With one of their emotional leaders spitting fire like a dragon as soon as he stepped on the court Friday night, the Dallas Mavericks put on an emotional performance and held on for a 113-111 triumph over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of this first-round playoff series.
With their backs planted firmly against the wall, the Mavs staved off elimination and tied this best-of-seven series at 3-3.
Game 7 will be played at 2:30 p.m. Sunday (WFAA/Channel 8) in San Antonio, and the Mavs are hoping to pack the same energy they had Friday night and carry it to the Alamo City.
Fueled by DeJuan’s Blair burning desire to make amends for missing Game 5 after an NBA suspension for kicking Tiago Splitter in the head in Game 4, the Mavs shot 51.7 percent from the field and are now in a winner-take-all game with the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
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Blair was sensational as he finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and four steals in torching his former team.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged the “tons of activity” Blair brought to the floor as one of the key factors in his team’s victory.
“He brings us a real physical presence,” Carlisle said. “He clears out a lot of space in there and made two great plays at the end of the game to come up with balls.
“One was a steal, one was a rebound. And he hit some big free throws.”
Blair also had Tony Parker folding up like a tent on the floor with a hard pick that Parker ran into just before halftime.
And when Blair wasn’t knocking over Spurs players, Monta Ellis was blowing by them with his relentless attacks on the basket. After the Mavs trailed 92-91, Ellis scored 12 of the Mavs’ last 22 points in the game’s final 4:58.
“He was great in the second half, especially,” Carlisle said of Ellis. “The first half it was hard for him to get a rhythm, he got real frustrated.
“At halftime I talked to him a little bit and just told him to just stay in attack mode and just keep his attacking energy up.”
A pair of free throws by Ellis, who led all scorers with 29 points, put the Mavs up 113-108 with 11.1 seconds left.
But the Spurs weren’t done yet as Patty Mills raced downcourt and fired in a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining to get San Antonio within two points.
After a timeout, the Mavs tried to run out the clock. But while Ellis was dribbling and trying to run away from some the Spurs, he inadvertently tossed the ball out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left.
The Spurs brought it inbounds, but the Mavs knocked it out with 0.4 seconds left. And that wasn’t enough time for Mills, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer while he was heavily guarded by Vince Carter was waved off.
Overall for the Mavs, the heavy burden of facing an elimination game Friday didn’t wind up affecting them when it mattered most. They were able to meet the sense of urgency head-on while overcoming the gravity of the situation.
“I thought we bailed them out with some poor shots and we turned it over at the same time,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, in describing what happened to his team in the frantic fourth quarter. “Bail-out shots are basically turnovers also, and they capitalized on them.”
The Mavs broke out to a 34-26 lead after the first period and were still nursing a 58-52 lead at the half. The Spurs made their move in the third period and toted 81-76 leads into the frenetic fourth period when the Mavs met the pressure of the situation with flying colors.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 22 points to aid the Mavs’ cause, Carter had 13 points, Jose Calderon collected 12 points and six assists, and Devin Harris added 11 points.
Parker led the Spurs with 22 points, Splitter had 19 points, and Tim Duncan scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
But this night belonged to Blair and Ellis, who willed the Mavs to victory during a time when they needed it the most.
Even Popovich praised the all-out effort by Blair.
“Hs energy was great,” Popovich said. “He was all over the floor and he was a man possessed.
“At both ends of the floor he was physical, and he played good basketball on top of it. I thought he was really super.”
Now it’s on to San Antonio for the Mavs, who are 4-1 all-time in Game 7s.
“It’s another one-game season for us,” Carlisle said. “We’ve had them all year.
“Really the last month we’ve had a lot of these tough games. So we know what this is about, and we wanted this opportunity.”