So that's what the San Antonio Spurs' extra gear looks like.
The top-seeded, 62-win Spurs entered their first-round series against the eighth-place Dallas Mavericks heavily favored, with many of their fans looking ahead to Round 2, where a more talented and lethal opponent would wait.
Six games later, the Spurs hadn't pulled away. Not until Game 7 did they put foot to throat and stomp the life out of Dallas' magical defiance with a 119-96 victory.
It was a performance worthy of initial expectations, a win convincing enough to restore faith in their shaky first-round effort, an infallible display by a team considered capable of shifting gears when it needs to.
Is that what Game 7 actually was? A long-awaited, yet inevitable, return to dominant Spurs basketball?
Or was it something else entirely?
A Very Spurs Game 7
To call this a competitive game would be a lie. To call this a competition of any kind would be equally wrong.
At no point were the Spurs in jeopardy of exiting early. The biggest threat they faced was being tied 3-3 in the first place. Everything else about Game 7 was a formality.
The Spurs came out blazing, torching Dallas' defense with superior quickness and shooting, burying shot after shot. They shot 68.4 percent in the first quarter as Tony Parker went all six-time All-Star on the Mavericks, tallying 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan were sensational as well. Danny Green even turned the clock back to Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, drilling his first two three-point attempts in effortless fashion.
Entering the second quarter, the Spurs were up 12. They ultimately decided that wasn't enough of a cushion.
Parker poured in another 10 points, Duncan pitched in six, and Manu Ginobili did his annual I'm-still-Manu-Ginobili thing, carving up the Mavericks up for seven points, three assists and four steals in under eight minutes.
There was no stopping the Spurs, who shot 68.4 percent (13-of-19) again leading into halftime. Not even on defense. They ran the Mavericks off the three-point line, cut off paths to the basket and forced them into a jumble of questionable decisions (six turnovers).
Dirk Nowitzki played well in the second, shooting 3-of-5 from the floor, but the shots he made were tough. Hands were in his face, bodies in his way. Nothing was coming easy for the Mavericks, who also watched the Spurs reduce Monta Ellis to a foul-prone liability.
Individual mismatches proved huge. The Mavs couldn't slow San Antonio's transition offense during that first half (nine fast-break points) and were forced to make adjustments for the third quarter.
For a split second, it looked like their lineup changes worked. The Spurs' 29-point lead dwindled down to 14. With Nowitzki at center, Dallas was combating their interior size with offensive range and versatility. Gregg Popovich even beckoned for Duncan to sit down early, electing to place Boris Diaw at the 5 in an attempt to weather the Mavericks' small-ball firestorm.
And they did.
As quickly as they gave the Mavericks life, they took it away by bottling up Nowitzki, suffocating Ellis and creating traffic jams down low that were impossible to navigate for anyone not named Devin Harris. By third quarter's end, the Spurs had regained their composure and extended a 22-point halftime lead to 26, ending the game for good 12 minutes before it was officially over.
That fourth quarter meant nothing. Duncan logged all of 37 seconds, while Ginobili only played a little more than a minute.
Victory cigars Jeff Ayres, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph saw significant action.
Marco Belinelli redefined the meaning of "clutch."
The Spurs played like the Spurs—unselfish and calculated with an interminable motor—winning like they were supposed to all along.
What took so long for the Spurs to win decidedly?
In evaluating the Spurs outside of Game 7, it would be unjust and absurd not to credit the Mavericks for the job they did and the fight they put up.
Remember, it wasn't as if the Spurs weren't playing well. They were shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from deep ahead of Game 7, which is nearly equivalent to their regular-season averages of 48.6 and 39.7, respectively.
All series long, the issue was the Mavericks. Every time the Spurs looked ready to pull away, the Mavs fought back. It was Ellis attacking. Vince Carter hitting a game-winner. DeJuan Blair providing emotional impetus. Devin Harris circa 2008-09. Nowitzki coming alive in Game 6. There was no curbing the enthusiasm of a team that came to embrace a similar success-by-committe dynamic San Antonio has made famous.
Even in Dallas' Game 2 drubbing of the Spurs, the latter still weren't terrible by their own standards. They shot 50 percent overall and from deep. They held Nowitzki and Ellis to a combined 15-of-39 shooting. Their Big Three combined for 50 points.
And they still lost. They were clobbered, and yes, their offense was uncharacteristically sloppy.
But more than that, the Mavericks, like they did all series—save for Game 7—wouldn't yield. They won battles in the paint (44-28 in Game 2) and limited turnovers (seven).
Consider what Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney wrote on the heels of Dallas' Game 6 victory:
Throughout their improbable, unshakeable upset bid over the top-seeded Spurs, the Mavericks have established themselves as a team without formula. They’ve made runs based on the sheer gravity of Dirk Nowitzki, gotten stops by reducing San Antonio’s elaborate offense to a two-man affair, won games by tethering their fate to the decision making of Monta Ellis and subsisted through a delicate balance of improbable variables. There is no underlying secret to Dallas’ success here, for no two of the Mavs’ remarkably competitive performances in this series share the same fundamental character.
There now exists this congenital need to expect the Spurs to play flawless basketball that cannot be rivaled or stopped. Sustained success has conditioned many to both never doubt and expect the world of them.
Sometimes, though, you meet an aggressive, albeit inferior, opponent who won't bow to postseason placement and reputations. The Mavericks were this team. They exceeded the most optimistic expectations, through barely any fault of San Antonio's.
In the end, it wasn't necessarily that the Spurs turned this intangible, indescribable something on. They simply wore on the Mavericks' surprising and unstructured success.
There is no shame in that for either team.
What the Spurs did in Game 7 should not go unnoticed.
With their season in jeopardy, they stepped up. There was a certain bounce to Parker's step, a particular urgency and desperation in the way Green looked for his shot and Ginobili created for his teammates.
“I thought our best game (of the series) was tonight," Popovich said afterward, via ProjectSpurs.com's Paul Garcia. "It was one of our best games of the year.”
In a way, the Spurs shifted gears, emerging victorious when it counted most. But that's what they do.
They make things "boring" by way of absolute dominance.
They play good, system-based basketball.
Will the Spurs need to play better against their second-round opponents, the Portland Trail Blazers?
But the Spurs are also dangerous, and they haven't stopped being dangerous.
Superstars are still on this team. They still have the pieces on both ends of the floor to beat anyone and everyone by any means necessary. The Spurs are fit for whatever, whenever. Be it a four-game sweep or seven-game slugfest like this one, they can win. That's what makes them so dangerous.
"We are back to playing Spurs basketball and we are going to need it against Portland," Parker said, per ProjectSpurs.com's Quixem Ramirez.
In reality, they never stopped playing Spurs basketball. Everything about this series was the Spurs—the good and the bad, the obvious and the inexplicable, the expected and the unforeseen. When the series ended, they were right where they were supposed to be, regardless of how long it took.
There was no shift in gears or philosophy, only an updated outcome that reminded everyone the Spurs are still really, really ridiculously good.
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