Friday, April 30, 2010
NBA Playoffs: San Antonio Spurs 97, Dallas Mavericks 87 (Spurs win series 4-2)
The Mavericks galloped into the AT&T Center. They limped out.
The Dallas Mavericks came into the 2009-10 season with fantasies of holding the Larry O'Brien trophy above their heads. Thursday night, the Mavericks' worst nightmare became a reality.
For the second straight game, the Mavericks attempted to stave off elimination at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. Only this time, the Mavericks didn't have the comfort of playing in their home arena. Entering Game 6 knowing that it would take a victory to extend their season and force a Game 7 back in Dallas, the Mavericks galloped into the AT&T Center. They limped out.
A season that saw the Mavs win 55 regular-season games and just their third division title in franchise history came to a screeching halt, as the squad from Big D fell 97-87 in a game in which they battled until the clock read all zeroes.
"San Antonio was a little bit more opportunistic than we were ... They were able to end the series tonight," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're all disappointed. That's unfortunately going to be a constant when you lose."
The Spurs quickly established an advantage in what would prove to be the series finale, starting the first quarter with seven straight points. With the San Antonio defense picking up point guard Jason Kidd full court to ground the Mavericks' fast-break attack, the Spurs quickly built up a double-digit lead.
"They paid a lot of attention to (Kidd). They made a point of making him work offensively," Carlisle said.
Meanwhile, Dallas struggled to find the bottom of the net. The Mavs went down 22-8 at the end of one, after hitting just 4 of 18 shots in the quarter. Dallas went the final 5:17 of the period without a score, with four points apiece coming from Caron Butler and Dirk Nowitzki.
"You have to give the Spurs credit. They're a good defensive team. That's what they do. That's what they've hung their hat on over the last decade," Nowitzki said.
"We were struggling. We were probably shooting the ball a little too quick," Carlisle explained. "Some of our quick shots were resulting in quick breaks for them and momentum. We had to try to get settled down, on the one hand. The other hand, it was hard to get anything going. That was tough. The first quarter has been a big story in this series, and it was our undoing tonight."
Nowitzki's jumper broke a 14-0 Spurs' run at the 10:46-mark in the second quarter. With both Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood picking up their third fouls, the Mavericks' rallying attempt couldn't get off the ground. Then Nowitzki picked up his fourth foul with 4:49 left in the half, ending No. 41's time on the court until the third period. But rookie Rodrigue Beaubois' quickness sped up the tempo, as the Mavericks were finally able to muster up some offense.
"(Beaubois) has been a guy that has been able to give us a lift all year ... The decision to go with Beaubois was just because dynamically he's a different type of player," Carlisle said. "I love the way that Beaubois was ready and how he played."
After trailing by as much as 22, the first-year standout guard sparked an 11-3 Dallas run to cut the Mavs' halftime deficit to 47-34.
"We made that little push there right before the half, and Roddy (Beaubois) got going," Nowitzki said. "We felt good about ourselves, being in that position."
A 35-percent shooting first half told the tale through 24 minutes of play for the Mavericks. So too did the Spurs' 18 free throw attempts in the half, compared to just six for the Mavs. But Butler's 14 points led all scorers at the midway point, giving Dallas hope. Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili led San Antonio with 13 points of his own.
To start the second half, Carlisle went to a lineup of Beaubois, Kidd, Butler, Nowitzki, and center Erick Dampier. The unit began the third quarter with a quick 10-2 spurt, capped by a Nowitzki three to cut the margin to just five.
"We really came out determined there in the third quarter. We made a nice little run and we were right back in it," Nowitzki said.
After his early foul trouble, Nowitzki made up for lost time, willing his team in front 57-56 on a 3-pointer with 4:57 left in the period. The 7-footer then received helping hands from Butler and Beaubois. But the Spurs' defense stiffened, sparking a 14-6 run to close the quarter up 70-63.
San Antonio put a little breathing room between the two squads at the beginning of the final period, as George Hill and Richard Jefferson slashed and scored inside. Still, Nowitzki continued to come on strong, shooting right over the top of the shorter Spur defenders. After a mini Spurs' run, the Mavs found themselves down eight with 4:06 remaining in their season.
That's when Butler drilled a three to keep Dallas in contention. Yet, as he had throughout the fourth, Hill answered with a bomb at the other end.
"Down the stretch, again we had our chances. But you got to tip your hat off to them. George Hill, I think, was the X-factor in the series ... He made some amazing plays," Nowitzki said.
Down 89-81 with 2:44 remaining, the Mavs attempted to make one last push. But their first-quarter struggles finally caught up with them, as the Spurs put Dallas away for good at the foul line. With their team down 10, both Kidd and Nowitzki walked off the court for a final time this season, subbing out with 16.5 seconds left to signify the end of the Mavs' playoff run.
After recording an NBA-best 27 road wins during the regular season, the Mavericks lost three games in San Antonio en route to dropping the opening-round series 4-2.
"In this series, I think we had our chances," Nowitzki said. "But it comes down to you have three chances to win one game (in San Antonio). And you've just got to find a way to win one. We were in all three of them. We were right there, and they just made a couple more plays than we did. That's what it comes down to."
Nowitzki finished with a game-high 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting, while Butler pitched in 25 points. Off the bench, Beaubois contributed 16 points and five rebounds.
"(Beaubois) has a swagger about him. And if he stays humble, he will be fun to watch for a long time. He is a special player, and if he can stay grounded, he has a good future," Nowitzki said of his young teammate.
Though little contribution came from anyone else.
"We needed some other guys to have a big game. We just couldn't quite get there," the coach said.
Ginobili's 26 points led the Spurs, while Hill added 21. Tim Duncan's 17-point, 10-rebound night handled the interior, with Tony Parker finishing just shy of a triple-double with 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
After their early struggles, the Mavericks finished the night shooting 44 percent, compared to San Antonio's 47 percent for the game. A 43-40 rebounding edge also tilted the Spurs' way, helping lead to a 17-10 advantage in fast-break points.
Now, the Mavericks head into the offseason sooner than expected, with an incomplete feeling and a remaining desire to hoist the championship hardware.
"We are disappointed. We had some ups and downs all season long, and we fought through some things," Nowitzki summed up the season. "We made a big trade and had some ups and downs after that, because it was a long season. We had some good momentum going into the playoffs and we were playing well with the new guys ... Obviously, going into the playoffs as a two seed is all that we could have wanted. We just happened to see a tough seven seed, that got rolling at the right time, got healthy and started to play well."
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