Western Conference Playoffs First Round - Game 6
(7) San Antonio 97, (2) Dallas 87 - Spurs win series, 4-2
The Dallas Mavericks already knew what it felt like to lose a first-round series as a highly-seeded team. They didn't want to taste the bitter herbs of an upset once again, but now they'll have to do exactly that in a very long offseason.
In 2007, the top-seeded Mavs crashed out of the NBA postseason in the opening round, bowing to the Golden State Warriors in six games. Then coached by Avery Johnson, Dallas went on the road in Game 6 in need of a season-prolonging win, and failed to get the job done. As this 2010 edition of the Mavs traveled to San Antonio for a Thursday night fight against the old but savvy Spurs, new coach Rick Carlisle hoped to do what his predecessor couldn't. This time, some new pieces - pieces named Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, and Rodrigue Beaubois - were expected to lift Dallas past the opening round and deep into the playoffs.
Those expectations now lie in tatters.
The Mavericks did battle on Thursday at the AT&T Center. They did take a brief third-quarter lead after trailing 42-21 in the second quarter. They did make San Antonio fight and scratch until the final minute. They didn't quit, and at times, they showed signs of becoming an elite team.
However, in a bottom-line business, there's winning, and then there's failure. Losing was not an option for this loaded Dallas ballclub, and yet, the Mavs - not a playoff underdog the way they were last year in the second round against the Denver Nuggets - bowed to the Spurs in a raucous and emotional affair. The Mavericks were the best road team in the NBA this past season, but when the playoffs came calling, Dallas couldn't win a single game in the Alamo City.
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The Spurs - winners of more NBA titles than any team other than the Los Angeles Lakers over the past decade - once again proved how reliable they are in the clutch, and they'll receive a lot more ink as the postseason continues. Tonight's big story, though, is how the Mavericks once again showed themselves to be the antithesis of San Antonio's cool consistency. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are ice men, but Dallas owner Mark Cuban is a raging fire, and that source of heat has once again burned too intensely for too short a time. There's nothing left to hope for in Big D, no solace to be taken after another crushing exit from the NBA stage.
Why did Dallas not pull through when its reputation was so fully on the line? For one thing, the broken-record theme of this series - namely, that Dallas provided precious little help for Dirk Nowitzki - remained in place. Nowitzki threw down 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting, and Butler (25 points on 9-of-18 shooting) was the only other starter who helped him out. Marion and Haywood couldn't deliver the goods, and neither could a very underachieving Jason Kidd. Dallas' bench - particularly in the forms of Jason Terry (2 points) and Erick Dampier (0 points and a modest five rebounds) - brought very little to the dance, and that's just not a sustainable model for playoff success.
However, as alarming as the Mavs' lack of balance and depth proved to be against San Antonio, the really nagging aspect of this loss - which will linger over the summer and carry into next year's playoffs - is the fact that the one high-level bench player for Dallas wasn't given enough of a chance to shine in this series.
In 2006, Dallas rolled to the NBA Finals for many reasons, one of them being the devastating quickness of guard Devin Harris, who was just too quick for the Spurs in the second round of that year's Western Conference playoffs. Harris was lethal off the dribble, and San Antonio had no answer for him. In light of this reality, it should have been oh-so-easy for Rick Carlisle and the rest of the Mavs' coaching staff to insert speedy guard Rodrigue Beaubois into the lineup. Yet, J.J. Barea was the man Carlisle turned to in the first five games of the series as Kidd's backup. It was only in Game 6 that Beaubois received somewhat extended minutes, and the six-foot Frenchman delivered 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. This was the extra piece Dallas needed in the series, but Carlisle prevented him from having more of a role.
What made this crucial coaching deficiency even worse was that even after Dallas erased a 21-point deficit in Game 6, Beaubois sat for most of the fourth quarter and didn't re-enter the lineup until the final three minutes, by which point the Spurs - thanks to a roster that featured many different contributors - had assembled an eight-point lead (89-81). With valuable baskets from the likes of Antonio McDyess and George Hill along with old reliables such as Ginobili and Tony Parker, San Antonio extended a 78-76 lead to 10 points in the final 7:18. Dallas' best solution to San Antonio's defense - Rodrigue Beaubois - sat on the bench for most of that stretch.
San Antonio had a better team than Dallas in this series, but not by much. Where the Spurs really outdistanced the Mavs was on the bench, where Gregg Popovich - a maestro in April, May and June - owned Mr. Carlisle, a decent coach but also a man who has been made to look very small in a number of postseason series. When he led the Detroit Pistons, Carlisle lost the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals in a sweep to the New Jersey Nets. Carlisle took the higher-seeded Indiana Pacers into battle against the very same Pistons in the 2004 East Finals, and lost in six games. Now this series will loom in Carlisle's mind.
Oh, what a chilly and miserable offseason it will be in Dallas, no matter how hot it is in Big D this upcoming summer.
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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