DALLAS – Serious sports fans know to never judge a game by its score because it never tells the entire story. Wednesday night’s “IH-35 Rivalry” duel between the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks was no exception.
The Spurs (50-32) lost to the Mavericks (55-27) 96-89 on in the last game of the regular season, but managed to turn on the pressure without three of their major players. Coach Gregg Popovich made the game time decision to rest Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in an effort to conserve the two for the impending playoffs, but it wasn’t long before George Hill left the game with a slight ankle injury during the first quarter.
Popovich decided to start Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Roger Mason Jr., and George Hill. Just five minutes into the game, Hill went for a successful layup and tripped over a cameraman. Having just come off a four-game stretch on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Hill was immediately pulled from the game as a precaution. He left with six points on the board.
Following a failed Matt Bonner jumper, Blair showed some aggressiveness with an offensive rebound, scoring on a three-point-play. A basket and free throws from Caron Butler quickly diminished San Antonio’s early lead to two points until Richard Jefferson added a basket to give the Spurs a little room to breathe, 16-12 with nearly four and a half minutes left in the first quarter.
Stripping a loose ball from Dallas, Tony Parker looked like himself again as he drove the ball back into the Spurs’ territory. With nowhere to go, Parker passed to Bonner, who in turn passed to Jefferson. Before he could pass the ball, Jason Terry knocked the ball out of Jefferson’s hands. Mason was able to recover and pass back to Jefferson, whose three-point attempt failed but was tipped back by Blair. Jefferson caught the ball, passed back to Mason, who also tried for a shot off the arc but couldn’t get it in.
The missed shooting foreshadowed the beginning of a massive Dallas run, in which the Mavericks scored 14 points in the last two minutes of the quarter. Dallas reversed the six-point lead once held by San Antonio to lead the Spurs 30-22 at the end of the first.
In an attempt to recover, Garrett Temple passed to a waiting Mason but was blocked by Brendan Haywood. As Dallas tried to take it back, Bogans stepped up to block a Terry shot. Temple’s back-to-back two-pointers finally ended the Spurs’ stretch of six consecutive missed shots, bringing San Antonio back within nine points, 38-29 Dallas.
Haywood continued to give Parker trouble, but Parker was still able to make back-to-back jumpers with just over five minutes on the clock as the Spurs continued to trail the Mavericks by 10. Missed shots plagued San Antonio, as did the Mavericks’ aggressive offense led by Butler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Kidd. Just under two minutes left in the half, Parker completed a layup only to miss a second one.
A missed shot by Temple was immediately recovered by San Antonio as Kidd’s attempted pass to Eduardo Najera was completely intercepted by Blair. Spying Temple open closer to half-court, Blair passed to Temple, who was able to go for a slam dunk with just seconds left on the clock. The dunk allowed San Antonio to return to the locker room at the half down by ten as Dallas held a 56-46 lead.
Missed shots continued to plague San Antonio, until Tony Parker drained a three from the corner to bring San Antonio back within six of Dallas, 57-51 less than two minutes into the third. Just two possessions later, Parker tried from the same corner and missed.
The third quarter became much of a question and answer session on court; the Spurs would ask if they could recover from the Mavericks’ lead. Dallas answered each Spurs basket as shown by a Butler steal, resulting in a two-point jumper by Nowitzki just before McDyess was able to add another basket.
Just three minutes left in the quarter, Blair went for a layup under the basket and was able to make it a three-point play after being fouled to narrow Dallas’ lead again. The Mavericks fought back though, San Antonio 75-64 at the end of the third quarter.
Temple continued to prove his defensive prowess throughout the fourth quarter, as shown by his major blocks on Caron Butler and Shawn Marion. Just seconds after his block on Marion, Temple sank a three-pointer to bring San Antonio back within seven points of Dallas, 87-79.
To counter Temple’s defensive contributions on one side of the ball, Blair gave the Spurs the offensive drive they needed to compete with Dallas’ roster. On a major steal from Barea, Blair got the ball to Bogans for a breakaway. After regaining possession, Blair was fouled on a reverse layup attempt. After making one of his two free throws, he was able to contribute two additional baskets in the last minute of regulation for a total of nine points in the fourth quarter alone.
While the Spurs refused to go down without a fight, Dallas prevailed with the 96-89 win to cap the season series 3-1 and finish the NBA regular season.
After a major night on the court, Blair led the team in scoring with 27 points and 23 rebounds, just one point shy of his career high. Parker added 16 points, followed by Temple with 14; the three were the only Spurs scoring in the double digits. No other Spur could compare with Blair in rebounds – McDyess had 9 and Mason had 6.
Seventh-seeded San Antonio will return to the American Airlines Center on Sunday for the first round play-off match-up against second-seed Dallas. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. CST.