If the Dallas Mavericks fail to win their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, they may look back at all the missed opportunities they blew down the stretch Sunday in Game 1
The Mavs had the Spurs right where they wanted them. Up by 10 points with 7:45 to go, the Mavs had the momentum, had the Spurs reeling and had the crowd unusually quiet.
By the time the AT&T Center clock struck 0:00, the Mavs had nothing.
Tim Duncan shook off a stinger to his left knee and the Spurs rallied mightily to secure a 90-85 victory over the stunned Mavs in the opener of a best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals series.
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Game 2 will be back here at 7 p.m. Wednesday before the venue changes to the American Airlines Center for Games 3 (Saturday at 3:30 p.m.) and Game 4 (April 28 at 8:30 p.m.).
The Mavs had a wonderful chance to snatch home-court advantage from the Spurs, who entered the playoffs as the NBA’s No. 1 overall seed. But after building an 81-71 lead with 7:45 remaining, the Mavs blew a tire, and the Spurs ended the game on a blistering 19-4 run.
In those final ugly minutes for the Mavs, they converted just 1 of 13 field goal attempts, were 0 of 5 from 3-point range, 2 of 4 from the free-throw line and committed three turnovers. The only points the Mavs scored after they led by 10 came via two free throws from Brandan Wright and an uncontested layup by Devin Harris with a tenth of a second left.
It was a meltdown of the highest order by the Mavs, who have now lost 10 consecutive games to the Spurs. The loss was a head-scratcher.
“We struggled to get the ball in the basket, and we had one or two turnovers that were costly,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “And from that point we were also obviously struggling to get stops.
“I love the way we played up until that point. We fought the whole way. We just didn’t finish.”
It was the way the Mavs “didn’t finish” that must have left them cross-eyed. Their best players failed them when they needed them the most.
Dirk Nowitzki, who was 4 of 14 from the field with 11 points, was 0 of 4 from the floor during the Spurs’ winning rally, including missing a shot near the rim. And Monta Ellis, who also finished 4 of 14 with 11 points, was 0 of 3 from the floor during a stretch when the Spurs went on a 15-0 run.
“Obviously they’re not going to leave me much,” said Nowitzki, who played a game-high 42 minutes. “We knew that coming into the series I wasn’t going to have a ton of wide-open shots.
“I had some decent looks. I just have to shoot better.”
Thanks to the play of their bench in general and Devin Harris in particular, the Mavs erased a 21-9 first-quarter deficit and assumed a 44-43 lead at the half. Harris scored 13 of his 19 points in the first half.
Duncan, meanwhile, banged knees with Ellis and went to the dressing room late in the third quarter. The Mavs were up 73-67 when Duncan returned with 9:26 left, and the lead swelled to 81-71 after a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder and a three-point play by Wright.
Duncan scored nine of his 27 points after his return, and the Mavs went meekly amid missed shots and turnovers
“We had some good looks that didn’t go down, and they got the momentum back going their way,” Carlisle said. “At that point you’ve got to get stops to stem the tide and we weren’t able to do that enough times.
“But we had some uncharacteristic misses down the stretch. We were right at the rim two or three times and just couldn’t get it in, and so we’ll do better there. But we’ve got to get geared up for Game 2 and get ready to go back at it.”