"It was back-and-forth the whole game,'' said coach Rick Carlisle after his Mavs ended the Spurs' 12-game winning streak with a 103-94 victory. "It was a game of will and we survived it.''
And the other team did not, washed over as it was by Dallas' flood of fourth-quarter perfection.
What happened in San Antonio has been commonplace for 11-4 Dallas on a number of levels. I might even suggest that it's so commonplace that (brace yourself, because here we go again) that Mavs fans who fail to appreciate this … who "guarantee'' that this is all a precursor to eventually postseason disappointment … are …
b) Robbing themselves of a damn good time watching this team once again fight its way to an elite record.
First, to being "The Stopper'':
Over the course of this early season, the Mavs have opposed the Grizzlies after they'd won two straight, the Hornets after they'd started the season 8-0, the Hawks after they'd won two straight, the Celtics after they'd won five straight, the Thunder after they'd won five straight, and now the 13-1 Spurs.
The Mavs beat them all.
They are not only playing the schedule God gave them … they are also playing teams that ramp up toward their meetings with Dallas on sizzling streaks.
And Dallas fizzles their sizzle.
One of the reasons this happens? Dallas wins fourth quarters.
Dallas' reputation as a clutch fourth-quarter team that usually wins tight games – a rep that doesn't gain them much favor with The Spoileds or The Point-Differential Worshippers but has always seemed to me to be a credit to the execution of people like Carlisle, Kidd and Nowitzki – is being further cemented.
The Mavs came in to the post-Thanksgiving visit to The Alamo City as a statistically elite fourth-quarter team, especially on defense, where they'd allowed just 21 points per quarter and had the second-best FG-against numbers in basketball.
Sonovabitch, they did it again.
Many of us have tired of the "jumpshooting Mavs,'' and to some degree, Tyson Chandler's high-rise apartment above the rim notwithstanding, that is unchanged. But how about if the Mavs remake themselves on the other end of the floor?
How about if they are seen holding the Spurs to 6-of-18 final-quarter shooting, and to 21 points, and for the game, to 14 points below their per-game average?
These Mavs are never out of any game. Spin that as "they shouldn't fall behind'' if you wish. (Except … if you don't think they are any good, then how can you also think they should be too good to fall behind?)
Trailing late? No bother. Again, we gnash our teeth over old guys piling up minutes … and maybe that catches up with some of them someday (in Dirk's case, maybe when he's 80). But trailing late and playing lots does not seem to bother this team of veterans, which, led by the 37-year-old Kidd, averages 30 years of age in its starting lineup.
Those aforementioned streak-busters? Just this week, Dallas was down seven to the Pistons in the fourth (and won), down 10 at OKC midway through the fourth (and won), and down by a point to start the final quarter in San Antonio.
But for the year, the Mavs have entered five fourth quarters while trailing … and they are now 4-1 in those situations.
The Mavs keep slapping around supposed concerns like this.
*The road isn't an issue; Dallas is now 6-1 away from home.
*Scheduling quirks are not an issue; Dallas will on Saturday finish up a four-games-in-five-nights streak with a visit from Miami, and will be attempting to win all four.
*Roster burps are not an issue, either; before the game, Carlisle announced a one-game suspension for center Brendan Haywood, a decision (fueled, we assume, by Big Wood's knuckleheadedness). That figured to put a great deal of pressure on starting center Tyson Chandler, who simply followed up his 17-points/18-rebounds effort in the Wednesday win at Oklahoma City with 19 points and eight rebounds. Furthermore, the Mavs inserted into the rotation two rarely used French 7-footers, newcomers Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca. Mahinmi, last year a member of the Spurs, was the backup center and made contributions to the tune of three points, four rebounds, a block, an important dunk and 13 minutes, all adding up to a plus-6. Ajinca dressed for the first time all year and played two minutes and grabbed two rebounds.
Heavy minutes? Chandler played 35. I'd be fine if he did that more often.
Of course, ultimately it comes down to Dirk Nowitzki, who this week … night after night after night … has lived up to his status as "The UberMan.'' Dirk's gone for 42, 34 and 26 this week, that last number his total against the Spurs – coming on a ridiculously efficient 12-of-14 shooting.
In fact, check this out: This week alone, Dirk has those 102 points in three games – and he's done it on just 52 shots.
San Antonio scrambled for answers against Nowitzki, first going with squatty center DeJuan Blair, later trying the overmatched That Bonner Character, and finally opting to attempt to double-team the ball from Dirk's hands. (Which didn't work well, either.) They never did get around to letting Tim Duncan try, though Timmy was very much occupied pushing the new "Respect For The Game'' rules, bitching on seemingly every call that dared favor a team besides his.
Nowitzki got help, though, as Dallas mounted a 14-2 run to overcome what had been an 88-86 deficit with about five minutes to go. Carlisle – maybe crossing his fingers as he rested Chandler and Kidd – let the likes of J.J. Barea and Ian Mahinmi attempt to keep it close.
Carlisle rolled the dice and even those guys came through – at least in terms of eating some time without causing the Mavs to collapse under the pressure of opposing the best team in the NBA in their house.
And then, when the front-liners returned – front-liners who have now led Dallas to four straight regular-season wins over the hated San Antonios -- it was all Mavs.
Part of that was Shawn Marion, who doesn't start (Caron Butler did that, and had his moments as a jumpshooter) … but who once again finished effectively. The Matrix was 8-of-12 for 19 points while trying to keep Manu Ginobili (31 points) from going even more nuts.
"That's two games in a row now that Marion's gone toe-to-toe and battled two of the best players in the game,'' Carlisle said, referring to Ginobili and OKC's Kevin Durant. "There is a competitiveness and an intensity about him, and the rest of the group feeds off of it.''
Countered Marion, befitting his unselfish approach as a former star who now comes off the Dallas bench: "We all feed off each other.''
And they also are not only feeding off their own successes … but also off other teams' winning streaks.