SAN ANTONIO -- It took at least four games, but the San Antonio Spurs appear as if they have figured out what the Dallas Mavericks want to do in terms of their pick-and-roll defense. The Spurs carved up the Mavs for a total of 54 points in the paint in their Game 5 victory on Wednesday night.
At times, it didn't necessarily feel like Game 5 of a playoff series. Instead, it looked like a team was going through its pregame layup line routine.
"We just played," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said about his team's offensive attack. "We just did what we usually do, nothing different."
They played, and they made Dallas' defenders have to fight over every pick that they set.
Dallas had a magical 28-point performance from Vince Carter and the first real strong performance of the series for Dirk Nowitzki as he scored 26 points. The scoring balance wasn't ideal for Dallas as it had only three players score in double figures -- each of whom scored at least 20 points -- but the Mavs know the defensive end of the floor sealed their fate.
"We just have to stick with it," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "They're a tough team. It's a tough series and all of that kind of stuff. It's the playoffs, it's supposed to be tough."
The Spurs continued to show why they're a championship-caliber team, waiting the Mavs out on every possession Dallas had the ball. The Spurs forced the Mavs to play nearly the entire 24 seconds of the shot clock. As they stayed patient, they blitzed the Mavs and carved them up with a variety of pick-and-roll attacks. Dallas simply didn't have an answer for the oldest play in the book.
"Obviously, they're a little smarter with it now," Nowitzki said. "We've been doing it for five games. That roll is tough. You can't give [Tim] Duncan or [Tiago] Splitter those easy, uncontested layups.
"That's something the coaches will look at. We just have to have more energy about our defense."
Energy was certainly missing in that department, meaning DeJuan Blair's one-game suspension doomed the Mavs. Blair had to miss Game 5 because of his kick to Splitter's head in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
In addition to the strong screens, San Antonio is stretching Dallas out just a little bit more with its spacing. With Dallas unwilling to give up the 3-point shots, the extra room is giving San Antonio just enough of a window to deliver punishing interior passes.
"The communication on the pick-and-roll has to be much better," Mavs center Samuel Dalembert said. "We've got to handle that. We've just got to take care of that. There were way too many easy baskets."
Facing elimination for the first time in the series and having to get off the mat once again, the Mavs will have to find a way to deliver in the department that has haunted them all season long. With that in mind, Carlisle says he believes in his team's resolve and their ability to perform.
"We've been down this road. We've had a lot of difficult losses," Carlisle said. "We always find a way to bounce back, and that's what we're going to do for Game 6."