Another furious comeback attempt by the Dallas Mavericks was turned away by an unlikely man. Spurs center Tiago Splitter has had a nice series, but he didn’t seem capable of single-handedly taking over a playoff game.
That was the case right up until the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki turned back the clock and put on a brilliant shooting display to bring the Mavs within striking distance. But it was hard to get any real traction because of Splitter’s dominance on the offensive end. He had nine points, six rebounds and four assists in the fourth quarter to help lead the Spurs to a 109-103 win and take what feels like a commanding 3-2 lead in the series.
Splitter had 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in what was his third consecutive double-double. It’s hard to believe he entered this series without any double-doubles in the playoffs.
Nowitzki had another poor start to the game, but he got hot down the stretch. He had 14 of his series-high 26 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-10 shooting. It was the type of throwback performance that Mavs fans had so desperately wanted. Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Monta Ellis combined for 74 points. And it took that gaudy number to even keep the game reasonably close. Nowitzki had a wide-open look from the baseline with just over two minutes left that would’ve trimmed the Spurs’ lead to two points. He missed the shot, and Tony Parker splashed a dagger 3-pointer on the other end to give the Spurs a 7-point lead.
After staying up most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to witness the birth of his first child, Parker had his best overall game of the series. He showed no signs of being hampered by an ankle injury as he darted through the lane for layups in the first quarter. And for the first time this series, Parker didn’t pull a vanishing act in the second half. He had 23 points and five assists to go along with only one turnover. Maybe it helped that he wasn’t constantly being berated by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
It’s impossible to know if Mavs suspended center DeJuan Blair would’ve changed the outcome of Wednesday’s game, but it was rather obvious that Dallas was compromised at the position. Starter Sam Dalembert had to leave the game in the first quarter when he suffered an ankle injury. He returned in the first half, but the Mavs had to lean on backup Brandan Wright too much. It’s not good for him to be on the floor in this series for 24 minutes. And for some reason, Wright has looked clueless when it comes to pick-and-roll defense.
I know the Spurs are a great passing team, but they shouldn’t be able to make the Mavs look this silly. At one point TNT analyst Chris Webber referred to Splitter as "Tiago Stockton." It was an appropriate remark because Splitter was making gorgeous bounce passes to teammates.
"There’s just things that we’re going to have to do in Game 6 that are all about guts and digging down," Carlisle told reporters after the game. "We can do it. We will do it."
Nowitzki and Wright were both out of position much of the second half. And players such as reserve point guard Devin Harris weren’t providing much help. This was really the first game in the series where the Spurs looked like the dominant team for long stretches. Carlisle had been upset with his team’s defense in Games 3 and 4. And things got worse in Game 5.
Maybe the Mavs can take solace in seeing Nowitzki play like a superstar in the fourth quarter. But it has to be disheartening to see the Spurs score so often on uncontested dunks and layups. Shawn Marion has played superbly at times in this series, but he was a liability in Game 5. He was 3-of-10 from the field and didn’t seem to bother any of the players he defended.
It feels like the Spurs have finally shaken off the rust that comes with not having to play meaningful games the last week of the regular-season. The Mavs have certainly made life difficult for them, but I’m not sure how much they have left in the tank.
If the Mavs are to have any chance of forcing a Game 7, they have to figure out a way to slow down the pick-and-roll. And yes, they have to find an answer for Splitter.
He’s been a nice role player the past few years. In Game 5, he took his turn as a leading man.