In his first season with the Dallas Mavericks, DeJuan Blair couldn’t have written a better and more personal playoff script for himself.
Blair knew he was no longer needed in San Antonio after he was relegated to the Spurs’ bench during last year’s NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
So when he became a free agent in July, the 6-foot-7, 270-pound center signed a one-year contract with the Mavericks for the veteran minimum price of $884,293, and had one important thing on his mind.
Blair wanted a piece of the Spurs.
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He felt misused by the Spurs, and wanted to get some form of retribution.
The Mavericks were able to cash in on Blair’s determination against the Spurs on Wednesday in Game 2 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
After starting center Samuel Dalembert went to the bench for his regular rest in Game 2, backup center Brandan Wright quickly was whistled for two fouls, forcing coach Rick Carlisle to turn to Blair.
Blair responded with eight points, a game-high-tying seven rebounds and a game-high four steals to help the Mavericks beat the Spurs 113-92.
For Blair, who spent his first four seasons with the Spurs, it was sweet revenge.
“This is something that’s a dream, to always go against somebody who knows you well, just like you know them,’’ Blair said after Friday’s practice. “I’m just excited like everybody else.”
A second-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh in 2009, Blair was equally excited because he celebrated his 25th birthday on Tuesday. He hopes to continue that excitement when the Mavericks and Spurs play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Game 3.
Earlier this week, Blair was in a store on the famed River Walk in San Antonio when someone asked him why he was wearing Mavericks gear.
“They didn’t know I played for the Mavs,” Blair said. “It was kind of funny.’’
He wasn’t laughing when he produced zeros across the board while playing four uneventful minutes in the Mavs’ 90-85 loss to the Spurs in the series opener.
Blair was deadly serious in Game 2.
“DeJuan played a very substantial role in the game,” Carlisle said. “Activity-wise he was terrific, he gives us a presence on the board, he played a physical type of game, so he’s ready and he’s got to be ready again [Saturday].
“We need everybody to play physical. This is the NBA playoffs. This isn’t a volleyball match. This is serious business.’’
Late in the third quarter Wednesday, Blair found himself way beyond the 3-point line while guarding Manu Ginobili.
Blair swiped the ball from Ginobili, then darted down court for a layup through heavy traffic, putting the Mavericks ahead 86-70.
Dalembert was impressed with the way Blair responded after barely playing in the series opener.
“The first game he didn’t play as much and the second game he came in and was still focused,” Dalembert said. “Throughout the whole season we realize that our minutes has been shared among the three [centers] and we never knew who the coach was going to call, and we just have to stay ready.’’
Blair was ready Wednesday in front of some of the same rowdy fans who supported him when he played for the Spurs.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Blair, who was booed when he entered Wednesday’s game. “Just the whole environment and the boos and all that was just something that was a lot of fun for me.”
Dalembert talked to Blair before the playoffs started in hopes of helping him remain on an even keel.
“A lot of times you don’t want to get too excited,” Dalembert said. “Sometimes you’re pumped up to play them and then you’re ready, and sometimes you’re just over-thinking it too much.
“As a youngster, you talk to [Blair] and stay on top of him, and he’s been ready. He’s focused, he knows what needs to be done, so he came in and did his thing.”
Blair’s focus spoke volumes about where his mind was against his former team.
“I’ve been in that position playing against other teams,’’ point guard Devin Harris said. “But for him to come back and give that type of effort, he hasn’t been playing a whole lot, but he’s been staying ready.
“That shows what kind of professional he is.”