11.7 points, 51.7% FG). Calderon scored a majority of his points off pick-and-roll jumpers Saturday, just getting enough time to get an open look before Tony Parker could recover to have any effect on his shot. Ellis knocked down 7-of-14 contested shots, and made 5-of-9 uncontested. Though Kawhi Leonard has the main responsibility on Ellis in the series, Ellis was able to escape Leonard’s presence on critical possessions in the fourth quarter by using screens, where Leonard would go under, giving Ellis enough time to get off an open shot, or the Mavericks would have a big man hand-off to Ellis, so that either Tim Duncan or Boris Diaw were forced to switch on him, giving Ellis the advantage with his speed.
A big reason for the Spurs’ perimeter defense slipping is because of Danny Green’s lack of production in the series on the offensive end. Green played just 13 minutes Saturday, shooting 1-of-5 from the floor. In the series, he’s shooting 25% from the floor and 30% from three in 19 minutes for just 3 points per game. Credit the Mavericks’ defense of Calderon and their guards for making Green an invisible player on the offensive end, as they haven’t let him leave their sight often.
The effect of losing Green’s minutes on the floor takes a big hit on the Spurs’ perimeter defense. During the season, Green had the second best defensive rating on the team, holding teams to 96.4 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Even though his minutes are down in the series, he still has the Spurs’ 5th best Defensive Rating in the series, at 106.6 points per 100 possessions. With a player like Calderon starting to find a consistent rhythm in the last two games, it’s forcing Parker to expend his energy on Calderon, and the Spurs are losing arguably their second best perimeter defender behind Leonard, because Green just can’t find a way to get open looks, and be an offensive factor due to the Mavericks’ defensive scheme.
One of the only way at the moment to get Green going would be for Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to run set plays for him. On his lone three point make in the game, the Spurs ran a play out of the timeout to have both Tiago Splitter and Duncan set a screen for him to get an open three point look (see below). This is something the Spurs’ offense can’t afford to do for a majority of a game, since Green isn’t one of their primary focuses on offense.
Parker’s second half disappearing act
At halftime Saturday, it looked like Tony Parker was due for a 25-plus point game, after scoring 17 points in the first half. By the time the final buzzer rang, Parker walked off the floor with 19 points only on 9-of-18 shooting. Through three games, a trend has begun when assessing Parker, his disappearing scoring production in the second half. Take a look at Parker’s first and second half numbers from the playoffs compared to the regular season.
First half: Regular season 7.5 Field Goal Attempts (49.6% FG), 9.1 points. Playoffs: 10.3 FGA (58.1% FG), 14.0 points
Second half: Regular season 6.2 FGA (50.2% FG), 7.9 points. Playoffs: 4.3 FGA (38.5% FG), 3.3 points
As you can see, there’s a huge scoring drop in the second half thus far in the playoffs for Parker. In examining his five shots in the second half, all but one (a steal on an inbounds pass for a layup) were jumpers contested by either Marion or the Mavericks’ big men in Dirk Nowitzki, Brandan Wright, or Samuel Dalembert. When watching the game film, it seems like Parker just can’t find a comfortable shot by the time the second half rolls around, as he’s having to shoot contested jumpers with big men defending him. Dallas’ defense is continuing to stick to its game plan defensively of forcing Parker to knock down his outside jumpers, but not enter the paint as much as possible. Whether it’s a lack of energy, confidence, or not having his legs under him for the second half, it’s clear Parker’s aggressions takes a severe drought in the second half of this series.
As you can see from the screen shot below, it’s got to be tough to consistently knock down lengthy jumpers by the time the second half rolls around.
Mills continues to struggle from deep
An area where the Spurs’ bench has lost its explosiveness, is from Patty Mills’ loss of rhythm on his 3-point shot. After going 0-of-3 from deep on Saturday, Mills is now 1-of-10 from the outside in the series. Unlike Green and Marco Belinelli, who the Mavericks’ defense is purposefully defending from beyond the arc, Mills is continuing to get quality looks from the outside, but he’s just not able to knock them down. Mills’ minutes have also been reduced in the playoffs to 15.0 minutes per game, and he’s averaging 4.0 points per game through three games.
A coin flip of a series and what history says
Through three games, both teams have outscored the other in 6-of-12 quarters. As written above, had Carter’s three pointer not gone in, it would be San Antonio ahead 2-1 in the series. At this point, the series still looks like a coin flip between the two sides. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Spurs as a franchise are 0-6 all-time when they lose game three on the road coming from a 1-1 split at home. Monday, Popovich and his team will not just play to even the series, but also defy history.
When was the last time a series occurred where the top seed was down 1-2, and still went on to win the series? Well, it happened last June, as the Miami Heat were down 1-2 entering game four, and then they would go on to win the NBA Finals in seven games against the Spurs.
(All Stats and player tracking data via NBA.com/stats. Video via nba.si.com)