It’s not often you see an NBA head coach surrender during a playoff game. But with the minutes ticking down in the Dallas Mavericks’ 113-92 win over the San Antonio Spurs in game 2 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series, the NBA coach of the year did just that. San Antonio's Gregg Popovich threw up the white flag and sent in his reserves to give his starting five a little rest.
As incongruous as it sounds to rest starters in a playoff series, it makes sense. After all, players like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are going to need the rest. Tied 1-1, the series comes back to Dallas for game 3 on Saturday, April 26.
Even the most faithful of Mavericks fans might have looked with skepticism at how game 2 developed. The Mavs built a big lead, nearly lost it by halftime and then rebuilt it in the third quarter. They led by 11 entering the fourth quarter, and after watching the Mavs collapse in the final minutes of game 1, surely Spurs and Mavs fans were just waiting for the bottom to fall out again.
“I think sometimes during the season we let up and we don’t compete all the way, and that’s when we get in trouble,” Dirk Nowitzki said.
But it didn’t happen this time.
Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki rebounded nicely from sub-par efforts in game 1 that saw each score 11 points. Ellis scored 21, and Nowitzki scored 16. But they weren’t nearly as important as two of the other starters Wednesday night.
The Mavs built that third-quarter lead on the back of guard Jose Calderon, who dumped in 12 points and dished out three assists in those 12 minutes. Calderon has a reputation as one of the league’s best three-point shooters, but just three of his points came from behind the arc. The rest came on medium-range jumpers. But when Calderon’s jumper is on, he helps stretch defenses and takes pressure off the Mavs’ interior players.
Meanwhile, forward Shawn Marion had one of his best all-around games in some time. He scored 20 points, but he did so on eight of 10 shots. The Spurs consistently left Marion open, and he made them pay for it. Just as important, Marion drew Parker more consistently on defense in game 2 and held Parker to just 12 points.
Plus, the Spurs did something quite un-Spurs like in game 2: They committed 22 turnovers, well above their season average and more than their 10 in game 1. Ginobili had a huge game, scoring 27 points, but he committed six turnovers in the process. The Mavs cashed in on those mistakes and, like game 1, limited their own, committing just seven turnovers.
Nowitzki praised everyone after the game for getting the Mavs back in the series but said the team can’t relax, something that has been an issue at times this season.
“I think sometimes during the season we let up and we don’t compete all the way, and that’s when we get in trouble,” Nowitzki told reporters after the game. “We have to play hard on both ends of the floor. We have to play hard on offense because [the Spurs] play defense so well.
“We have to cut hard, screen hard, roll hard. I like our intensity right now. It’s kind of tough going home now. We’ve been a decent road team all year, but at home we haven’t quite figured it out yet. We lost some big games the last couple of months, and we can’t take our foot off the gas.”
So here we are, two games in and the series is tied. On one hand, the Mavs have to be happy to come back home with a split of the first two games. On the other, winning game 2 puts a spotlight on just how much of a missed opportunity losing game 1 really was for the Mavs.
But no looking back for these Mavericks, who can now win this series. All they have to do is win three games at home — as long as they don’t, in Nowitzki’s words, “let up.” Given their sudden fall in game 1, that’s all the Mavs could ask for at this stage.