Spurs Beat Mavericks, Take Series
San Antonio took a stunning 22-point first half lead, with vicious Spurs defense (surprise, surprise!) limiting Dallas to just eight points in the first quarter. The Mavericks roared back, trailing by just 13 at the half and even taking a brief third quarter lead, but S.A. held the Mavs off, and held on to reign victorious.
The Spurs withstood a predictably great effort from Dallas talisman Dirk Nowitzki, who read the script and put out 33 points in the losing effort. (In elimination games against the Spurs throughout his career, Nowitzki has averaged more than 30 points.) Caron Butler also had a strong night with 25 points, and usually ignored rookie Rodrigue Beaubois came off the bench like a lightning bolt with 15.
Despite all that, the Spurs controlled the play. You might not believe this, but Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess actually did a credible job defending Nowitzki. Jefferson worked hard to deny Dirk the ball in the post, especially late, and McDyess kept a hand in the German's face. But, as he did in Game 1, Nowitzki hit any number of tough buckets, fueling the Mavericks' runs. On the other end, the Spurs kept things balanced, passed the ball beautifully and hit shots.
Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier alternately had trouble and muted Tim Duncan on the block. But on the wings, the Mavericks had real problems. Dallas frequently collapsed on drives by Manu Ginobili, and it just didn't work -- Manu hit some tough buckets in the lane and drew several fouls (he had 12 free throw attempts), and both he and Tony Parker used penetration to get good shots for teammates. Parker, who played 35 minutes off the bench, had eight assists, and Manu and Duncan each added five. As a team, the Spurs got assists on 23 of 37 field goals. The Mavericks assisted only 15 of their 35 buckets, relying more on isolation, typical of the post-Nash era in Dallas, even with Jason Kidd in town.
The Mavericks now either show patience for the first time in a decade, or go back to the drawing board. Dallas last lost in the first round in 2008. Coach Avery Johnson was quickly fired. In 2007 the Mavericks were knocked out in the first round as a No. 1 seed by the Warriors. Midway through the following season, Dallas traded Devin Harris for Kidd. The great Dallas dismantling following a first round defeat came in 2004, when the Mavericks let Steve Nash flee in free agency and traded Antawn Jamison for Jerry Stackhouse and the pick which would become Harris.
It seems more likely that the Mavericks will let this current roster marinate, though Haywood, acquired in the midseason trade which also brought Butler to Dallas, is an unrestricted free agent. Nowitzki can also become an unrestricted free agent by opting out of the final season of his contract, a decision he must make by June 30.
As for the Spurs, you have to believe the team will be confident going forward. The Mavericks were considered the top challenger to the Lakers atop the Western Conference, and all told, San Antonio had its way with Dallas much of this series. Should the Lakers finish off the Thunder this week, it's obvious to me they'll breathe a sigh of relief the Spurs aren't in their bracket, no offense to the Jazz or Nuggets.