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Elimination Playoff Preview: Keys for San Antonio Spurs to Win Game 6

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Apr 30, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Monta Ellis (11) shoots against San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw (33) in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. San Antonio beat Dallas 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs are looking to earn a win tonight away from home against the Dallas Mavericks so that they can finish this intense series and move on from these scrappy and battle-tested Mavs.  In order for the Spurs to start planning for their second round series, they must first take care of business tonight by following these three keys.

Will San Antonio Win Game 6?

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1. Give the ball to Kawhi Leonard

uApr 30, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots as Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki (41) defends in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This is one the factors that I pointed out early on in the series, and it is still applicable tonight.  Kawhi absolutely has to be involved in the Spurs offense in order for them to fend off the Mavs.  Charles Barkley has said it repeatedly this series that Kawhi has to be the second best player on the floor for the Spurs to win.  Although I do not necessarily think he needs to be the second best player, he absolutely must be involved on offense.

As seen in Game 5, when Kawhi got the ball on the low-block, he was able to score over the much smaller Monta Ellis.  Even if he did not score, the Mavs often sent double teams so that Kawhi couldn’t go to work and exploit his mismatch.  The double teams by the Mavs threw a corkscrew in their defensive game-plan by allowing Tony Parker to then be mismatched against the rotating Jose Calderon or Vince Carter.

Also, once Kawhi even flirted with getting hot the low block, the Mavs were forced to move Shawn Marion over on Kawhi, which led to either Ellis or Calderon guarding Parker.  Since Parker has had some noticeable trouble getting past the defensive savvy and big-bodied Marion, giving Kawhi the ball in the post early in the game is a recipe for success for the Spurs.

If Parker is matched up on Calderon or Ellis because of the Marion-Leonard matchup, the Spurs can easily get into their offensive flow through Parker’s relentless dribble penetration, which will open up the floor for all the Spurs sharpshooters.  If Kawhi can get the ball early and often, look for the Spurs to get the ball moving at their pace and for them to resemble the machine-like offense they were in the regular season.

2. Pick and Rolls, Pick and Rolls, Pick and Rolls

Mar 31, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) celebrates with forward Tim Duncan (21) and guard Marco Belinelli (3) after their against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Spurs won 103-77. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

If the Mavs are going to continue to switch on ball screens, the Spurs have to continue to utilize pick and rolls involving Parker/Ginboili and Duncan/Splitter.

Manu and Tiago have had noticeable success this series because Manu is looking like the Manu of old with his hard, snake-like drives to the basket.  Manu has done a much better job this series of not settling for good three-point looks and instead has forced the issue going to the basket.  This has led to the Spurs owning the paint for most of the series and making Tiago look like a pick and roll extraordinaire.

If Tiago is scoring 10+ points on any given night, then you know that the Spurs offense is working as it is supposed to.  If Manu and Tony can continue to exploit the Mavs below-average pick and roll defense, then the Spurs should be able to dominate the paint.  In effect, the Mavs may have to adjust and sag on shooters, which is exactly what the Spurs want.  Look for the Spurs to continue to force the issue inside and get easy looks.

3. Defense

Apr 30, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) is fouled while shooting against San Antonio Spurs forwards Tiago Splitter (22) and Tim Duncan (21) in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. San Antonio beat Dallas 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs have played some noticeably better defense as of late.  If it were not for Vince Carter’s throwback game, the Spurs would have pummeled the Mavs in Game 5.  Without Carter’s production, the Mavs would have finished the night shooting just 40 percent as a team with only five made three-pointers instead of their twelve.  Although I would not put it past Carter to have another out of this world game, I do not think anyone realistically expects him to go off for another 28 points and seven made three pointers (knock on wood).

Dirk had his best game of the series finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds, but if it were not for his fourth quarter explosion then he would have finished the night like every other game in this series: below 20 points.  Tiago, as noted by others, has done an outstanding job guarding Dirk so far this series.  Expect Dirk to do everything in his will power to keep the Mavs alive tonight.

The Spurs also did a good job defending Ellis.  Although he finished the night with 21 points and six assists, it was at the expense of his field goal percentage—a paltry 44 percent.  Ellis had 10 points coming in the paint, which illustrates that the Spurs did a good job of keeping him out of the paint since that is where he does most of his damage.  Although I do not support the Spurs continually going so far under screens that Ellis is able to shoot the ball undeterred, they have to continue to make him a jump shooter.  If Ellis is getting into the lane at will, then that opens up the floor for shooters like Dirk, Carter, and Calderon.

If the Spurs can play with the same defensive intensity and mind-set like they did in Game 5, then they should come out of Dallas victorious and heading back home to plan for the winner of the Houston-Portland series.

Don’t expect the Mavs to just concede tonight.  They’re going to come out at home fired up and fighting for their lives.  The Spurs have to weather the storm by following the above keys so they’ll finally advance from this tough in-state rivalry.  Both teams know what to expect of each other, so at this point it’s whoever executes the best is going to win.  Let’s hope the Spurs come out with a knock-out punch.

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