It'd be easy to come out in this recap, ranting and raving about the officiating, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris' combined defense, the confusing decision to let Dalembert sit on the bench with a tender ankle for a long stretch in the second half, those offensive rebounds -- all those things.
Yet, I don't have the energy. The Dallas Mavericks lost 109-103 to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 on Wednesday night and are now barley hanging on, down 3-2 in this best of seven, first round series.
That sucks. It sucks a lot. Despite all the frustrating things about this game, the fact of the matter is this -- the Spurs are way more talented than the Mavs. Eventually, that talent was going to show. It showed tonight.
No matter what the Mavericks did tonight, it did not work defensively. San Antonio shredded Dallas' interior defense and scored 54 points in the paint. Tiago Splitter had a monster game with 17 points, 12 rebounds and six of those boards coming on the offensive end.
It started bleakly enough, with the Spurs opening up a 24-11 lead in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all brought it in that spurt, taking advantage of the Mavs slow-footed perimeter defense.
Somehow, like they have all series, the Mavs kept fighting. Devin Harris knocked in a couple of threes to make it 27-26 after one and the two teams exchanged buckets for most of the second quarter.
Dallas had a brutal cold spell to end the first half, missing nine straight shots. They were only down nine, again, still in striking distance.
In the second half, the absence of DeJuan Blair was felt a bit more. Samuel Dalembert sprained his ankle early in the first and he was limited all night. That left Brandan Wright out in the game for far too long and he was over exposed as the Spurs kept running pick and roll after pick and roll in Wright's direction.
That let Splitter free to rumble to the bucket pretty much undeterred. And if he didn't get the ball, he had prime position for an offensive rebound.
Dalembert checked back in late, along with the heroic Vince Carter (28 points) and he and Dirk tried to will the Mavs back into it. For the first time all series, Dirk looked like the old Dirk but the Mavericks couldn't get stops. They kept trading buckets as the Spurs looked like the Spurs and the Mavericks looked like the Mavericks of the regular season.
The killer was when Dallas had the ball down 98-94 with under two minutes remaining. Dirk pump-faked in the corner and stepped into a wide-open jumper, but missed. Parker came down the court and nailed a contested 3-pointer off a pick and roll and that pretty much sealed it.
It sucks to have two brilliant games from Dirk and Vince wasted, yet, there's only been one blowout in this series and it was the Mavs over the Spurs. This should have been the Spurs chance for one of those blowouts, with the Mavs defense looking so poor. But it wasn't. I don't know what it is about this Dallas team, but they have some backbone. There's one more game on Friday, at the very least. And at the very least, we know Dallas won't back down. Maybe they won't win, but they also won't go out quietly. Onto the notes:
- The Dalembert injury in the first few minutes of the game was the absolute worst-case scenario for the Mavs. Down Blair with the suspension, Dallas needed a monster game from Dalembert and he just couldn't deliver while playing just 23 minutes. The worst part? Dalembert was into tonight and had nine rebounds and two blocks. When he checked into the game late in the fourth quarter, he was a big part of Dallas' late push to get within four with under two minutes to go. The weird part? Dalembert got hurt but then went back into the game. He started the second half but then he sat for a very long stretch between the third and fourth quarters, with Wright getting the minutes. Wright got absolutely brutalized in pick and roll situations and as the Spurs pushed their lead to 11 in the fourth quarter with about 6 minutes left, I assumed Dalembert was too hurt to check back in. After all, on a sprained ankle, the common knowledge is if you're going to play through it, you might as well stay out there as long as possible to avoid the ankle from stiffing up. So why did it take so long for Dalembert to check back in during the fourth quarter? Was he not fit to play and Rick Carlisle just desperately through him out there? If he was OK to play, then it's baffling to figure why Carlisle watched Wright get toasted for most of the second half. Either way, that injury definitely dampened Dalembert's minutes when he was needed.
- ATTENTION: Do not lose sleep over Blair not playing. Blair certainly would have been useful tonight, especially when Splitter was gobbling up all those offensive boards in the second half. But let's not act like the Mavs were missing Dennis Rodman. Blair isn't any better at guarding the pick and roll than Wright and wasn't a factor in the series until Game 4. Could he have helped? Of course! Just don't lose any sleep going over the "what if?" of Blair's suspension. There's already enough things in this series to drive you batty -- don't add that to the list.
- Dirk once again started the game as poorly as he started every game in this series save for Game 3. I'm not sure why the Mavs insist to keep feeding Dirk isolations and postups, because they clearly aren't working. Whenever the Mavs got Dirk on the move and in space, he seemed much more at ease. There simply needs to be more Dirk-Jose/Monta pick and rolls, especially early in the game.
- But that fourth quarter though...vintage Dirk. It was especially painful to watch as Dirk kept making bucket after bucket and see that lead still sit at nine or seven points. Dallas could not get stops in the final quarter until Dalembert checked back in.
- I love Shawn Marion's defense and how he's played on both Parker and Manu in this series...but his offense has fallen off a cliff. There were plenty of instances tonight where I'd see the Mavs run a pick and roll and Marion's guy completely ignore him to clog the lane for the roller or the ball-handler. It led to lots of congested lanes for Harris and Ellis. Marion was 3-for-10 tonight and he's such a burden when he isn't making any shots.
- Vince Carter's highest scoring playoff game as a Mavs. Glad that was wasted!
- Devin Harris was 2-of-3 in the first quarter, with his two made buckets being threes. He finished 3-of-11 overall and 2-of-6 from three. Harris was a disaster through quarters two-four, missing jumpers and not doing a thing to slow down Parker on pick and rolls. He was beat in a bad play late in the fourth quarter, just not paying attention to Parker as Parker just cut by him for a back-breaking layup.
- Ellis was painful as well, going 8-of-18 from the field. Oddly, I can't really blame Harris or Ellis for taking the amount of jumpers they did. Sure, they aren't very good shooters but the Spurs clogged the paint when those two handled the ball and they couldn't get consistently good looks near the rim. Here's the dirty secret about these Mavs: they only have three shooters (Dirk, Vince, Calderon) in their playoff rotation. And for the first four and half games, they really only had one-ish shooter as Dirk and Vince struggled. That means the Mavs play a lot of minutes without a lot of great shooters on the floor, especially the Harris/Ellis backcourt. Add into Marion struggling near the rim and the Mavs offense gets especially cramped and ugly at times.
- Despite all the negatives, Dallas was never blown out. The Spurs were doing pretty much anything they wanted for most of the game, but the Mavs never went away. They haven't gone away all series. I have no idea if the Mavericks will win on Friday but I do know they'll be fighting to the last second.