Well... that went south in a hurry.
After Dirk's brilliant performance in the playoff opener, the Mavs have faltered, fallen and flat out failed on so many levels that it's hard to see the playoffs lasting much longer than a game or two. After blowing an 11-point halftime lead, does this team even have what it takes, does it have the heart, to earn a win at American Airlines Center in Game 5?
The Mavs held the Spurs "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to a quiet night, but it was George Hill who continued to knock down big threes from the corner as San Antonio put away the Mavs, 92-89, to take a 3-1 series lead. Hill finished 5-of-6 on three-pointers with a game-high 29 points.
One area where the Mavs could beat the Spurs is in a battle of free throws. Dallas did have a better night from the charity stripe (shooting 78% to the Spurs' 64%), but each team managed to make 18 free throws. So if Dallas is actually going to take advantage of this area of overwhelming ability, then the Mavericks would be wise to drive to the basket and get to the line. Still, this doesn't seem to be a team capable of making the tougher drive to the basket. Instead we are left to watch this team try to shoot itself back into a game. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't. I felt like we were back watching the 2001-2004 Steve-Nash-led Mavericks.
And for the life of me, I can't figure out why Shawn Marion was on the bench late in this one. Oh, it was nice to hear about how he's more effective in a fast-paced game and not as effective in the half court game, but his defense and size could have helped the Mavs battle with the Spurs late in the game. If he was supposed to be the big upgrade this offseason, head coach Rick Carlisle should think about actually using him when it matters.
In the most physical game of the series, the only Maverick who truly seemed up for the dog-fight was Eduardo Najera, who got tossed almost immediately after getting into the game when he took down Ginobili. Was it a clean play? Hell no. But it seemed like if Mavs scorers were going to get banged up on their way to the rim, then Najera was going to make sure the Spurs felt the fire as well.
Dirk continues to be one of the least respected superstars in the NBA, and it's amazing to see the calls he doesn't get. And while Erick Dampier did have a legit gripe about the refs, maybe he should work on catching the ball when it's passed to him so he doesn't finish with more turnovers (2) than points (0). Dampier and Brendan Haywood each seemed ready to clear out of the lane after each jacked up jump shot launched by the Mavs perimeter. And while the Mavs did win the rebound match up, 48-43, in this game, it doesn't mean the bigs were getting the job done. In 12 minutes, DeJuan Blair grabbed 7 rebounds for the Spurs, while Dampier had 5 in 19 minutes and Haywood had 4 in 25. Ugh.
So now the Mavericks drudge back to Dallas facing elimination from here on out. It might be one more game, maybe two. But if the Mavs are going to get back to Dallas again for Game 7 of this series, they would have to take Game 6 in San Antonio. And despite being the best road team in the NBA this year, the Mavs' road success in the playoffs does not match its regular season record. The Mavs went 27-14 on the road this year, but Dallas hasn't had a solid road playoff win since beating the Spurs in Game 7 in the 2006 conference semifinals.
Here's to hoping Dallas can TCB at home, and find the much-needed spark to get back into this series.