Jason Kidd's Last Stand: Another Maverick Nightmare for the Spurs
Dirk Nowitzki will not make 12 of his 14 shots again in this series. If Antonio McDyess plays the same stick-to-the-hip defense in Game Two, Nowitzki will miss more than a few attempts.
The idea that Bruce Bowen somehow manhandled the German forward is a misnomer. No team in the history of the world has an answer for Nowitzki when he shoots as he did Sunday.
Just as the Spurs have no one who can stop Nowitzki, the Mavs have no one to stop Tim Duncan. Brendan Haywood will play the McDyess role, but Duncan can find ways to beat whatever defensive scheme Rick Carlisle throws his way.
Maybe Manu Ginobili was right. The Spurs were right there, they had a chance. They will get the same chance for the duration of the series.
Popovich aired out Richard Jefferson at the podium without saying his name.
"We had a lot of guys play like dogs tonight."
By "a lot," he means one athletic forward making $14 million, brought in last summer to make the difference in a series like this.
More from Jefferson will help San Antonio's cause.
He could have been talking about George Hill, but the hobbled guard clearly was not ready for playoff action. He tweaked the ankle he sprained in L.A a few weeks ago by stepping on the foot of a cameraman in Wednesday's regular-season finale.
The positives of defeat end there.
There can be no question, now, that Popovich erred in resting Manu Ginobili and Duncan last week.
Win that game, and you play the Phoenix Suns. If the Portland Trail Blazers, missing Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla, and Brandon Roy, beat the league's hottest team on the road, imagine what the Spurs could have done at U.S. Airways Center.
Psychology means everything. The Spurs own the Suns in the playoffs, and nothing could have changed that.
In submitting to his injury paranoia, did Popovich walk into his version of such a mismatch?
Wednesday's game was also within reach, even with Duncan and Ginobili watching from the locker room. Rookie Dejuan Blair scored 27 points and hauled down 23 rebounds.
A tip shot with less than three minutes left pulled the Spurs to within six.
They would get no closer.
The same could be said of Sunday's affair. The Spurs outscored the Mavs in the paint 50 to 32, shot 50 percent, and lost.
Popovich groaned afterward about his team's 17 turnovers, which lead to 20 Dallas points. The Mavs owned the edge in offensive rebounding, too. A big one.
The Game One factor that should concern Popovich most is a player who scored 13 points. He also handed out 11 dimes and grabbed eight rebounds.
Popovich and R.C. Buford offered $90 million to this guy in 2003. Now, the coach should want to pay that much just to get out of this damning matchup.
The Jason Kidd the Spurs so admired after facing him in the NBA Finals now makes the Mavs as unbeatable in the I-35 rivalry as ever.
Others in the Spurs organization likely did, too.
Harris possessed the speed to negate Parker, and he also proved a bugaboo on the offensive end.
The Mavericks had just traded for a mid-30s veteran who had no chance of hanging with Parker. He would be toasted quicker than a loaf of Mrs. Bairds bread.
Sunday night, the Spurs saw the other side of the deal, the one that could tilt this matchup in Dallas' favor for the rest of Duncan's career.
Kidd can do things Harris never could. He sees the court like an X-Ray machine sees luggage.
Harris' boasted all the court vision of a blind man in traffic. Harris would throw up ill-advised 20-footers when his team needed to run clock.
He passed to teammates who weren't open. He bowled over set defenders.
His late-game foolishness often earned him a spot on the bench next to Avery Johnson.
The Mavs have as many weapons now as they did in 2006. Kidd knows how to use them, and one play highlighted this.
Kidd pushed the ball up the court and passed to Nowitzki who then passed back to his wide-open point guard. He could have taken the three-pointer, and no one would have criticized him.
He had, after all, just hit two backbreaking treys in a row.
Instead, he spotted Jason Terry with space on the wing and passed to him.
Kidd knows who needs the ball and how to get it to them.
What the Mavs' lost with Harris speed they gained back with Kidd's acumen.
The last thing Popovich needed was the Mavericks to get smarter.
Kidd controlled the game with his newfound dead-eye perimeter shooting and his quarterback reads of the Spur defense.
If he continues to make threes with Parker's hand inches from his teeth, the Spurs should count on a short series.
Duncan poured in 27 points and made his usual opening statement. Ginobili produced 27 points in his trumpeted return to the playoffs.
Parker, still recovering from his month off after a hand fracture, scored 18 points.
The Mavs had answers for everything. Good ones.
Kidd, 37, begun his last stand in fine fashion. He cannot play at this level for eternity, and everyone from Nowitzki to Caron Butler knows it.
That might explain why fewer in the Dallas supporting cast played like dogs. This might be Kidd's final chance to win the elusive title that would complete his Hall of Fame career.
Nowitzki does not hesitate when he names the real owner of this matchup.
"They have four rings, and we don't," he told reporters.
He has never played better, and he should thank Kidd more than anyone else.
The Spurs best in this series might not be good enough.
If Hill cannot regain his pre-injury form, and if Jefferson fails to get on track, San Antonio is in trouble.
Popovich must figure out how to neutralize one of his players. Avery Johnson's coaching impacted the 2006 series.
He knew the Spurs as well as anyone on the San Antonio bench did.
Now, the coach comes face to face again with the floor genius he coveted in the early part of the 2000s.
Parker and Ginobili can combine to make the same passes, but Matt Bonner, Roger Mason Jr., Jefferson, Hill, and Keith Bogans must convert the open looks.
Mason continues to wear a splint on his shooting hand. Hill has not recovered from his sprained ankle. Bogans has never been a consistent shooter. Bonner and Jefferson are wild cards not worth betting the house.
Popovich did not play pick-your-opponent last week, but maybe he should have. A matchup with the still defenseless Phoenix Suns, who allowed Andre Miller to match his playoff career-high with 31 points, looks more appealing by the day.
The Spurs would be on their way to another first-round triumph.
Popovich, instead, seems to operate with the delusion of Mike D'Antoni. He still likes his team's chances against the Mavericks, just as D'Antoni and Steve Nash kept beckoning the Spurs to their own detriment.
Doesn't he see the problem? This isn't about adjustments, or dogs, or missed items on the scouting report.
The Spurs could win 20 in a row, and the Mavs could lose 20 in a row. Dallas could still win.
When the Mavericks ousted the Spurs in last year's playoffs, they did so with no momentum and an owner willing to ship out everyone not named Nowitzki if the losing continued.
Maybe the Spurs should want Kidd and Harris to swap places a second time.
Popovich walked right into the climax of "Kidd's last stand," a film about another Spurs opening round death and one icon's final pursuit of gold hardware.
When it ends, no one on the Spurs will cheer.
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