SAN ANTONIO (AP)
Known for nailing a motivational quote from a 19th-century social reformer to the locker room wall, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich passed on giving his players a derivative, rah-rah speech about finishing off Dallas.
``They're grown men,'' he said. ``They don't need me to tell them.''
The Spurs certainly got the message now.
San Antonio was back home Wednesday after an uninspired showing in Game 5 in which the Mavericks crushed them 103-81 to fight off elimination. It was the most lopsided game in an otherwise thrilling series of wild point swings, tough words and hard fouls among the Texas rivals.
It also might have swung the momentum back to the Mavs.
Heading into Game 6 on Thursday night in San Antonio, the Mavs abruptly went from moribund to more like the No. 2 seed favored in this series all along. If they can finally cash in on being the NBA's best road team, they'll send it back home for a Game 7.
``They're up 3-2, and we did it to ourselves,'' Mavs center Brendan Haywood said. ``Right now we have to fight and put a lot of pressure on them. If we win that game, then it becomes anybody's series.''
The Spurs are still in control, and with history on their side. Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit, though Mavs coach Rick Carlisle (Detroit, 2003) and forward Shawn Marion (Phoenix, 2006) helped pull off the feat most recently.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have also made good on their last four chances to finish off a playoff opponent at home. The last time San Antonio let a team survive elimination at the AT&T Center was 2006 - against the Mavericks.
It was a Game 7 in the memorable West semifinals, in which the Spurs couldn't finish rallying from a 3-1 deficit on their home court. Four years and massive roster overhauls later, there's little to take or glean from that series, other than perhaps a reminder.
``We're not dead yet,'' Mavs guard Jason Terry said. ``That's the motto.''
Popovich, who tore into his role players after Game 1 for ``playing like dogs,'' took aim at his starters after Tuesday's lackluster showing. He called their mental approach ``disappointing'' with a chance to end the series on the line.
The Spurs famously keep a framed quote in their locker room by 19th-century activist Jacob Riis about a stonecutter hammering at a rock 100 times before splitting on the 101st blow. The message is a touch more high-minded than, say, Popovich giving a cliched pep talk about ending the series.
But from the start of Game 5, the Spurs looked complacent. They fell behind 17 in the first half and by the fourth quarter, Duncan was already done for the night while Popovich emptied his bench to rest his starters.
``We're upset at the way we approached the game,'' Ginobili said in Dallas. ``It's something we'll learn from. I hope that's how we take Game 6, because we don't want to come here for a Game 7.''
Scrutiny that the Mavs endured while losing three straight - like benching Caron Butler and Marion in the second half of Game 2 - has shifted to the Spurs. Chief among the question marks are Duncan, who has drastically fallen off his monster start to the series.
Duncan scored at least 25 points in the first three games but has combined for just 15 in the last two since turning 34 on Sunday. Ginobili, meanwhile, is shooting just 26 percent since breaking his nose in Game 3 while insisting that it hasn't affected him.
The Mavs dictated the tempo while San Antonio's stars struggled, forgoing the half-court game the Spurs prefer to a quicker pace that Dallas favors.
It's an emphasis the Mavs have earmarked for their survival.
``It's easy,'' Marion said. ``They can't guard it.''
AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this report.