Gregg Popovich can play his “mad scientist” routine over the next few weeks as he tweaks his rotation in preparation for the playoffs.
The benefits of adding Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw could be seen immediately with the way the Spurs attacked Dallas in an impressive 104-87 triumph.
Considering that leading scorer Tony Parker and top low-post threat Tiago Splitter were missing, Jackson was barely a week into the Spurs fold and Diaw only a few hours from joining the team, it shows what the Spurs should be able to do as they build some continuity.
Friday’s effort exhibited much versatility. The Spurs attacked Dallas for 50 points in the paint and also added 21 second-chance points. And they didn’t shoot as well as normal as the NBA’s leading 3-point shooting team shot a pedestrian 36 percent.
“We have a lot of guys and we are very deep and very versatile,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who contributed a game-high 18 points to lead the victory. “We’ve added a couple of new pieces, even before when we had a lot of guys.”
Green credited how the team has overcome a stretch of recent injuries for having a beneficial effect for the roster.
“The injuries helped us to become a lot deeper,” Green said. “It’s given our young guys a chance to play, grow, mature and get used to playing on the floor. It’s helping them grow and get better.”
Now with the starters returning during the most arduous part of the season, Green expected similar balanced scoring binges to be seen.
“Our starters are coming back and it makes us a more well-rounded team and a lot deeper,” Green said. “We’ve got guys who can do many things – not just shoot threes.”
We saw that Friday night, when the Spurs put the game away with a punishing 22-2 run midway through the second half. Six different players scored during the spree that effectively put the game away.
“It was a team victory,” Manu Ginobili said. “We did not have Tony Parker. Also, not having Splitter hurt us. But we got a great game from Stephen Jackson, Boris and Kawhi (Leonard.) It was a great team effort.”
If the group keeps playing like it did on Friday, we might see the most balanced Spurs team since the championship seasons.
Here’s how they did it.
The game, simply stated: The Spurs dominated the defending world champions from the beginning, pounding them inside with scoring and rebounding. Even without leading scorer Parker and top low-post threat Splitter, the Spurs look like they are ready to challenge the most difficult part of their schedule to date.
Where the game was won: After Jason Kidd’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 63-58 lead – its largest of the game – with 4:17 left in the third quarter, the Spurs erupted on a 22-2 run to blow the game open. They scored the final 12 points of the third quarter, starting with a banker by Matt Bonner and finishing with a 3-pointer from Ginobili and a rare bank-shot 3-pointer by Gary Neal to finish the quarter. And they kept it going with a 10-2 spurt to start the fourth quarter that included a Jackson layup, another Ginobili three, a reverse layup from Green and a three from Jackson.
Getting close: After trailing for almost the entire first half, Dallas took its biggest lead on a 15-4 run capped by Kidd’s three and the 63-58 lead. The Spurs missed six straight shots during the run and had a turnover for good measure during a run of 5 minutes, 40 seconds.
Player of the game I: Green continued his hot recent play with a team-high 18 points, six rebounds and a career-high six assists.
Player of the game II: Matt Bonner shook off the effects of a recent bout with back spasms to hit for 14 points including 4 of 5 from 3-point territory. Bonner also added five assists and two blocked shots in a game showcasing his versatility.
Player of the game III: Tim Duncan bounced back from a punishing early foul by Brian Cardinal to produce a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds along with three assists.
Most unsung: The new roster moves have given Popovich a lot more defensive flexibility as well, as was seen in the Spurs’ coverage of Nowitzki. Popovich rotated Leonard, Diaw and Jackson, leading to a miserable 5-for-21 shooting effort for the Dallas All-Star forward.
Attendance: The Mavericks are always a huge draw for the Spurs, although it was a little surprising that there were a surprising number of Dallas fans who attended – particularly in the more expensive seats near the court at the ATT Center. Another sellout crowd of 18,581 attended. It was the Spurs’ 17th capacity crowd in 23 home games this season, including 14 of their last 16 games and 10th in a row. Their last non-capacity game came Feb. 2 against New Orleans.
Did you notice I: The intensity of the game was at its highest late in the second quarter when Brian Cardinal was whistled for a flagrant foul on Duncan. But as the Spurs’ captain recovered on the floor, some of the raw emotion was stripped away as the Taco Cabana “Kiss Cam” played during the timeout.
Did you notice II: Cardinal played only 4:20 in the first half and didn’t re-enter the game until 2:04 was left in the game. Duncan probably was ready for a rest, but Popovich took no chances as he removed him before he could tangle with Duncan again at the end of the game.
Stat of the game I: The Spurs raced to their fifth victory in six games as they start an arduous back-to-back-to-back – their first of the season.
Stat of the game II: After grabbing a season best 56 rebounds Wednesday night, the Spurs almost duplicated it with 54 rebounds – only one behind the most by a Dallas opponent this season.
Stat of the game III: Duncan produced 15 points and 12 rebounds for his 16th double-double this season and his fourth in his last five games. It also marked his 14th straight game scoring in double figures and his 23rd in the last 24 games.
Stat of the game IV: The Spurs became only the 11th opponent to top 100 points against the Mavericks. Dallas’ record in those games is 2-9.
Stat of the game V: Dallas was limited to 31 percent shooting in the second half and 26.1 percent in the third quarter.
Stat of the game VI: The Spurs rang up a 50-16 edge in paint points, despite not having two of their foremost inside players with Parker’s driving layups and Splitter’s inside game missing. Since a loss against Denver on March 4, the Spurs have reached at least 50 paint points in six of their last eight games. And in the two they didn’t, they scored 44 and 48 paint points.
Stat of the game VII: The Spurs limited Dallas to 16 paint points. It tied the season low by a Spurs opponent set in a victory over Houston on Feb. 1.
Stat of the game VIII: During the Spurs’ closing 12-0 run in the third quarter, Dallas missed its final nine shots.
Weird stat of the night I: Nowitzki started the game by hitting four of his first six shots, before hitting only one of his last 15 attempts. He missed his last 13 shots of the game.
Weird stat of the night II: The Spurs’ victory marked the first time they have won without Parker in the lineup this season in three games. They are 2-5 in the last seven games he has missed.
Weird stat of the night III: Bonner had five assists to match his career high, with four coming in the second half.
Weird statof the night IV: The Mavericks were limited to four offensive rebounds, including none in the fourth quarter.
Not a good sign: Neal against had trouble with Dallas’ pressure when playing the point. Neal had turnovers on successive possessions late in the first quarter and was quickly benched in favor of Ginobili.
Best plus/minus scores: Diaw was plus-20, Ginobili was plus-19 and Jackson and Bonner were plus-17.
Worst plus/minus scores: Duncan was minus-8. He was the only Spur with a negative score.
Quote of the game: “I think our whole team had more energy then we had the last time in Dallas and that showed,” Popovich on his team’s turnaround since its loss last week in Dallas.
How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will continue their first back-to-back-to-back of the season with games Saturday at New Orleans and Sunday against Philadelphia. After taking Monday off, they’ll have another back-to-back with games Tuesday in Phoenix and Wednesday in Sacramento. The Mavericks will play Saturday in Houston, will host Houston on Tuesday and then will have road games Thursday at Miami and Friday at Orlando.
Injuries: Parker missed the game with tightness in his left hamstring. Splitter was out with mid-back spasms. Dallas played without C Brendan Haywood (sprained right knee) and G Delonte West (right ring finger fracture/dislocation).