Somehow, you knew the San Antonio Spurs were going to be a royal pain in the ass Saturday night. They rested seven guys -- their big three, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills didn't even make the trip, while Danny Green and Tiago Splitter never took off their warm ups. But there was no night off for Gregg Popovich, and that's why the Spurs can never be taken for granted even if they're running out a starting five filled with players from a local YMCA.
"Listen, they're going to play great tonight without all those guys," Carlisle told the media in Interview Room A about two hours before the game. "It's not even... -- we've got to make them not play great. They're just going to do it within that system."
The Spurs did just that. They finished the first quarter with a lead and hung onto it until nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. They mostly played under control (although turnovers eventually killed them down the stretch), looked for the shots they could make and gave the adjusting, adapting Mavericks a challenge with a zone defense used virtually the entire game. It was all so, so Spurs.
But one team had Monta Ellis and the other didn't. As it often does, that proved to be the deciding factor in the Mavericks' 99-93 win.
Monta shined on a night that wasn't meant for him
Someone joked to me after the game, "Well, there goes my 'Rondo and Ellis don't fit together' story." Every joke has some truth to it -- had Ellis struggled, the talk of the media wouldn't have hesitated to go there.
Ellis hit 15-of-23 from the field, 5-of-6 of his 3-pointers. Those are ridiculous, gaudy numbers. That's not Monta showing up late to save Dallas -- although he did that, too -- but a complete, game-tip-to-final-buzzer stretch of him carrying the team as they lollygagged behind him. Not only was Ellis the reason the Mavericks won, but on Saturday, there are very few players in the league you could have replaced him with that could have still led Dallas to a victory.
Give that man credit. Some might cast their vote for Tyson Chandler, and certainly you can't go wrong with either, but Ellis is unequivocally my player of the year for the Mavericks this season.
Rajon Rondo is totally Jason Kidd
Just everything that's been said about him, every compliment that has been paid to the new Mavericks point guard, they all can be equated to the huge presence still felt by Kidd from his time in Dallas.
"On paper, he looks like a guy who would fit well into a [zone] scheme," Carlisle said, when asked about that type of defense. "Because of anticipation, long arms, defensive rebounding ability, those kind of things."
Some of the comparisons have been direct. Rondo, Cuban, Carlisle and others have all been asked directly about the similarities to Kidd. What's more telling are the questions that don't involve Kidd's name, like the one above, and yet it's still impossible not to evoke thoughts of the 2011 title-winning point guard.
Rondo will continue to adjust, practice by practice, game by game, month by month. He's not the exact player Kidd was, and nobody expects him to be. But boy, if you start getting a nostalgic sense of deju vu at any point in the next few weeks, it might because no. 9 kind of looks like a 2 if you squint just a little.
This game isn't indicative of anything
The modus operandi after this game is to give a definitive take on how the Mavericks and Rondo will play together, but it just wasn't there Saturday, not in any complete manner. There were glimpses here and there, snippets of understanding you could glean from the way Carlisle adjusted or Rondo adapted -- or how Ellis did and needed to do neither, barreling ahead just the same as he always does for his 38 points.
But ultimately, the Spurs played a skeleton crew and a zone defense the entire game, while the Mavericks watched Dirk miss shot after shot. Both of those things don't hold up for the rest of the season. Come back at the All-Star break, and maybe we'll have this thing figured out by then.