The Spurs are still the better team in this series. It's a lot closer than the final rankings looked, but I think we all kind of knew that. Maybe we didn't think the Mavs had a chance against the Spurs, but the idea that they might have a chance against the Thunder or the Clips, which was pretty popular around here for a hot minute, means it was about matchup rather than records.
But the Spurs are better, and have been better, and that's why they won 13 more games than the Mavs this year and beat the Mavs every regular season game. They're therefore still the favorites to pull this thing out. And that's why these two wins are so important, whatever happens.
Because sometimes it's not about winning or losing, it's about showing life.
I've always felt that the surprising first round victory over the Spurs in 2009 saved the Mavericks. Man was that a tough time. I'm sure I hardly have to rehearse the details for most of you -- the Mavs had come so close to their first ring, then had an amazingly dominant season that ended in a first round loss. And another first round loss. On the eve of that playoff series, there was no good reason to think it wasn't going to be another first round loss in a row.
In a lot of ways, that team had the least talent of any Dirk Nowitzki Mavs team until last year. Dirk had an amazing season, of course, and both Josh Howard and Jason Terry were at about the peak of what they'd offer the Mavs, at least in terms of output. Jason Kidd was solid. But then it was a lot of Antoine Wright, and Erick Dampier, Gerald Green and Diop. But it wasn't another first round loss. Somehow or another, they beat that Spurs team. And even though they'd go on to lose 1-4 in the second round to one of the better Carmelo Anthony Nuggets teams, instead of blowing the thing up, the Mavs reinvested.
The next year they brought in Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson. And they won 55 games, five more than the Spurs, second in the West to the Lakers. They lost in the first round to a seventh seed Spurs team, so this, as you can see, has been going on a while, but the next year was 2011 and you know what happened then.
The Mavs don't need to win this series. Merely by competing, they're showing this off-season's free agents they still have life and showing the front office that this core is a pretty darn good one to build around.
And it's more than that, because of how they're doing it. Because they've done it with Dirk scoring 11, 16, and 18 on 39% shooting.
We all hate the announcers and the pundits starting to talk about how Monta is the best player on the Mavs. It's not true. But...
I guarantee you the Spurs are not in doubt as to why Dirk is struggling. They know it's not because he's old and bad, they know it's because they're throwing the kitchen sink at him. Tiago is in his hip pocket, or Duncan or Diaw. Doubles are coming, they're never giving him that trailing three he likes -- he's TAKEN only two threes this series.
Whatever the announcers say, the Spurs know they can't leave him and not get burned. That's the difference between 35 and 30, for Dirk, maybe it is possible to slow him down, although with all that he shot 54% last night. But you still have to really want to. And the Spurs' want to in that respect is the engine that makes this thing go. And that has opened up everything.
When Tiago is out on Dirk, Monta, Devin and Vince can get to the cup. When Dirk draws a second defender, the three-ball is open for other people. Monta may be a little too into the long two as a general principle, but when he's there in this series, no one is guarding him. Calderon had his second straight terrific playoff game for the same reasons. And here's the stat that illustrates all of that for him. This season he attempted 9.2 shots a game and more than half of them, 5.2, were three-pointers. In this series, he's made 15 shots and four of them have been threes. There is room inside because of Dirk and the Mavs are picking it apart.
The difference between the way the Mavs are winning now and the way they won during the season is the fact that the way they are winning now is hopeful and sustainable. Dirk, as they years go on, will be able to do it all himself less and less. But when can defenses stop being scared of him? It's hard to imagine that ever happening, really. The trick for the Mavs is finding enough help around him to take advantage of that, and boy have they in this series.
Even though the idea that Monta is the Mavs' best player is heretical, it is actually really good for the Mavs that people are thinking it because a 28-year old star is a much better selling point than a 35-year old star for free agents. And that, to me, is what this is about.
Whatever happens in this series, like 2009, the Mavs are showing that they have something they can build around. They're showing themselves and they're showing the world. And the way they're winning so far is a way they can keep winning for a long time to come.