Spurs need to start playing like champions to avoid upset
MAY 03, 2014 11:56a ET
The San Antonio Spurs never expected to be in this position. Needing a seventh game to knock off an eighth seed is not the stuff of champions.
Just ask the Miami Heat, who probably would've spent the last week on a beach if they didn't already live on one.
Nope, the Spurs are in a pickle of a first-round series against their longtime playoff nemesis because they haven't played like champions. Returning to the AT&T Center for Game 7 against the Dallas Mavericks promises nothing. No need to harken back to 2006 for perspective.
The first six games of this series is a history lesson in itself.
"Well, you wouldn't give it away, but it doesn't guarantee you anything," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of hosting Sunday's deciding game. "We've won Game 7s and we've lost Game 7s."
An arena full of Baseline Bums won't make a difference if the Spurs don't clean things up at both ends of the hardwood. Manu Ginobili was a nonfactor in Game 6, scoring just six on 1-for-8 shooting in his worst effort of these playoffs.
Manu's struggles were contagious along the bench. In the previous game in Dallas on Monday, San Antonio reserves accounted for 50 points and 12 rebounds. That production was down to 25 and eight on Friday.
Former Spur DeJuan Blair returned from his one-game exile on Friday to gobble up 14 boards and score 10 in 29 bruising minutes off the bench. Think he's suffering from a lack of motivation?
"He was all over the floor," Popovich said. "He was a man possessed at both ends of the floor."
The Mavericks shot 52 percent in Game 6, the third time in the series they've shot at least 49 percent. Those also happen to be Dallas' three wins. Dirk Nowitzki appears to have found his jumper again, and Monta Ellis' speed continues to confound the Spurs.
"It's a tough matchup," Ginobili admitted. "They're good, and they can score."
But so can the Spurs. Outside of Manu and his second-team cohorts, there are plenty of positive signs to take from Game 6 for the Silver & Black. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were solid offensively, while Tiago Splitter and Danny Green were spectacular. Kawhi Leonard is making his presence felt with and without the ball.
"Some matchups are good for some players and some matchups are good for others," Ginobili said. "We're 3-3 with home-court advantage. I don't think we're in an awful position.
"We're not a team that needs the bench to score 45 points. We take what the opponents give us. If it's a matchup where Tim, Tony, or me has to score more, it is what it is."
Turnovers continue to be an issue for the Spurs. And as Pop pointed out, the Spurs were awful defensively in the first quarter Friday and not much better in the fourth. Still, San Antonio held the lead for most of the finale period. The Mavericks didn't go ahead until Ellis knocked down a 3-pointer with less than five minutes left.
"Our team defensive, individual defense and our aggressiveness was really poor for the first 12 minutes of the game," Popovich said. "Then we had to battle back from there. I thought we competed from that point, but the first 12 minutes were awful."
Awful wouldn't be enough to describe how the Spurs would feel should they falter in Game 7. For all the comparisons to 2006 this series has conjured, perhaps 2007 would be more accurate. The Spurs and Mavericks were the two Western Conference heavyweights in 2006, so Nowitzki's seventh-game heroics in San Antonio weren't a complete shock.
Those Mavericks were ready to take that next step and complete for a title. These are, well, eighth seeds. The Mavericks of 2007 came back from a Finals' heartbreak to forge the league's best record. Sound familiar? Some maintain the 2007 Mavericks never recovered, and Golden State's first-round upset cemented that fact.
That was the first time an eighth seed supplanted a No. 1 in the best-of-7 era. The Spurs since have fallen in the first round and a first seed, but this would be different. This would sting more. The Spurs of 2014 have so much more riding on Sunday than these Mavericks.
It can be argued the Mavericks have already won by taking the series to its limit, not that they would admit as much. Nowitzki, by the way, is undefeated in Game 7s, forging a perfect 4-0 mark.
History, though, won't mean much Sunday, as these six games have already shown. The Spurs almost never win a series when trailing 2-1 and almost always win when up 3-2. They've done both in this series. So that leaves a Game 7 the Spurs never thought they'd have to play.
Follow Art Garcia on Twitter @ArtGarcia92