Mar 17, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) shoots under the basket as San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and center Tim Duncan (21) defend during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Recapping with the Dallas Mavericks: Dirk scores 27

Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili made an excellent point on Twitter tonight.

His tweet in full: “is there any rivalry that’s as stealthily amazing as spurs-mavs? teams HATE each other, quality basketball, classic greatness”.

Completely agree with that sentiment, Aaron. The competition is always heated, the passing seamless, the quality of basketball unparalleled. Plus, these teams genuinely hate each other. Animosity is usually conducive to more interesting basketball.

Now on to the game. The Dallas Mavericks started the game on a 7-2 run before Tim Duncan made a highlight reel play. The play started with a Tony Parker-TD pick-and-roll at the top of the key. Duncan is typically slow on pick-and-rolls (especially compared to Tiago Splitter), but that didn’t matter here. Rodrigue Beaubois and former Spur Ian Mahimni were the defenders on the play. Clearly the plan was for Roddy to go under the screen — Parker was out of his range so it was a decent move — and for Yawn to show until Roddy recovered. That’s what happened except that Mahimni was a tad slow on getting back to his man. Parker fired a pass to a rolling Duncan at around the right elbow. Duncan, knowing full well that his defender was scrambling frantically, made a purposeful dribble towards the rim — Jason Kidd didn’t leave his man, Danny Green, who was spot up in the corner — and flushed it down on Mahimni. 4-7, Mavericks.

But, at the conclusion of the first quarter, the Spurs were down nine to a more aggressive Mavericks team. In seven minutes of action, Dirk Nowitzki already had seven points.

Without Brendan Haywood, the usually grid-lock Maverick defense struggled to prevent anything towards the rim. 6’9″ power forward Brandan Wright was pressed into 19:39 and couldn’t compete physically with the much more talented Spurs bigs. It was in the second quarter that Spurs fans witnessed Stephen Jackson make an impact.

The play between Jackson and Splitter closely mirrored the Tony-Timmy screen-and-roll. After Lamar Odom fought through the screen unsuccessfully, Jackson had a rolling Splitter with no defender willing to pick him up. The play, predictably, ended as another easy two points. But, more importantly, Spurs fans got a taste of Jackson’s tantalizing shot creating potential. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that Richard Jefferson couldn’t have made that play.

Despite their rebounding deficit and curious inability to make free throws, the Spurs were only down two.

That wouldn’t remain the case. The third quarter was where the Mavericks bludgeoned the Spurs, outscoring them 32-24. Once again, the Mavs were the more aggressive team. They got to the line six times in the quarter and made all of them. In total, the Mavs shot 11-19 from the field (.579 FG%), four of which were 3-pointers.

Of course, the Spurs didn’t let this one away easily. Manu Ginobili and company manufactured a 9-4 run to begin the quarter that cut the lead down to five points.

I guess I don’t have to keep going on for you to realize that their efforts were fruitless. Dallas responded with an 8-0 run of their own and, while the Spurs were not content with simply giving away this game, never were genuinely threatened of losing their eight game at American Airlines Arena.

The Spurs didn’t necessarily play poorly but weren’t able to take advantage of the Mavericks lack of interior depth (in addition to Haywood’s absence, Mahimni had four personal fouls). The Spurs took their 14th loss of the season despite nearly doubling (50-26) in points of paint.

In a game of possessions, the offensive rebounding advantage gave the Mavericks extra ammunition that is necessary in defeating a similarly efficient ball club.

The Spurs, who split a tough back-to-back, will fly back to San Antonio where they will enjoy three much-needed off days. Their next opponent, the Ricky Rubio-less Minnesota Timberwolves, will be playing their third game in four nights on Mar. 21. That will also be the night where we retire Bruce Bowen’s jersey. Advantage Spurs. So, yeah, I guess losing tonight isn’t completely dire (although it sure feels that way).

Player of the game: Tiago Splitter

Mar 17, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) charges into Dallas Mavericks power forward Brandan Wright (34) during the second quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Free Tiago! Quite simply, I don’t think the Spurs fed Tiago enough tonight. In only 18:52 of action, Splitter scored 15 points on 7-11 shooting (.636 FG%) and grabbed six rebounds. He was consistently a threat on pick-and-rolls (shouldn’t be a surprise anymore) and almost everytime the offense went through him something beneficial happened. Splitter’s post game varies from artifice to just downright elegant. Splitter just seems like a fun guy to run the pick-and-roll with. He cuts to the lane with the same cadence, sets quality screens and always gives the ball handler a favorable passing angle. His success rate isn’t contingent on the ball handler either; it could be Gary Neal, Manu, Jack or Tony and you couldn’t tell any difference. If anyone can be truly classified as a ubiquitous screener, it would be Splitter. High praise, I know. But it’s definitely warranted.

There was one moment where Splitter received an entry pass in the low block (sorry for the lack of specifics) from Tony. Tiago couldn’t exactly shake his defender so he kicked it back to TP and got himself better post position. Usually, in this spot, Tiago gets largely ignored but Parker quickly fired it back to him. Long story short, he made the bucket. That sequence is important because if the Spurs really work hard looking to feed Tiago down low, we’d see a lot more efficient shots at the rim and, therefore, higher field goal percentages.

Something to consider: Stephen Jackson guarding 4s?

Stephen Jackson had a rather impressive debut even though the stats would tell you a different story. But he did make a difference. Jackson exhibited sound shot selection, knew where to be offensively and played Dirk significantly tougher than DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner. I wish I had the empirical evidence to support my claim but Jackson did make Dirk work for the majority of his points. Look at a lot of the highlights and Dirk was taking advantage of Blair’s lack of foot speed on the perimter. Jackson did hold up. Now, if he were to improve in this regard, that would be a significant plus for an otherwise mediocre defensive team, especially against 4s that can attack from the perimeter.

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Tags: Brandan Wright Brendan Haywood Bruce Bowen Dallas Mavericks DeJuan Blair Dirk Nowitzki Gary Neal Ian Mahimni Jason Kidd Lamar Odom Manu Ginobili Matt Bonner Minnesota Timberwolves Richard Jefferson Ricky Rubio Rodrigue Beaubois San Antonio Spurs Stephen Jackson Tiago Splitter Tim Duncan Tony Parker

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