(7) San Antonio Spurs 81 at (2) Dallas Mavericks 103
The Dallas Mavericks didn't want Tuesday night to be the last time they laced up their sneakers this season. Instead, the Mavericks entered Game 5 of their first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs with a workman-like mentality. Not ready to turn in their time cards, the Mavs showed just why they believe there's still work to be done.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Mavs gladly returned to their home floor hoping for a different result than the previous three games, all Dallas defeats. The Mavs did their best to make sure Game 5 went a different way. So did Caron Butler.
Butler put in a full day's work, as the Mavericks routed the Spurs in the American Airlines Center. With his team's season on the verge of a finale, the two-time All-Star produced a masterful performance worthy of Broadway, posting a playoff career-high 35 points and leading the Mavs to a 103-81 runaway win.
"When you're backed into a corner, you have to scratch and claw your way out," Butler said. "That's what we did tonight...I'm not ready to go home."
To give his squad an early boost, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle inserted Brendan Haywood at the starting center spot in place of Erick Dampier.
"It was a decision to change the dynamics. I thought Brendan responded well," Carlisle said.
Perhaps the shake up paid off early, as a 7-0 spurt led by Butler turned into a quick advantage for the Mavs in the first quarter. Matt Bonner's long-range shooting kept the Spurs close, but behind Butler's 12 points in the period the Mavs escaped with a 27-21 advantage after one.
"I was talking to myself, just telling myself to be aggressive. I play better when I'm angry," Butler said.
"Caron is always aggressive, he really is. I thought his great game tonight was not only a function of how well he was playing, but the guys around him had a great feel for getting him the ball -- spacing the floor in a way, so that he could drive it...Making the extra pass to find the hot guy," Carlisle explained.
With Haywood dominating the painted area, the home team put some more distance in between the two squads to start the second quarter. Meanwhile, Butler continued his destruction of the Spurs' defense, as Dallas sped up the tempo and scored in transition.
"We were able to force the tempo of the game. That was the biggest thing," Shawn Marion said.
"It is pretty obvious that it is going to be defense and the ability to get the ball in transition where good things can happen for us," Carlisle added. "We did a great job of that tonight."
But after the Mavs sprinted to as much as a 17-point lead, the Spurs closed on an 11-2 run, with nine points coming from Tony Parker, to trim Dallas' advantage to 53-46 at the half.
"They're going to make a run, because they're a good team. We've just got to keep our heads," forward Dirk Nowitzki said.
The Mavericks' 49 percent shooting in the first half set the tone, as their defense held San Antonio to 44 percent. Butler's 19 points at the midway point led all scorers, while Parker posted 17 points at the other end.
"We need (Butler) to attack. We need him to be aggressive. I like what he did tonight," Nowitzki said.
The duo of Butler and Nowitzki quickly pushed the margin back into double digits to start the third quarter, a 12-minute stretch that has been the Mavs' downfall in the series.
"We definitely responded the right way coming out of halftime," Nowitzki said.
Dallas began the quarter by scoring the first ten points. All told, the Mavericks opened up a 19-point lead with a 15-3 run. The lead reached as much as 22, with the Mavs outscoring their rivals from the south 82-64 heading to the final period.
"We didn't have that third quarter letdown," Butler said.
Reserve guards J.J. Barea and Jason Terry put the Spurs out of their misery at the start of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Butler did the job at both ends of the floor. With Spurs coach Gregg Popovich resting his key players down the stretch, it became evident that the Mavs would indeed force a Game 6 in San Antonio. Both teams played most of the fourth with their reserves.
"Our guys are not going to mail it in. There is a lot of pride on the line in every game. The series isn't over, even though a lot of people are assuming that it is. This is one step, so we are two steps towards our goal with two wins. And now we have to focus in on the next one," the coach concluded.
Butler was certainly the catalyst towards inching closer to reaching that goal, connecting on 12 of 24 shots, swishing in 3-of-8 from behind the 3-point arch and drilling 8-of-9 at the foul line. The star also pulled down 11 rebounds to record a double-double.
"(Butler) really is one of our tough guys. A lot of the times he went up in the crowd and pulled down rebounds. Offensively, he had a great rhythm going and he was extremely aggressive and made good decisions for the most part," Carlisle said when praising the versatile swingman. "I was really, really thrilled to see him have a game like that. He is just a great guy. He is just one of those kind of guys that you just love to see a guy like that succeed and have that kind of night...He has just been a great pro and a guy that is really into winning."
"I don't know what got into him, but we're going to need it next game," Haywood said of his teammate's performance.
But Butler wasn't alone on the court. Nowitzki added 15 points, while Terry contributed 12 off the bench. Marion and Jason Kidd added 10 points apiece, giving the Mavericks five scorers in double figures. In his first start of the series, Haywood went for eight points while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Parker finished with 18 to lead San Antonio. After his 29 points in Game 4, George Hill scored 12 in his followup outing. The Dallas defense also held Tim Duncan to just 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting, while Manu Ginobili scored just seven after hitting just two of his seven shots.
With a 20-11 edge in assists, the Mavericks out-shot the Spurs on the night, 44 percent to 36 percent.
"What you saw tonight was the ball moving from side to side, and we got exactly what we wanted," Butler said.
The Mavericks also dominated the interior, as evident by their 52-41 rebounding edge, 42-30 advantage in points in the paint and 19-9 margin in second-chance points.
Now the Mavericks try to do it again, heading into the AT&T Center for Game 6 after dropping both Games 3 and 4 in the very same building by a combined seven points. If Dallas can change its luck on the Spurs' home floor, then it will force a Game 7 back in the American Airlines Center.
"You have to think they're going to be fired up down there. We've just got to go down there and win one," Nowitzki said.
"I don't want to go home," Butler simply said. "We want to bring this thing back to Dallas."
Game 6 will air nationally on TNT and locally on KTXA and KTXA HD at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday night.
"Right now, we're in a position where we have to fight. They're up 3-2. We win (in Game 6) and we'll put a lot of pressure on them," Haywood said.
The Mavs-Spurs first round series schedule is as follows:
Game 6 * Thu April 29 Dallas at San Antonio 7 p.m. CT TXA21/ TNT
Game 7 * Sat May 1 San Antonio at Dallas TBD TXA21/ TNT
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