Mavs look nothing like a No. 8 seed in rout of Spurs

Anyone who’s watched the Dallas Mavericks this season realizes that no lead is safe. But three days after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose Game 1 to the Spurs, the Mavs closed the deal Wednesday.

The NBA’s Coach of the Year, Gregg Popovich, effectively waved the white flag when he emptied his bench with just over five minutes remaining. The Mavs evened the series, 1-1, with one of their most dominant defensive performances of the season. The Spurs shot 50 percent for the game, but they turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 24 times (15 by halftime) in the Mavs’ 113-92 win at the AT&T Center.

Dallas scored 33 points off those turnovers. Part of it was sloppy play by the Spurs, but the Mavs constantly jumped into passing lanes to make steals. Former Spurs player DeJuan Blair had eight points, seven rebounds and four steals in his 14 minutes on the floor.

"It’s been something that’s hurt us all year long," Popovich told reporters. "When we’ve had games like that, we’ve been unsuccessful. That’s been the weak link for us throughout the year when we’ve lost games. And it showed up again tonight."

It’s pretty remarkable the Mavs won despite another poor shooting night from Dirk Nowitzki. He missed his first six shots of the game, including a point-blank layup that was tipped in by center Samuel Dalembert. Nowitzki did connect on 7 of his final 13 shots to finish with 16 points.

Monta Ellis (21 points) and Shawn Marion (20) helped the Mavs recover from another poor start. Ellis was relentless in attacking the rim, and Marion was finishing fastbreaks like he used to do with the Phoenix Suns. This did not look like the same team that had dropped the previous 10 games to the Spurs.

Mavs reserve Devin Harris once again took over the game in stretches. He helped stake the Mavs to a 15-point lead with a flurry of pull-up jumpers and floaters in the second quarter. And starting point guard Jose Calderon, who has lost minutes to Harris in recent games, put on a shooting clinic in the third quarter. He connected on 5-of-7 shots in the quarter, finishing with 12 points and four assists in that stretch.  

Spurs point guard Tony Parker appeared to be on his way to a solid game with six quick points in the first quarter, but then he missed three of his five free throw attempts in the first half. Parker hit a jump shot with 9:40 left in the third quarter for his 10th point of the game. He wouldn’t score another point. Manu Ginobli had 27 points off the bench, although he did have six of the Spurs’ 22 turnovers.

This is not the type of team that will panic over one horrific evening, but it’s concerning that key players such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have been non-factors in this series. Green connected on an early 3-pointer, but he wasn’t heard from the rest of the way. The Spurs ended the first half with a 10-point run to somewhat calm its crowd. But after trimming the Mavs’ lead to three points early in the second half, San Antonio started its slow fade.

The most shocking thing about this series is the Spurs averaging 91 points per game. We’re talking about one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA. Ginobli had to have a fantastic shooting game (9-of-12) to simply keep the Spurs within striking distance. The Mavs have evened the series despite two subpar games for Nowitzki. You have to think he’s going to have a breakout game at some point soon.

On Wednesday, Ellis reminded everyone how much pressure he can put on a defense. There were rumblings that San Antonio would get the ball to Leonard because of his size advantage over Ellis. That angle never developed because Leonard picked up two quick fouls and never found any appreciable rhythm during the game. The Mavs had 44 points in the paint, in part because the Spurs paid so much attention to Nowitzki.

It’s still hard to fathom the Mavs winning four games against the Spurs, but they could put a ton of pressure on San Antonio by taking a 2-1 advantage Saturday. With the Stars winning two straight at the AAC to tie their series with the Ducks, it feels like this town is regaining its swagger.

And for one night, Mavs-Spurs felt like a true rivalry again. If Dallas didn’t have San Antonio’s attention before Game 2, it does now.

This looks nothing like a No. 8 seed.