Doing The Texas Two-Step To Stay Ahead Of The Mavs is Tough

By Gregory Moore
Updated: March 5, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – The biggest game of March also just happened to have been the second game of a TNT double-header. The San Antonio Spurs were taking on their IH-35 rivals, the Dallas Mavericks. The game lived up to the hyped up potential as the Mavericks were ranked eighth in defense while the Spurs were ranked first. The records were very similar as the Mavs were 45-11 and the Spurs were 44-12. In essence this game had that playoff game feel because this game had playoff ramifications for both teams.

The difference for the Mavericks this season is the fact that they are averaging seventy-nine field goal attempts this season versus the ninety attempts from years past. The fact head coach Avery Johnson has this team taking shots within a system that is defensive minded; something they have not done much under Don Nelson. So with that said, it was very apparent that if the Spurs were going to defeat the Mavs this time, they would have to rely on what has gotten them to be where they were in seasons past; their defense. They had to play their game. They had to do the Texas two-step in order to stay ahead of the Mavs.

In order for the Spurs to truly get control of the Mavs’ offensive maneuvers, what had to happen was that the starting five had to not worry about their assignments as much as worry about the result at the end of the game. For much of the first quarter the team struggled offensive as they shot 26.3% from the field while the Mavericks were 44%. Even though the teams were even with the rebounding at thirteen, the Mavs had a 4-to-1 points in the paint advantage; something that they have never had much of last season. Yes this team was definitely different and their make up where they were penetrating a lot more and finding the open man definitely has thrown many teams for a loop in their defensive assignments. Yet it was apparent that if the Spurs were serious about winning the game, they were going to have to rely a lot on forcing some turnovers and denying the top scorers the ball or better still, hold their opponents to one shot attempt and that’s it.

The strategy of forcing turnovers and holding them to single shot opportunities worked as the team clawed it’s way back into the game at halftime. The Spurs forced seven turnovers in the second quarter and that allowed them to slowly get a sizeable lead down to under five points. The ninth turnover for the Mavericks came when the Spurs forced a 24-second clock violation at the 7.3 mark. The nine turnovers netted the team a ten point scoring advantage and that was something that was sorely needed in order to slow down the high-powered offense that Johnson was employing.

The other biggest problem that the Spurs were having in this game was trying to withstand the barrage of runs that the Mavs were making while trying to also establish their own game. With Tim Duncan not really establishing himself for much of the game, the Spurs had o rely on basically trying to keep this talented team from running in the open court. At the 7:10 mark in the third quarter, the Spurs were able to keep it close. By them steadily clawing back in, the team was able to actually take the lead at the 5:44 mark with a 51-49 score off of a Nazr Muhammad score and then turned around after a Dallas foul by Dirk Nowitzski to then go up by four points; again with Muhammad scoring the two points in the open court.

The diligence of holding off the Mavericks’ running barrages paid off at the end of the third quarter as the Spurs led 68-64. Muhammad was instrumental during that time as he scored six points during a five-minute stretch. Tony Parker also played well as by the end of three quarters, he had twenty points. As a team, the Spurs raised their shooting percentage to 45% while actually reducing their opponents’ percentage to 42%. They also had gotten the Mavs to commit thirteen turnovers before the final period began.

At the beginning of the fourth, the team finally found their rhythm. Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley all contributed to take the four-point lead at the beginning of the fourth and methodically build it to an 8-5 point advantage of 76-69. One of the key plays was a side inbounds play where Finley found Horry under the basket for an easy two. That was then followed at the 9:13 mark when Finley hit a three from left of the key. Much of this was done with Duncan not really being an offensive factor for much of the game.

Down the stretch the Spurs found some answers to the problems they were having on scoring. What they found that worked was a combination of bench players like Finley who complemented other players. With six players in double figures that included Horry and Finley off the bench, the Spurs were able to build a lead that was as big as twelve points late in the game. The Spurs were able to withstand even a late barrage at the minute mark that had Horry and Mavericks’ player Jerry Stackhouse almost coming to blows.

The end of the game was anti-climatic as the Spurs did win the game but what was more important is what was stated at the very beginning of this piece. The Spurs needed to do a two-step of some type in order to take a 2-1 lead in the series between these two teams. There are playoff ramifications at stake and the Spurs had to do something near miraculous to handle what the Mavericks were going to bring. By slowly grinding out the game to where they again held their opponents under 44% from the field, the Spurs were able to establish their style of play and force their will on their opponents. The win over the Mavericks brought them tied record wise but gave the Spurs the top seed in the conference standings. The very goal that this team needed to have at the beginning of the game.

STACKHOUSE’S COMMENTS TYPICAL OF ‘SPOILED’ TEAM For Jerry Stackhouse to publicly comment about the officiating of Thursday’s game that included senior referee Dick Bavetta is typical of how the Dallas Mavericks view the basketball world.

Stackhouse claimed that the officiating crew was not calling enough fouls on the Spurs but maybe he is very much myopic to the rough house play that his teammates tried to employ against the Spurs. Maybe Stack and his cohorts didn’t realize that if this crew really wanted to ‘be’ fair in their world, this game would not have been close because for every time a Spurs player was harassed going to the basket, a foul was not called. The moment the Spurs started returning the physical play and the Mavericks started complaining, that is when the crew decided to clamp down.

Yet this still should be no surprise as to how poorly the Mavericks are as a playoff contender. Every season they come out the gate like gang busters but when it comes down to showing up when it really counts, this team is as lame as a wet noodle in boiling water. This will not change this year either as the Mavericks will have a very tough time coming towards the end of the season.

As for Stack’s comments, he was fined $30,000 by the league but maybe he should have been hit with $50,000 for just being dumb enough to question the integrity of a NBA official who has called more basketball games than Stackhouse has ever played in his lifetime. And if he thinks he is going to get any ‘veteran’ calls from now on, he can forget it. These officials are human and they do remember the ‘trouble makers’ in the league. Stackhouse has just made the dean’s list for being a trouble maker now. Way to help your team, Stack.