Posted Apr 24 2010 1:10PM
SAN ANTONIO -- For all the new faces in the Spurs-Mavericks rivalry, it always manages to get back to those old, familiar gunslingers. Sticking with what you know may be the way both teams go for the rest of this series.
The Spurs just seem to know each other a little bit better.
San Antonio grinded out a 2-1 lead leaning on those Gregg Popovich has leaned on for so long. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and George Hill played at least 10 minutes into the fourth quarter. The first three have spent an NBA lifetime together, while Hill is two years into silver and black.
Together they scored every San Antonio point in the fourth quarter of the 94-90 cage match. Ginobili played the entire fourth and the last 4:48 of the third with a nasal fracture that required a trip to the locker room to stop the bleeding. Parker scored the first six on three long jumpers in an 8-0 run that turned Dallas' last lead into an 88-81 advantage that the Spurs didn't relinquish.
"We're playing the best basketball of the year so far," said Duncan, the team's leading scorer with 25. "We are playing our best at the right time. That's what we wanted to do all year long. It's frustrating all season to go through all of the ups and downs, but all in all you want to be playing your best at the right time of the year."
The Popovich-Duncan partnership is 13 years strong now, and San Antonio's system branches out from there. Parker has nine years in and Ginobili eight. Dirk Nowitzki has put in 12 seasons in Dallas, with Erick Dampier and Jason Terry with at least five years under their belts. Their coach Rick Carlisle, though, has manned the Mavericks sideline for just two years.
Sometimes it seems like everyone is still getting to know each other.
Carlisle went almost exclusively to those he knows best in the second half, though his rotation has left plenty of room for second-guessing. Five Mavericks played at least 10 minutes in the fourth, with the quartet of Nowitzki, Terry, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea having spent both years with Carlisle.
The fifth could have easily been Dampier had he not picked up a fifth foul after playing all of the third quarter and the first 1:43 of the fourth. Carlisle turned to Brendan Haywood and stuck with him to guard Duncan down the stretch.
But what about the jewel of the trade that shot Dallas into title-contending status? Caron Butler played as much as Garrett Temple in the second half.
"It was a coach's decision," Carlisle said of Butler's absence. "I was going with the group that was going good. We needed penetration and that was it."
Handpicking Butler out of Washington, along with Haywood, in what was considered a Gasol-sized robbery sparked a 13-game win streak to put the Mavericks in position to finish with the No. 2 seed. Their edge over the seventh-seeded Spurs appears gone, as is the homecourt.
San Antonio can put a stranglehold on the series Sunday back at the AT&T Center. Dallas wasn't without its stars in Game 3. Nowitzki had another Herculean effort with 35 points, hitting some shots beyond description and physically taking others from Antonio McDyess, Duncan and whoever else crossed his path.
Terry racked up 17 points, but missed several decent looks in the fourth quarter. Barea, the replacement for Butler, scampered through the Spurs for 14 points. Kidd scored just seven, missing six of seven shots, and handed out just five assists, but Terry was quick to defend his point guard.
"He did his job," Terry said.
That leaves plenty to interpret as to who didn't. Butler appeared disengaged in the second half, straying away from the huddle during several timeouts. Haywood sounded somewhat defensive afterward. In a series that started with Popovich dog-cussing his team, Carlisle has steered clear of personal attacks. He didn't single any of the Mavs out after Game 2 and kept the same tact Friday.
Unlike Popovich, perhaps Carlisle doesn't point fingers out of loyalty. Or maybe he just doesn't have the same feel for all the personalities in his locker room as Pop does in his.
"I always tell everybody that's why it's so special here," Parker said, "because everybody is unselfish here and everybody puts their egos aside."
The Spurs' bonds may run deeper than their talent.
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