Posted Apr 28 2010 10:28AM
DALLAS -- Did the Mavericks do more Tuesday night than just send a playoff series back to San Antonio? Are the Spurs more than content knowing they've got the comforts of home waiting?
Depends on who you ask.
With a summer of questions ahead and a roster overhaul likely riding on Game 5, the Mavericks found another gear and a reason to believe. At least for a couple days. Dallas destroyed the Spurs 103-81 to close the gap in its first-round, best-of-seven playoff series to 3-2, with the series shifting back to the AT&T Center for Game 6 on Thursday.
"I don't know about pride," Dirk Nowitzki answered when asked if that's why Dallas won. "We have guys who love to compete and want to win."
The Mavs ran like they hadn't through the first four games. Jason Kidd didn't wait to get picked up in the backcourt, new starter Brendan Haywood gave Dallas a presence in the middle for the first time in this series and Caron Butler attacked like a man rescued from Washington. The same Butler benched for the entire second half of Game 3 scored a playoff career-high 35 points and grabbed 11 boards.
"I wasn't going to second-guess myself," Butler said. He worked himself into a frenzy Tuesday by barking out there ... to himself.
That frenzy proved contagious, as the Spurs didn't find much easy in their first of up to three closeout chances. Two nights ago they won with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combining for 31 points. They had 36 this time, but didn't get another 29 from George Hill. San Antonio shot a shot a series-low 36 percent, had seven shots blocked (four by Haywood) and turned it over 18 times.
"We really battled tonight and played well the entire 48 minutes," Butler said, "and not just in spurts like we did in previous games."
Establishing tempo and defending weren't the only priorities for Rick Carlisle's crew. The Mavericks were determined to match the intensity Ginobili and Co. generated in San Antonio. Nowitzki admitted the energy in the American Airlines Center was different Tuesday and something the Mavs need to replicate more often.
"They came with the mental and physical toughness, and our starting group wasn't very good in either category," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It was disappointing tonight the way we came out. Mostly as a group, just the mental approach to the game, that was disappointing."
The Spurs withstood the early surge of Dallas bravado, but it was clear as the evening progressed that San Antonio was waiting on Thursday. An opportunity to advance at home is all any team can ask for in the playoffs, and the Spurs have just that.
They also have Popovich. The same coach who called out his after Game 1 perhaps offered up another motivational bone in the second half disguised as rest. Pop let the Mavericks and his top dogs soak it all up when the outcome was decided.
Nowitzki, Butler and Jason Terry were among those on the floor for a good chunk of the fourth despite the lead topping 20. Nowitzki said it was no big deal, as none of the Mavs other than Butler played more than 32 minutes. Kidd sat out all of the fourth.
But what about the trio of Ginobili, Duncan and Parker? They were each done before the fourth started. Ginobili admitted that he began zeroing in on Game 6 before the third was done. A little extra stewing from the sideline, especially as the Mavs were out there living it up, can't hurt.
"Did his guys play like dogs again?" Carlisle deadpanned.
San Antonio had nothing to gain, while some can argue the Mavericks had plenty to lose when it was obvious the Spurs had conceded. Maybe the criticism of sitting some of his stars -- Butler and Shawn Marion -- in San Antonio stung Carlisle. Or maybe he just wanted to find some rhythm before heading south.
The Mavericks return to the scene of two uneven efforts and hard-to-figure Carlisle rotations. Dallas has won road games in the playoffs at San Antonio before, including twice last season and twice in 2006. The Mavs won both of those series.
San Antonio, though, has never squandered a 3-1 series lead in the Duncan-Popovich era. Returning to Dallas for a deciding game isn't an eventuality that anyone in silver and black wants to consider. Everything the Spurs faced Tuesday, the Mavericks are bracing for Thursday.
"You've got to think they're going to be fired up down there," Nowitzki said. "They don't want to come back up here."
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