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NBA Playoffs: Keys for San Antonio Spurs to Win Game 2

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Apr 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) during the second half in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs defeated the Mavericks 90-85. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs: With Game 2 between in-state rivals the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks quickly approaching, it will be important for the Spurs to utilize several adjustments in order that they may take a commanding 2-0 lead in this best of seven series.  After watching Game 1 this past Sunday, I came away with three keys that will be instrumental for the Spurs during Game 2 and essentially the rest of the series.

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Apr 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Monta Ellis (11) dribbles the ball past San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the second half in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs defeated the Mavericks 90-85. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1)      Feed Kawhi Leonard in the post

Rick Carlisle and his staff decided that they were not going to let the Spurs long-range bombers go bonkers from outside the three-point line like they did throughout the regular season series.  Instead, Carlisle opted to switch every screen involving Tony Parker so that Mavs defenders could stay home on their assigned man and in effect take away the lethal three ball that San Antonio relies extensively on.  This strategy seemed to pay dividends for the sieve-like Mavs defense by only allowing 90 points and three three pointers (out of 17 attempts) to a Spurs team that averaged a gaudy 105.4 points per game and shot 39.7% behind the three-point line during the regular season.

Although both Parker and Duncan had their way with the Mavs, it will also be vital for the Spurs to feed Kawhi Leonard the ball down in the post.  The Spurs tried doing this early in the game when the not so defensive savvy Monta Ellis was manning up against Leonard, but they seemingly shied away from it afterwards and relied heavily on the old strategy of throwing Timmy the ball on the low block and letting him do his thing (as usual, you can’t argue with the results).

If the Mavs continue to try and take away the three ball, the Spurs must not only continue to feed Duncan but they also should counter by feeding Kawhi’s alien-sized hands with the rock so he can go to work, especially if someone like Monta Ellis or Vince Carter is guarding him.  Leonard is no stranger to playing with his back to the basket, as evidenced by his entire college career, so it would be extremely beneficial for the Spurs to use his post-up ability to exploit some of the Mavs’ “defenders,” particularly Ellis.

If Ellis is the primary defender on Leonard, look for the Spurs to force-feed the ball to Leonard so that he can exploit his match up and in effect force Ellis to exert extra energy on defense and possibly get him into foul trouble.  This extra exerted energy from Ellis could play a huge part in regards to Ellis’ offensive efficiency (or lack thereof), so although it is not imperative for the Spurs to make this adjustment it would greatly increase their chances of heading to Dallas with a 2-0 series lead.

Apr 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) guards Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) during the first quarter in game one during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2)      Continue to rely on “Tiago Island” and the Land Walrus’ Defense on Dirk

Yes, Tiago Island is now a thing.  Not really, but if Tiago Splitter continues to display his defensive prowess like he did against Dirk in Game 1, then maybe we’ll have to start making tee shirts.  As ProjectSpurs notes, the Spurs primarily relied on single coverage against Dirk through the first three quarters of Game 1 before throwing some sporadic double teams at him during the fourth quarter.

Splitter and Boris Diaw were used as the primary defenders against Dirk, which worked as close to perfect as possible with Dirk finishing the night shooting a putrid 4-14 from the field while finishing with 11 points (the same amount of points as Brandon Wright, mind you).  On the night Dirk finished a paltry 1-5 shooting against Splitter and 3-5 against Diaw.

The fact that the Spurs can throw out either Splitter or Diaw on Nowitzki is a huge plus for the Spurs.  Splitter has the length and defensive fortitude to guard Nowitzki out on the wing while Diaw has the “quickness” (or whatever you want to call it) and girth to hold his ground against the self-proclaimed “7 foot schnitzel.”

After the game when talking about defending Dirk, Tiago noted that, “You know just try to be in front of him, did not (need) help much.  It’s like um, you just guard him and forget about the rest of the game.  That’s what you do when you have to guard him.”  While this is not the most coherent English sentence ever, if the Spurs can continue to rely on single coverage against Dirk by utilizing Tiago Island or the Land Walrus, the Spurs should be in good shape not only in Game 2 but also the rest of the series.

Apr 2, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (right), and head coach Gregg Popovich (center), and Tim Duncan (left) talk on the bench during the second half against the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 111-90. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

3)      The Foreign Legion must be the Foreign Legion

Although Ellis and Nowitzki’s struggles in Game 1 were a combination of good defense from the Spurs and  an off-shooting night from the two of them, you should not realistically expect the two to go 8-28 combined shooting again.  As Coach Gregg Popovich said in regards to Dirk, “Dirk (Nowitzki) is going to score, you can’t stop that, but as long as we make him work hard, that is the goal.”

If Ellis and Nowitzki get theirs tomorrow night, the Spurs must make a concerted effort to not let players like Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Jae Crowder beat them.  I don’t expect Harris to go all throwback 2006  Harris against the Spurs again, considering that the last time he scored 19+ points before Sunday’s anomaly was eighteen games ago on March 9th.  As for Carter, who had a renaissance-like year at the ripe age of 37, the Spurs just need to continue to pressure him defensively and make him work on the defensive end.

The Spurs bench, AKA the Foreign Legion, looked extremely fragile and shaky (with the lone exception of Manu Ginobili) as a unit in Game 1.  They must shake off their jitters and perform at the high level that Spurs fans are accustomed to seeing from them throughout the regular season.

Put simply, the Foreign Legion should not be out-shined again by a Mavericks bench that finished the season about –10 points below the Spurs in average bench scoring.  It was unacceptable that the Mavs bench outscored the Foreign Legion 46-23, so look for Popovich to give steady minutes to the likes of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and Marco Belinelli in order that they may regain their mojo and wreck havoc on the Mavs.

Overall, I’m not expecting Game 2 to be another 90-85 game.  I expect that both Dirk and Ellis are going to get theirs while the Spurs (hopefully) will not shoot 3-17 again from behind the arc.  That being said, look for the Spurs to come out of the gates swinging in hopes of crushing any Mavericks hope of stealing a game in San Antonio.

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