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Art Garcia

The No.7 seeded Spurs defied the odds by defeating the No.2 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the First Round.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Spurs escape Texas rival, advance to semis

Posted Apr 30 2010 1:45AM

SAN ANTONIO -- The Mavericks shrunk at the most important time of the season. The Spurs grew. And with it the first "upset" of the first round is complete, even if none of the participants saw it that way.

"I hope we never have to play those guys again," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich exhaled.

A seventh seed in name only, the Spurs finished off the Mavericks in the playoffs for the first time in seven years Thursday night. The 97-87 war of wills completed a 4-2 series win for San Antonio and pushed the Spurs into the Western Conference semifinals.

Two nights after watching the Mavericks run rough shot in Dallas, the Spurs did their own bashing. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, specifically, sat for most of the second half as the lead kept expanding in a 22-point rout.

The image festered for 48 hours and the Mavericks took it on the chin to start their second straight elimination game. San Antonio scored the seven points and led 22-8 after the first quarter. Duncan scored seven of those, nearly matching his scoring average (7.5) of the previous two games.

Duncan was hardly the only Spur to break from the gate. San Antonio's lead grew to an obscene 22 (41-19) with about five minutes left in the half. Whether it was Popovich or the immediacy of the moment or not wanting to return to Dallas for Game 7, something clicked upstairs for the Spurs.

"Our minds are hard to understand sometimes," Ginobili admitted. "We went into Game 5 and we were on our heels the entire game, and they really attacked us, provoked us [into] turning the ball over and made shots. We didn't do anything we were supposed to do.

"Today we started off so well."

Unlike the Spurs of Game 5, these Mavericks somehow found a pulse behind Caron Butler and surprise rookie Rodrique Beaubois. Dallas trimmed the lead to a manageable 13 at the half and kept coming to start the third quarter.

In a series where Mavs coach Rick Carlisle seemed to grasp at straws, he found a spark with Beaubois. It was reminiscent of Devin Harris for years ago for Dallas, when the Mavericks finally broke through and beat Big Brother San Antonio.

Though a better parallel could be made with George Hill last year for the Spurs. Then a rookie, Hill didn't begin the playoffs as part of the Popovich plan. Needing an athletic body, especially with Ginobili out, Hill saw more time and more production as the series progressed.

It was too little, too late then. Now?

"There is no mystery that he played unbelievably," said Ginobili, the only Spur with more points (26) than Hill's 21.

The mystery in this fifth playoff clash between bitter instate rivals over the last decade belonged to Dallas. Only the fifth-ever second seed to lose in the first round, Carlisle spent the most critical part of the season experimenting with lineups and personnel.

"Obviously going into the playoffs as a two-seed is all that we could have wanted," said Dirk Nowitzki, the game's high scorer with 33. "We just happened to see a tough seven seed that got rolling at the right time, got healthy and started to play well.

"This series we had our chances, but it comes down to the fact that we had three chances to win one game here. In all three games, we were in it and they just made a couple more plays than we did."

Carlisle will be second guessed for leaving Beaubois on the bench for the first nine minutes of the fourth in favor of an ice-cold Jason Terry. Leaving Caron Butler and Shawn Marion, two of Dallas' prized pickups, on the bench for long stretches in earlier games will also be remembered.

"To me this season is a failure if you don't win a championship," Terry said. "We failed."

What the Spurs take into the second round is a team. They've searched for once since camp, as Richard Jefferson struggled to find his niche and injuries threatened to derail Parker. The pieces that looked so good on paper didn't quite fit until they were forced to.

"We kind of got a personality in this series," Duncan said, "something we were looking for all season long. We grew a lot in this series."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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