In a game the Spurs absolutely had to win, the Mavericks had no interest in making it easy on San Antonio. The Spurs came into Game 4 hoping to avoid going down 3-1 to Dallas. 3-1, as I'm sure you've heard, is fairly insurmountable. The Spurs played a lackluster Game 1 but managed to steal it in the fourth quarter. San Antonio simply did not show up for Game 2. Game 3 was a game the Spurs should have won, but they allowed the Mavericks to stay just close enough all game long and an unbelievable shot by Carter won it for Dallas at the buzzer. And so, the Spurs' brilliant 62-win season was pushed to the brink in Game 4 of the opening round. I really thought the Spurs wouldn't face a must-win until the second round, if then.
However, the West is just ridiculously tough on everyone. Although they were the eighth seed in the West, the Mavericks finished with the league's 10th best record in the regular season and seem to be peaking in these playoffs. They are a much more talented team than your typical eighth seed. Elsewhere, seventh seed Memphis is tied at two games with the vaunted Oklahoma City Thunder, and sixth seed Golden State, without injured Andrew Bogut, is also tied at two games apiece with the third seed Los Angeles Clippers.
The only teams not tied in the West are Portland and Houston, a series in which the underdog Blazers have jumped out to a 3-1 lead! This is just nuts. Over in the East, a bunch of boring teams are playing bad basketball that's seriously difficult to watch. Hopefully, Adam Silver does something about these unfair conferences in the offseason.
The game began in the worst way possible for the Spurs. After five and a half minutes of action, the Spurs found themselves down 12-2 and were lucky it was that close. The Spurs were getting decent looks, but they just couldn't get anything to fall. Luckily, the Spurs defense showed up tonight and kept the game from getting out of hand early. In the post-game press conference, a reporter asked Pop to talk about how his motivational speech got the team ready to play. "Did someone tell you I gave them a motivational speech? They lied to you. I think we went down by 10 right off the bat. Rick's motivational speech had to be better than mine. They drilled us to start the game."
Indeed they did. The Mavericks jumped on the Spurs early and drilled them. It took the rest of the quarter for the Spurs to cut the lead to a more manageable five points. After a hot start by Dallas, the Spurs defense settled in and started forcing the Mavericks into contested shots. The Mavericks ended up shooting just 36% from the field to the Spurs' 38%, which kept the game close after one quarter, 23-18.
In the second quarter, the team that we watched win 62 regular season games finally made an appearance in the playoffs. It was easily the Spurs' best quarter of the series and it was sorely needed. In it, the Spurs shot 68% from the field and 60% from distance while assisting on nine of their 13 made field goals.
As their offense soared, their defense continued to wreak havoc on Dallas. The Spurs held the Mavericks to just four of 19 shooting, 21% from the field. Kawhi Leonard, who thankfully did not flirt with foul trouble tonight, not coincidentally played all 12 minutes of the quarter. He had four points, five rebounds, an assist and a block to lead the charge. Balanced scoring, with a healthy dose of bench energy, was the recipe for a 50-36 halftime lead. Manu scored seven, Tim six, Boris six, and Patty five as the Spurs briefly remembered how to play basketball.
I say briefly because as quickly as the Spurs transitioned into beautiful basketball in the second quarter, the Mavs pushed them out of their comfort zone in the third quarter. The Mavericks scored nine points off of the Spurs' four third quarter turnovers and also "earned" nine more free throw attempts than San Antonio. Thankfully, the Spurs continued to play good defense and even with all the freebies, the Mavs only won the quarter 29-23, to trail 73-65 heading into the fourth.
For those hopeful for a stress-free game, the Mavericks immediately made it clear that it was not going to happen. Dallas dominated the first six minutes of the quarter, just as they did to begin the game, going on a 12-4 run to tie it at 77. DeJuan Blair, who only played two minutes in the first half, scored six points to close the third quarter and picked up right where he left off in the fourth. With energy he rarely showed while playing for the Spurs, Blair absolutely dominated the second half.
The Mavericks seemed to rally around Blair and were seemingly about to take control of the game when DeJuan fouled Tiago with the Mavericks leading, 83-82 with 3:08 remaining. While both players were on the floor, DeJuan intentionally kicked Tiago in the head. It made no sense, but then again, DeJuan never really made any sense. He's a 6'4", 280 lb center with no ACLs that prefers to shoot floaters and managed to eat his way out of a starting position, during the season. Suddenly, a random, intentional kick to the head doesn't seem so ridiculous.
The officials reviewed the play and correctly decided Blair had to be ejected. The Spurs converted all three free throws to take an 85-83 lead. In 16 minutes of action, Blair finished with 12 points on a perfect 5 of 5 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and stole the ball twice. He was single handedly swinging the game, and then he kicked Tiago's head. You can't make this stuff up. I'm sure Mark Cuban is his number one fan right now.
The next possession, Monta Ellis drove in and Tim picked up his fifth foul. Monta hit just one of two to cut the Spurs' lead to one. A few possessions later, Tony Parker finally made an appearance as he hit a clutch 17 footer that extended the Spurs lead back to three.
Obviously, it couldn't be that easy for the Spurs. The next possession, Tiago was forced to take his sixth foul on Dalembert to prevent a layup. Tiago had a strong game and finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds to go along with stellar defense in 26 minutes. Tiago's sixth foul was worth it as Dalembert missed both free throws, but the Spurs wasted their next possession with a discombobulated effort that ended with a shot clock violation.
Down three with less than a minute remaining, Monta drove in and converted a tough layup in traffic and was fouled. After making the free throw, the Mavericks were once again tied with the Spurs. And so the season came down to this. 87 to 87, Spurs ball, 45 seconds remaining.
Pop called the play as Tony dribbled out the shot clock. Pick and roll, Tony and Boris. Tony drove to the hoop and both defenders followed him. Tony stopped and kicked it back to a wide-open Diaw who calmly sank the biggest bucket of the season. It was glorious, but it wasn't over.
Monta brought the ball up the court and ran a pick and roll with Dirk. Manu went under the screen, and Monta pulled up for a three. He missed, but Dirk grabbed the offensive board and scored quickly to cut the Spurs' lead to a single point. Tim Duncan took the ball out of the net and quickly inbounded it to Tony. The Mavericks slyly looked for the trap and steal instead of fouling immediately, but the Spurs didn't do anything foolish and Dallas was forced to foul Manu to stop the clock.
Up one with ten seconds remaining, Manu missed his first free throw. It cannot be easy. It's just a rule of the 2014 playoffs. Nothing will be easy. We might as well get used to it. Manu did make the second free throw and so the Spurs, leading 91-89, would have to make one last defensive stand to secure the victory.
Calderon inbounded the ball to Dirk about 15 feet beyond the top of the key. Dirk drove to the left side of the court and handed the ball off to Monta, forcing a switch. Boris now had the impossible task of staying in front of Ellis. Predictably, Monta blew by Boris and got all the way to the rim. His layup went in and out and Tim grabbed the board. Manu finished Dallas off with two free throws and the Spurs tied the series 2-2 with a 93-89 victory.
- I wanted to believe that last shot by Ellis was contested and the Spurs forced the miss. As it turns out, it was a pretty clean look for Monta, although it was definitely altered at the rim. The Spurs played outstanding defense all night and they deserved the kind bounce. Dallas finished the game shooting just 38% from the field and 29% from distance. To Pop's credit, he stuck to his game plan and it finally paid off. Monta missed his contested two-pointers as the Spurs continued to go under every screen and Dirk only managed to score 19 points on 19 shots.
- Jose Calderon and DeJuan Blair are the reasons that Dallas nearly won this game. Calderon continued his hot-shooting from the outside as he nailed three of his four threes and DeJuan, as I mentioned, was having a monster game before he kicked Tiago's head.
- Every time I type that I laugh. He kicked Tiago's head. Who does that? And DeJuan is a former teammate, to make it even more confusing. I do not think DeJuan will be suspended for Game 6, but I guess it could happen. It wasn't a vicious kick, but it was intentional. What a weird dude. After the game, Tim said DeJuan's ejection changed the momentum of the game but did not decide the game. That's probably about right.
- For the Spurs, let's get the negative mentions out of the way first. Tony Parker had a very quiet game, but did hit a huge shot in the waning moments of the game. He turned his ankle midway through, but he wasn't playing well before it so I don't think you can use the turned ankle as an excuse. Parker's jumper was a little off and the Mavericks packed the paint all night long, and so he was greatly neutralized by Dallas' game-plan. Parker scored 10 points making just five of his fourteen shots. He recorded only three assists to his four turnovers and didn't get to the free throw line a single time.
- Danny Green and Marco Belinelli continued to be non-factors in the series. Neither player has shown the ability to score off the dribble, and so they are doomed. Carlisle has his defenders glued to these guys and it completely takes them out of the game. Marion plays off of Tony, daring him to shoot and packing the paint. Dallas stays on Marco and Danny while giving Kawhi and Diaw a big cushion. It's simple, but that's been enough to slow the Spurs offense. San Antonio opened things up in the second quarter as Pop mixed things up with his lineups. That might be something the Spurs go to in Game 5 more often. More shooters, with Patty, Manu, Bonner and Diaw matched with Kawhi instead of Marco. Unconventional lineups may be the way to beat Carlisle's defense.
- Everyone else for the Spurs played well. Boris and Patty finally turned in good performances. Patty found his shooting touch and regained his regular season peskiness on the defense end. Aggressive Diaw showed up made seven of his 12 shots for 17 points and also contributed four assists.
- Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter played well underneath. Though both were plagued by foul trouble through much of the game, each finished with a double-double. Kawhi also helped control the glass as he contributed 12 rebounds to go along with seven points.
- Many players played well, but Manu was the difference tonight. Whenever the Spurs seemed to be on the brink of disaster, especially in the first and fourth quarters, Manu took control and steadied the team. He scored 23 points, five assists and a game-high +/- of +11.