Recap: Spurs ruin Dirk's surprise return, send Mavs to 3rd straight loss
Earl K. Sneed reports from San Antonio and recaps the Dallas Mavericks' worst loss of the season, after the Spurs ruined Dirk Nowitzki's surprise season debut.
Recap: Mavericks 91 at Spurs 129
Spurs ruin Dirk's surprise return, send Mavs to 3rd straight loss
Sunday began as an evening of promising opportunities. A day after the Dallas Mavericks mutually parted ways with 38-year-old veteran Derek Fisher, there figured to be an ongoing competition for the starting point guard duties as the team looked to end a two-game losing skid with a much-needed road win over Southwest Division rival San Antonio. Meanwhile, after being called up earlier in the day from the NBA Development League’s Texas Legends, swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts hoped to make an immediate impact.
However, everything would take a backseat to the return of 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki as he surprised everyone with an appearance in the warm-up line before making his season debut and ending his uphill battle back from arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 19.
Still, even with the Mavs’ franchise player back on the floor, the visiting Dallas team couldn’t avoid a third straight loss overall, falling to a season-worst 129-91 defeat — and most-lopsided loss since a 45-point thrashing by Portland on Nov. 17, 1997 — to ruin Nowitzki’s return.
“Well, I basically practiced really hard the last couple of days and I figured I won’t get any more explosive than that, so I tried to give it a go,” Nowitzki said of his return. “I mean, I knew my knees were going to stay limited and just gave it a go. I mean, this morning I didn’t really know and talked to [head athletic trainer Casey Smith] and the coaches before the game and felt decent, so I gave it a go and I felt actually good out there.
“It’s just good to get out there and get moving again — jumping and reacting. I thought I did actually decent and better than I thought, so that’s encouraging for me. But as a team, we’ve got a long way to go. We’re not very good defensively right now. I think that’s obvious. Offensively, our decision-making is horrible. So, we’ve got to work in a lot of areas. There’s only one way but up.”
With third-year guard Dominique Jones assuming the starting point guard role ahead of Darren Collison, the stage was then set for Nowitzki to return to the hardwood off the bench with 6:28 on the clock in the opening period. But the Spurs (21-8) would come out of the gates fast, jumping out to a double-digit advantage before Nowitzki’s first points of the season came with a two-handed dunk off a feed from Collison with 26.6 seconds left in the period.
“I thought my wind was OK. I thought my legs were a little heavy there after a couple of trips up and down, but I thought I felt OK,” Nowitzki said after seeing his first game action since the preseason opener in Berlin back on Oct. 6.
“It was an initial boost but it wasn’t enough,” forward Shawn Marion added of Nowitzki’s return. “Good to see him back on the court getting back in the flow of things, but at the same time we all have to own up to this and it is what it is.”
With that said, the Mavericks (12-16) faced a 33-26 deficit after the first 12 minutes of play.
With Nowitzki on bench to start the second stanza, the Dallas reserves would catch fire from long range to shoot the team back into the game. Sixth man Vince Carter then attempted to will his team in front with his instant scoring, before Nowitzki returned to the floor with 7:05 left in the half.
But after Nowitzki swished in a vintage 3-pointer from near the top of the key before a patented jumper the next time down, the Spurs quickly answered with outside shooting of their own to keep the Mavs at bay. A tip-in by Danny Green with 1.0 seconds left then lifted the Spurs to a 64-52 advantage at the half.
Led by 21 combined points from Carter and Collison, the Mavs tried to remain in the game despite the Spurs’ 9-of-14 shooting from behind the arc, 10 more free throw attempts and 17 points from Green at the other end. Meanwhile, Nowitzki provided seven points and five rebounds in 13 minutes of action, as the Mavs’ 57.1 percent shooting bettered the Spurs’ 52.3 percent at the midway mark.
Again starting the second half in the tunnel riding an exercise bike to remain loose, Nowitzki prepared to enter the game with the second unit as the third quarter got underway. Meanwhile, backup big man Elton Brand returned from a groin injury that had kept him out of the last three games.
But when Nowitzki returned to the floor with 9:35 left in the period, his team was already in a 15-point hole. And with their hot shooting from long range leading them to an advantage as large as 34, the Spurs entered the final quarter with a 100-66 margin under their belt.
With the game no longer in doubt, Nowitzki’s night was done after logging 20 minutes in the first three quarters. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle then proceeded to finish the night with his reserves as the Spurs continued to set the net on fire from behind the 3-point line to up their advantage to 46 until the final buzzer sounded.
“It’s taking too much time for us to learn how to compete on a consistent basis and that’s not acceptable,” Carlisle later said.
Scoring 15 points off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting, Collison led three Mavs in double figures while Carter added 13 points in a reserve role and center Chris Kaman pitched in 10 points in the first unit. Meanwhile, Nowitzki finished with eight points on 3-of-4 from the field while grabbing six rebounds.
“I mean, I wasn’t going to like get 20 shots up tonight. I know that for a fact. Just tried to ease into it. I didn’t try to get in the way too much of the guys that’s been playing for two months together,” Nowitzki explained while summing up his night. “I was getting my legs under me with some trips up and down, but sometimes we shot it so fast I didn’t even cross halfcourt. But, you know, that’s our style of play this year. We’re a fast team and we’re a little more athletic on the perimeter. If the boys push it and get a layup before I even make it up there, it’s great.”
Douglas-Roberts also hit 3-of-4 at the foul line for three points in just over nine minutes for his season debut, respectively.
Leading five Spurs in double figures with a career-high 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 7-of-8 from 3-point range was Green, as San Antonio finished with a new club record following 20 made 3-pointers on 30 attempts. The Spurs also outshot the Mavs on the night, 56 percent to 45.9 percent, in addition to a 41-39 rebounding edge and 25 points off Dallas’ 20 turnovers.
“A lack of competitiveness, selfishness and a lack of commitment to one another,” Carlisle said while summing up the play of his team. “It’s all disappointing. It’s something we can’t accept and I’ve got to work harder at turning these guys into a team. At this point, we don’t look like we’re very close, but we’re going to keep at it.
“If you look at the stat sheet, I think you can find pretty much everything. It was dribble penetration, it was giving up threes, it was not getting loose balls, it was failure to make any hard, physical plays. So, look, we’re going to lace them up tomorrow morning and go back at it. I’d love to give everybody two days off but it ain’t happening.”
Note: The Mavericks will now return to the practice court before taking Christmas Day off. The team returns to action Thursday night in Oklahoma City, looking to avenge last season’s first-round playoff series sweep at the hands of the Thunder. The game will air nationally at 7 p.m. CT on TNT.