Pinch Yourself: Mavericks 106, Spurs 93
What began as a competitive series that some of us skeptics thought the Spurs would win in seven games magically morphed into a hockey power play. Afforded basically a 5-on-2 advantage, the Mavericks ultimately skated past old, slow, buried San Antonio.
Last night Dallas put the Spurs out of their misery with a 106-93 victory at AT&T Center that gave it the series, 4-1. While the Spurs are left wondering if Manu Ginobli's presence would have altered the outcome, the Mavericks are into the second round for the first time since 2006.
Admitted Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, "They're a better a team than we are."
Honestly, it wasn't even close.
"It's big for us, now our confidence is high," said J.J. Barea, who continued his amazing post-season with 10 points despite being considerably shorter than Channel 21's Gina Miller. "Dirk and Jason got the attention, but we were ready and made shots when they found us open."
I expected one last prideful stand from the veteran Spurs and a frenzied, pressurized Game 6 here Friday night. But what we got last night was surprising.
The Mavs never trailed and wound up winning a closeout game on the road with relative ease. Dallas jumped out 6-2 and 24-10 and the Spurs never got closer than four.
Dirk Nowitzki found breathing room for 31 points and Jason Terry's back-to-back 3-pointers gave Dallas the game with an 88-73 lead and 9:00 remaining. While five Mavs scored 10+ points, the Spurs - as was the case all series - got big points from Tim Duncan (30) and Tony Parker (26) and zippo from their sorry supporting cast.
The Spurs are eliminated in the first round for the first time since '00.
For owner Mark Cuban and Jason Kidd, it's sweet vindication.
This season was basically a referendum on former coach Avery Johnson. After being knocked out of the playoffs by the Hornets last season, Johnson was fired. Rick Carlisle - a disciplined, defensive almost-clone who I immediately labeled Ivory Johnson - was hired, but the players remained unchanged.
I remember the rallying cry on the eve of training camp back in October: Blame Avery. Dirk crowed "we're not that far off"; Cuban claimed the team was better than the group that went to the NBA Finals.
I bought into it though, during a season that started 2-7 and was littered with inexplicable losses, my belief - and yours - dramatically wavered.
But now, the end result: Carlisle has squeezed more out of these Mavericks than Avery did. And the Mavs are in better shape than at any time in the last three springs.
The Mavericks have won 11 of their last 14. They don't match up well - especially athletically - against probable second-round foe the Denver Nuggets.
But even if Dallas doesn't win another game this season, it's already been a success. Because after this first-round rout, the psychological scars of 2006 are officially healed.