In last season's playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were ousted by the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the first round. This time, the Spurs returned the favor, booting the Mavericks in six games. A Dallas team that hoped for a championship this season after adding key pieces (Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood) at the trade deadline last February.
During the 2009 NBA playoffs against the Mavericks, the Spurs had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and little else. Oh how things have changed in a matter of one season.
While Manu Ginobili and George Hill provided the additional firepower the Spurs needed, two unsung heroes from the opening round of the 2010 playoffs were Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair. These two players impacted the series without lighting up the scoreboard. They did it with grit, hustle and determination.
McDyess' effectiveness can't be truly justified. Dirk Nowitzki torched the Spurs on offense as he averaged 26.7 points on 54.7% shooting from the field in six games. But McDyess battled and defended Nowitzki to the best of his abilities for the entire series. In other words, he made Dirk work for his points. He did that while also doing a good job on offense, he averaged 6.7 points and 7 boards while shooting 54.1% from the field in six games against the Mavericks.
Blair on the other hand was effective in his limited role. He managed to average 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds (2.3 on the offensive end) in just 9 minutes of playing time. How many NBA players can produce with such little playing time?
Most players will require the ball in their hands and will need to log a lot of minutes to make an impact to the game. Blair? He gets the job done by diving for loose balls, grabbing rebounds and scoring on tip-ins and put-backs. He made a difference despite being a rookie and an undersized big man.
Yes, the Spurs needed their offensive game clicking to match the Mavericks' firepower on offense. But they also relied on McDyess' and Blair's defense and hustle to get it done.
In Game 4, Blair provided some instant offense and timely rebounds as he helped the Spurs preserve a seven point lead going into the final period. They won that game by three points 92-89. Blair's line for the game -- 7 points, 7 boards (5 offensive) on 3-4 shooting from the field. He also added an assist, a block and a steal without a single turnover in just 12 minutes of playing time.
Then in Game 6, McDyess grabbed a crucial rebound in the fourth quarter and made two clutch baskets down the stretch as the Spurs clinched the series in six games. As a result, the Spurs will move on to the next round beating a much talented and stronger opponent.
In the end, the series was won by team effort, but much credit should go to McDyess and Blair for doing their part. As the Spurs goes deeper into the playoffs, they will need every bit of McDyess' interior defense and veteran savvy and Blair's energy and hustle off the bench.
Facing another talented and familiar foe in the Phoenix Suns, let's hope that both Blair and McDyess will continue to make a difference for the Spurs.