THE TOP STORY: If you were a Dallas Mavericks player or a Mavs lover searching for redemption, you found yourself walking down the wrong alley. San Antonio put the pressure on early, building a lead to as much as 18 points in the second quarter, watched Dallas fight all the way back to tie the game at 60, and then lowered the hammer with a 10-0 run late the fourth quarter to widen a four-point gap to 14 on the way to this 97-91 San Antonio victory.
Was it just the first quarter, J-Kidd, or the whole damn thing?
In the end, the Mavs spent so much energy trying to climb from the hole they dug themselves that not even a late flurry of 14 points in the final 2:24 could lift them out as they fell for the ninth consecutive time to a playoff-caliber opponent, 97-91.
SPEAKING OF EARLY: All of what unfolded truly ruined Fish's Frank Sinatra pregame open on FS Southwest:
PINPOINTING PROBLEMS: Outside of last-second shots or plays, there are few times you can point to precise moments that decided a game. Against the Spurs, here are three:
1. With 6:58 to play in the fourth quarter, and San Antonio yet to score in the period, the Mavs had crept back within two. Roddy Beaubois made a nice play to help keep a defensive rebound chance alive, followed by other Mavs corralling the board. A moment later, the ball slipped out to Roddy B and he took off on what appeared to be a chance at a game-tying fastbreak … only Manu Ginobili stood in his way.
Manu picked the ball away from a flying Roddy B and found an open Gary Neal, who launched a stomach-punch 3. In an instant, what was sure to be a tie game was a five-point deficit.
2. With 4:42 to play in the game, and the Mavs down only four after a big Dirk Nowitzki basket, a strong defensive possession watched as the heart was stolen from its chest by the luck of the bounce … Tony Parker's 3-point attempt flew errant, but reflected from the glass and through the net.
Somewhere in the distance, Josh Howard's DallasBasketball.com-directed words echoed through the AAC … "You Can't Control What The Ball Do."
From a stop and possibly a chance to get within two or one … to a seven-point deficit.
3. Shawn Marion injured his wrist and would not play in the second half. He left as the Mavs leading scorer with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and five rebounds. With him, a huge part of what had been successful for Dallas in the first half was severed.
"(Marion being out) was tremendous because he was 6-of-8 from the field and he was causing match-up problems and he was in the paint all night long laying the ball up and he's our best defender," Terry said in a rambling-but-accurate summation of what ‘Trix brought to the table. "So, it had an impact on the game."
When the Mavs made their push in the second quarter, trimming an 18-point lead to five by the half, it was Marion leading the way by hitting 4-of-5 shots for eight points in the period.
What we'll never know: Would a healthy ‘Trix kept Manu from taking over?
(DB.com bumped into Marion after the game at an Uptown hotspot. He did not indicate that the wrist was especially problematic, and in fact wore nothing more than a cotton wristband as protection. A good sign … plus, he bought us a Diet Coke, which was generous of him.)
TURNOVERS AGAINST INTELLECTUALS: Beyond those three moments, the Mavs had their chances but literally handed the game away with 19 turnovers, leading directly to 25 points for the Spurs. Jason Terry led the way with four turnovers, but wasn't alone as every other Dallas guard (Jason Kidd, Roddy Beaubois and JJ Barea) each gave away three.
"We had too many careless turnovers. I got stripped two or three times and you've got to be stronger with the ball." Jason Terry said. "I take responsibility for that because we had 19 and I had four of them. So, especially playing against them, because they scarp and claw for the ball, you have to be stronger with the ball."
Um, 13 turnovers from your top four guards is not how you beat the team with the best record in the NBA, the team Rick Carlisle called "the best team in the NBA."
And, we might add, "the smartest team in the NBA,'' too. You do something stupid, that bunch is poised to embarrass you. To the tune of 25 points on 19 turnovers.
By the way: 25 points on 19 turnovers meshed with the allowed 80 points alone to the three Spurs stars, Duncan (22), Manu Ginobili (25) and Tony Parker (33)? You do the math.
"Well,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said dryly, pretending to be unimpressed, "that's what they're contracted to do.''
OK. But do the math. That's hard for one guy scoring 23 to beat.
Said that one guy: "When a team pressures us a little bit, we throw the ball all over the gym and we dribble the ball off our feet."
PILOT ERROR: Early in the fourth quarter, Jason Terry had hit only one of his 10 shot attempts. pair that with his turnovers, and you have a player being relied heavily upon … falling flat.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), when the fourth quarter began, it was Terry scoring the first points for either team with 8:31 remaining, and then adding 12 more. 14 of Terry's 19 points came in the fourth.
After starting 1-of-10, Terry would make his final four shots.
For three quarters we saw the Terry that failed in the playoffs last season, for one we found the player we hope he can be in this year's.
One quarter out of four isn't enough.
Terry did finish with five rebounds, five assists and two blocks … all nice. But this team needs Terry to score in big games, and to do so for more than a single quarter.
We say the positive numbers are a mirage. The doubles against Jet worked. And in the four games against SA this year, Jet is unable to even hit 30 percent of his shots.
Hey, we said exactly in the pregame show what Jet needed to do … it just didn't work out.
UBERMAN UPDATE: Dirk Nowitzki finished one rebound shy of his fourth consecutive double-double with 23 points and nine rebounds. When he was involved in the offense (note that he attempted zero shots in almost nine second-quarter minutes), he was The UberMan.
Whether it's Dirk being passive, or trying to allow his teammates to find their rhythm (a tactic that has paid off for much of the season, as the bench and others have been able to step up), he must demand his shots. Breaking it down to its simplest form, Dirk is the closest thing the Mavs have to an unstoppable force.
It's OK to lean on him from time to time.
Call it an "admission'' or a "concession'' or what you will. But the Mavs don't have a lot of secondary players on Tim Duncan's level.
The Mavs have Dirk.
Before the game, Carlisle said of the Spurs, "This is by far the best team in basketball. They have been all year long.''
Predictably, Gregg Popovich pooh-poohed the notion.
"He's by far the biggest exaggerator I've ever seen," Popovich said. "He's being quite disingenuous."
Fancy talk. But difficult to truly argue with.
Here's more Carlisle, the post-game version:
WHERE WERE THE BIGS? Tim Duncan essentially represents the entire stable of "big men" for San Antonio. DeJuan Blair can be a feisty inside player capable of throwing his weight around, while Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess aren't small, but Duncan is the only true interior threat with legitimate height.
Despite this, the Dallas centers had one of their least impactful games in some time.
Tyson Chandler was again hounded by foul trouble, a problem only fed by his growing frustration with some of the calls going against him, and finished with three points, five rebounds (four of which came in the first quarter), one block and six fouls in 22 minutes.
Brendan Haywood didn't do much better, ending with two points, three rebounds and two blocks in almost 19 minutes.But Big Wood was kind enough to talk it out ...
Due to foul trouble and ineffectiveness, Ian Mahinmi played five minutes and totaled one rebound (his first in three games and just over 20 minutes of action) and no other stats.
As a group, the Dallas centers tallied five points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Tim Duncan went for 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
That's a mess, and we go back to TY on this: The expectation from the Mavs staff is that Chandler will be superior to Duncan. Carlisle says Duncan is "one of the greatest players ever,'' and that is true. But THIS Duncan needs to be offset by THIS Chandler. And once again we say: Silly emotion-driven errors waste the Mavs' time. TY's sixth and final foul, coming with 3:32 left on a Manu drive off a pick-and-roll? That's basketball. Manu burned Kidd AND Dirk AND Chandler on that one.
The answer to a play like that on one end … is a play like that on the other end.
THE BIG THREE: Tony Parker (a game-high 33 points) and Manu Ginobili (25 points) cruised into the paint at will against the Mavs defense.
San Antonio's big three scored 80 of the Spurs 97 points.
At least we can clearly see where the issues lie.
"We all three played pretty well and it feels great because, as we said before the game, it was pretty important one for us." Manu said.
THE NUMBERS GAME: Let's crunch …
*At the half, Dirk was 3-of-5 shooting, Marion was 6-of-8 and Barea was 3-of-3. The rest of the Mavs were 6-of-20 (30 percent).
Another way to look at those same numbers: Jason Terry was 1-of-8 and the rest of the Mavs were 17-of-28 (60.7 percent).
*Dirk has now hit 56 consecutive free throws, which stands as the longest current streak, and the longest by any player this season.
QUOTEBOARD: Carlisle on Roddy B after the game: "I really love his disposition right now. He's becoming one of our best perimeter defenders. He did a great job pressing up on Parker, and even Ginobili. The fouls he got were fouls where he was the aggressor. That is so many light years beyond where he was when he first got here."
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dallas is 48-21 and the Spurs are 55-13 and we suppose it's time to put away the "what-if-Dirk-hadn't-missed-nine-games alibi. … "I think everyone on this team has a little bad blood towards the Spurs," Chandler said going in, but really, wasn't there some lethargy to start? … Going into Friday, in 17 games since February 9, the Mavs had allowed 102.4 points per game. Here they kept San Antonio below the century mark, but let's not kid ourselves: 80 points by the three guys means balance is overrated … Nowitzki's line: 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists … Shawn Marion scored 13 points in 14 first-half minutes before he injured his right wrist. He didn't play after intermission. … DeShawn Stevenson started at the 3 and that's 19 different starting lineups for ‘Tinkerin' Rick' this year … J.J. Barea had 13 and Roddy Beaubois eight as Dallas closed with the unorthodox quintet of Dirk and four smallish guards. ‘The 4-PG Attack'?! … Pop continued his habit of calling a theatrically early timeout. This one came with Dallas up 2-0. … By losing, Dallas failed to clinch a playoff berth …all those little guards on the floor at the same time ... and afterwards, JJB speaks ...
THE FS SOUTHWEST POSTGAME SHOW: Fish and Emily Jones wrap it up …
THE FINAL WORD: "No excuses,'' says Mavs coach Rick Carlisle.