Western Conference Playoffs First Round - Game 4
(7) San Antonio 92, (2) Dallas 89 - Spurs lead series, 3-1
Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs was going to reveal a lot about these two teams from Texas. Everyone knew that much.
What no one could have counted on, however, was the way in which this Lone Star showdown shifted.
If you had told superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki, Coach Rick Carlisle, or owner Mark Cuban that Tim Duncan would go 1 of 9 from the field and that Manu Ginobili would hit only 4 of 16 shots, they would have presumed that Dallas would have won Sunday evening's game at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. If you had told the main men on the Mavericks that Duncan and Ginobili would go 5 for 25 from the field, they would have thought that a 2-2 series would accompany a very happy trip back to Dallas for Game 5 of this contentious confrontation.
Before going any further, it also has to be noted that the other member of San Antonio's "Big Three" - Tony Parker - scored a modest 10 points.
Just how, then, did the Spurs manage to get a stranglehold of this series and move within one win of a very significant upset? Enter George Hill.
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Yes, George Hill.
In Game 1, one of the NBA's most improved players in 2010 looked limited by an ankle injury suffered in the regular-season finale on April 14. Hill played better in Game 2, but was hardly a difference maker in Game 3 on Friday. Nothing could have prepared the Mavericks for what they saw on Sunday evening.
Hill scored 29 points and - don't laugh - carried the Spurs on his back through the first two and a half quarters. If Hill hadn't scored 21 points in the game's first 28 minutes, San Antonio - which trailed 48-37 at halftime - would have found itself down by 20 or more points headed into the middle of the third quarter. Hill's torrid jump shooting enabled the West's seventh-seeded team to maintain contact, and prevent Dallas from landing a knockout punch.
Speaking of big punches, the Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich were able to land a very big blow once the Mavericks failed to deliver a kill shot through the early stages of the third period.
It's next to impossible to believe this next sentence, but it has to be written for the simple reason that it actually happened: In the final seven minutes and 47 seconds of the third period, the Mavericks - with tested postseason veterans such as Nowitzki (who scored only 17 points and had only 10 shots in this game), Jason Kidd (again a non-factor), Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry - scored two points. That's not a misprint. Dallas failed to hit a single field goal during that stretch, as the Mavs - who similarly led by nine points in the third quarter of Game 3 - allowed a meaningful scoreboard advantage to evaporate in the face of San Antonio's elevated intensity and high-level defensive pressure.
Hill's 29 points - which marked one of the rare times when the Duncan/Ginobili/Parker law firm has not led the Spurs in scoring - certainly played a big part in San Antonio's win, but Dallas's complete meltdown truly turned the tide. Once down by 11 at the break, the Spurs left the third quarter with a seven-point lead after outscoring the Mavs by a 29-11 margin.
One aspect of the telltale third period which deserves mention is the performance of the Spurs' other less-heralded players. While Dallas's bench was better in this game than it was in Game 3, San Antonio's low-profile starters also made their presence felt. Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess - two old veterans (Jefferson an underachiever, McDyess an overachiever) - both answered the call on a day when Duncan, a surefire Hall of Famer, managed just four points. Jefferson and McDyess both shot over 50 percent from the field and combined for 25 points on Sunday. Eight of their points came in the third quarter, enabling the Spurs to turn a 57-49 deficit into a 57-57 tie after playing catch-up for most of the game.
As the two teams traded blows down the stretch, it was Ginobili who put the finishing touches on San Antonio's pivotal victory. The Spurs led by 11 midway through the fourth and final period, but after Dallas uncorked a 9-0 run to get within two (86-84), Ginobili hit a triple to put San Antonio up by five. Terry answered with a three for Dallas, but Ginobili responded with two more foul shots to push the Spurs' lead to four. Kidd missed a three on the Mavs' ensuing possession in the final half-minute, and San Antonio had protected its home court to gain a commanding lead in this series.
Don't expect Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to go 5 for 25 in the near future. Then again, don't expect the Dallas Mavericks to come back and win this series. If they couldn't take advantage of an off day from San Antonio's best players, how will Mark Cuban's employees be able to win when the Spurs' stars perform at a high level?
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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