It came like a tidal wave, coach Rick Carlisle said.
The village was swamped. The yellow brick road, so easy to believe in just a few days ago, was swept away.
The results were thorough. The San Antonio Spurs rode their 119-96 victory Sunday over the Dallas Mavericks into the NBA playoffs’ second round.
The Mavericks could only shake their heads.
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“It was the force they hit us with,” Carlisle said.
The thing is, the Mavericks fully expected the Spurs, masters of the Western Conference during the regular season, to begin the game with an ardent, home crowd-fueled rush.
“Every game here, they hit us with a big run early,” said Dirk Nowitzki. “Every game they would get up by 8, 9 or 10 quick, and then we would settle in.
“But that didn’t happen today. We couldn’t settle in, and they just kept piling it on.”
Halfway through the first quarter, the Spurs were up by 11. By the end of the half, San Antonio’s Tony Parker already had a personal pile of 24 points.
The Mavericks tried vainly to thwart him. But Parker kept dancing around screens or running away from Jose Calderon or whoever else Carlisle sent to defend him.
The San Antonio advantage quickly climbed to 29. And with Tim Duncan and Parker playing 21 and 19 minutes, respectively, in the first half, coach Gregg Popovich clearly was going for the early kill.
Whatever doubt remained was snuffed early in the third quarter after the Mavericks had trimmed the deficit to 75-61. Calderon missed an open 17-footer from the baseline, and Dallas was only able to convert one of its next six shots.
“Parker got going early, and they kept pounding and pounding,” Carlisle said. “They had too many easy ones.
“I was pleased with the way we cut into the lead at the end of the first half and start of the third quarter. But they adjusted their lineup and attacked us, and that was pretty much it.”
For the Mavericks, disarray and disappointing performances abounded.
At the half, Monta Ellis had only one field goal, Shawn Marion was scoreless, and big man DeJuan Blair’s focus appeared to have been knocked askew by a verbal altercation with Parker.
In the losing locker room, the Mavericks’ Vince Carter observed, “I said before the series that if we didn’t match their level of intensity, it was going to be a long night.
“It’s one of the things we had avoided all series, but it happened today.”
The NBA regular season is six months long. But this is why they play the 82 games — the roar of the home arena, the tidal wave that sweeps the home court for a deciding seventh game.
“You know that on the road, particularly in the playoffs and a Game 7, you may have to weather a storm,” Carlisle said. “It was just tough. We’d do two good things, and they would do three better things.”
Nowitzki, as always, was introspective about the season’s end.
“Looking at the series,” he said, “the game to steal was maybe Game 1 and Game 4 at home, when they were still trying to figure out our defense.
“The longer the series went, it seemed that they attacked our defense better and better.”
He was right. By the deciding game, Popovich had found a way to exploit the Mavericks’ defensive focus on the perimeter. Parker or whoever slashed through the paint for the Spurs were seldom contested.
The decisive defeat, Dirk confessed, was “awful.”
“You can’t really grasp that your season is over,” he said. “The series was 3-3 and anyone’s ballgame to win coming into today, and now it’s over. It definitely stings.”
The San Antonio lead reached 31 during the fourth quarter as both sides emptied their benches.
The expected battle of superstars — Parker and Duncan against Nowitzki and Ellis — never mounted Sunday. The war of wits between coaches Popovich and Carlisle seemed over before it began.
Some good stories, it seems, don’t have neat and tidy endings.
Some end with rainbows. This one ended in a mighty wave.