Posted Apr 29 2010 11:41AM
SAN ANTONIO -- The guarantee was predictable, but delivered nonetheless.
"No question we're coming back," Jason Terry said. "We have to. That's our mission."
If the Mavericks are to return home Saturday for a deciding Game 7 in their first-round playoff series against the Spurs, as Terry promised, they have to win on hardwood that hasn't delivered many friendly bounces so far in a series that has predictably turned personal. The Spurs have Dallas right where any playoff team would want to be Thursday night, with a deciding game at home.
"We're approaching it as a closeout game," San Antonio stalwart Tim Duncan said. "We know that they're going to have energy and they're not going to want to go home [after a loss], and we've got to match that energy, take care of the ball, continue to attack and not get into all the little things they were trying to get us into out there."
Those little things were of the irritating variety. Eduardo Najera, never before seen as an "enforcer," has assumed that persona in the last two games of a Western Conference series that hasn't lacked for WWE theatrics. On his second tour of duty in Dallas, Najera has collected flagrant fouls in the last two games. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were the victims for the one-time San Antonio high school standout, who's one flagrant away from a one-game suspension.
And while Najera has the full support of Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, staying alive in the series can hardly be attributed to a couple of Najera and his penalties. The Spurs were dominated in every facet Tuesday in Game 5, a game that they could afford to lose.
Still, the effort didn't sit well with a coach who expects so much more but has grown to expect wild mood swings from a team built for so much more. San Antonio was outrebounded (52-41), outscored in fastbreak (23-8) and second-chance (19-9) points. Gregg Popovich had stressed the importance of Game 5 without reminding his team of it. He thought he didn't need to.
"Well, you saw the way we played, so who knows," Popovich said. "I still feel they are grown men and they don't need to be preached to on how important each game is. I think they already know that."
Popovich has bemoaned the two losses, questioning the effort and focus in both the first game of the series and the last. The lack of attention to detail led to 17 turnovers in Game 1 and another 18 in Game 5. The Spurs, though, lead second-seeded Dallas because of what they've been able to do in the other three games. San Antonio has mixed in several standout individual performances with smarter play down the stretch, especially in the two-game home sweep.
Now the Spurs have one last stand at the AT&T Center with the West semis on the line.
"For us it's a Game 7. It has to be," Ginobili said. "We definitely don't want to come [to Dallas] for a seventh. We've got to approach it as if there's no tomorrow."
The Mavericks' best chance of having more tomorrows would be repeating their Game 5 performance. Carlisle made several adjustments in Tuesday's 22-point blowout. He went with the more-active Brendan Haywood at center, with Najera as the first big off the bench. Erick Dampier, the starter the first four games, never saw the court.
The Haywood-Najera combo made life difficult on Duncan for the second straight game. Shawn Marion helped put the clamps on San Antonio's perimeter threats, namely Parker, Ginobili and George Hill. Stops on the defensive end led to pushing the ball, as Caron Butler and Jason Kidd attacked the Spurs in transition.
"We can score in the half-court, but Popovich is a great half-court coach," Terry said. "He has a great strategy to make it tough on us and to try to counter that we must continue to run."
Running in Game 6 -- on the road in one of the league's more intimidating arenas -- is the challenge awaiting Dallas. Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 deficit. The Spurs have lost only one series in the Duncan era when leading by at least two games -- the 2004 West semis against the Lakers.
The Mavericks are bracing to face a squad as "desperate" as the Mavs were Tuesday. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have averaged a combined 33.5 points in the last two games. Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki expects San Antonio's championship trio to be at their best and a whole lot more in a "must-win" for both rivals.
"They're going to throw everything at us," Nowitzki said. "It's going to be a tough, physical game again."
That might sound like rhetoric, a little obvious and utterly predictable. But this series is hardly one or the other.
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