Calling on Harris is brilliant
SAN ANTONIO – One afternoon in the middle of the season, Avery Johnson was talking about the importance of a few of his players to the team's overall success. He started with Dirk Nowitzki, of course. He talked about Josh Howard and, off the bench, the scoring of Jerry Stackhouse.
But he spent the most time talking about how excited he was about what Devin Harris, the second-year guard who was still learning the NBA game, could bring: speed. But at the time, he'd trusted Harris to start only a couple of games.
So it was a bit of a shock Tuesday night to see Harris walk onto the court with the rest of the Mavericks starters to begin Game 2 against the Spurs. It even suggested Johnson was panicking down one win to none to the defending champions. That hardly seemed to suggest a lineup change.
And didn't we just see Dave Tippett do the same thing with the Stars' lines in Game 2 of what turned out to be a disastrous Stanley Cup playoff series against Colorado?
But Johnson is no Tippett. His coach of the year award is evidence of that, as is the remarkable start he's put together as a young coach, the most remarkable in the history of the NBA in such a brief time.
Harris' insertion into the starting lineup took advantage of the one area in which the Mavericks eeked out an edge in what was a remarkably evenly played Game 1: fast breaks and transition baskets.
Through much of what turned out to be a Game 1 setback for the Mavericks against the Spurs, Johnson skipped up and down the sidelines winding his right arm through the air as if he were a human windmill. It was his way of encouraging his younger and faster charges to push the pace against the more aged and slower Spurs.
The Mavericks managed to do so for most of the first half. Then the Spurs slowed everything down.
They were unable to Tuesday. Harris wouldn't let them.
Harris jump-started the Mavericks, and the Spurs never could catch them. It was like watching the proverbial race between the tortoise and the hare, except it was the hare that had the guile, too.
Harris was but a blur. For the Spurs' quick-as-lightning All-Star guard Tony Parker, he must have felt as if he were playing against himself.
Harris can't shoot, yet. But it doesn't matter much when he can go around and by other players as if they were mere telephone poles.
Most of his 20 points came on drives to the basket. Some were from the right side. Others were from the left, where he put the ball up with his right.
Harris out-Parkered Parker. He was nothing short of brilliant and made his coach look again like a genius.
This is but another reason Johnson was tagged with the nickname "Little General." He is fearless. He isn't afraid to stick his sword into the air and yell "charge!"
After all, just about everything Johnson's decided to do this season has worked out like a charm. He turned Erick Dampier into a very serviceable player by bringing him off the bench to play mostly against second-tier centers. He improved his team's defense, and made the offense more efficient, by employing Adrian Griffin with the starting five.
Now he's gone back to making the most of Jason Terry's talents, as a scoring guard, by taking the point guard responsibilities from him and handing them to Harris, surprising his old mentor, Gregg Popovich, in doing so.
Maybe we should re-nickname Johnson the Little Genius, instead.
Destiny rides again!
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