By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Apr 24 2009 7:15AM
DALLAS -- So much for knocking Tony Parker on his back. The Mavericks decided to sucker punch the whole team.
"Oh yeah," Mavericks starting guard J.J. Barea said. "We came out crazy. They didn't know what hit them."
In a beat down that had to be measured by historic standards, Dallas seized control of the Western Conference first-round series with an 88-67 thrashing that put San Antonio into early retreat. The Spurs decided that circling the wagons meant emptying the bench after realizing Thursday was hopelessly lost.
By the time many of the well-heeled folks that line American Airlines Center's courtside were back from their halftime social, they looked over to find Parker and Tim Duncan parked in their seats. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich had conceded Game 3 with good reason and an eye on a quick turnaround Saturday afternoon.
The Mavericks had turned a 16-point lead at the break to 30 before the third was halfway done. Dallas, now up 2-1, couldn't have responded more emphatically after being routed Monday night in San Antonio.
"They kicked our a** every which way but loose," Popovich said. "I thought we didn't play well at either end of the court. They had a lot to do with it. Their energy and aggressiveness was great. They executed and did a hell of a job. That's that."
But just as the Mavericks were happy to split the Alamo City with one, the Spurs remain in position to do the same. And considering the fragile state of Duncan's knees and the reliance on Parker, it made sense for Popovich to take extra rest where he could. A victory Saturday shifts the homecourt edge right back to the Spurs.
"He pulls us and puts us on the bench and lets us sit there and simmer," Duncan said after scoring just four in just 15 1/2 minutes.
And if the Spurs needed anymore incentive, it was the lowest-scoring game along with one of the worst shooting performances (32.1 percent) in the franchise's long postseason history. None of the starters played more than 21 minutes.
"The kind of performance that we put out there is all the fuel we need," Duncan said. "We're not going to play like that again, we're not going to give that kind of effort and we're not going to make those kinds of mistakes again."
The Mavericks, naturally, were more than willing to snag the momentum right back. Dallas is also reassured by stats. Teams that have won Game 3 in a tied series have gone on to win it 76 percent of the time in the best-of-7 format.
The numbers are even more decisive considering the two teams. Dallas has been involved in seven series tied at 1-1 since 2001, and the Game 3 winner has gone on to win every one. The Spurs have been in the same situation 23 series overall, with the Game 3 victor prevailing 22 times.
"What matters now is Saturday's game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, "and us getting ourselves in the mindset that we have to come out the same way because they are going to come out in Game 4 the same way we came out in Game 3."
The Mavericks couldn't have scripted a better open. Unsure of the state of his tender left ankle before the game, Josh Howard drilled a pair of jumpers before the game was barely a minute old. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki followed with buckets for an 8-0 lead, prompting a San Antonio timeout.
It didn't get much better from there. The Mavericks were quicker to the ball, hit the boards with more enthusiasm, pushed the ball with greater urgency and defended with conviction. The Spurs appeared drained before they had a chance to break a sweat.
"We were rotating, scrambling and you can run whatever pick-and-roll coverage you want but if you don't bring the energy or the focus to it nothing is going to work," said Nowitzki, the game's high-scorer with 20. "Our fans were behind us and that really got us going, and it was a great defensive night and we benefit from that offensively."
Deciding that length and defense wasn't the way to go against Parker early, the Mavericks went small and speedy. Barea made his debut as a starter in the Playoffs, replacing the lankly but offensively-limited Antoine Wright.
Parker abused Dallas in the first quarter of Game 2, setting the tone in San Antonio's series-tying 21-point blowout. Barea had been a spark in the first game before feeling the wrath of Bruce Bowen on Monday.
The Spurs made a point of matching up their defensive pest on Barea, but since San Antonio doesn't open with Bowen, the Mavericks' starting lineup suddenly had a new dimension. Barea scooted through and around the Spurs' perimeter defense, hitting all four of his shots and scoring nine in the first quarter.
"That was big," Barea said. "If we make them play defense, they'll get tired. You want to make Tony play defense, you want to make [Roger] Mason play defense. It's harder on them."
Parker had a hard-earned 10 points in the first quarter, which is a total Dallas will live with considering he shot 4-of-10 to get there. He scored layup-heavy 19 on 9-of-11 shooting in the first quarter in Game 2 on his way to 38. The Mavericks help defenders were quicker to the rim this time, with Howard and Erick Dampier swooping in for blocks (not tackles) against Parker.
Dampier made headlines this week by promising to level Parker on his first trip through the lane Thursday night. The Mavericks had to settle for a TKO.
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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