Rick Carlisle must be a prophet.
Long before San Antonio decided to play its second unit against Dallas on Saturday night, the Mavericks’ coach talked about the extreme difficulties of beating the Spurs — no matter whom they put on the floor.
Carlisle’s chatter wasn’t just coach-speak as the Mavs had to hustle down the stretch to defeat the Spurs 99-93 before a sellout crowd of 20,504 at the American Airlines Center.
In becoming the fifth team to reach 20 wins this season, the Mavs won for the third straight time and padded their record to 20-8, three games ahead of the injury-riddled Spurs (17-11).
Overcoming some anxious moments in Rajon Rondo’s debut, the Mavs outscored the Spurs 19-9 over the final 5:38 to turn back a San Antonio squad that was coming off consecutive triple-overtime losses, including at home Friday against Portland.
But the night belonged to Monta Ellis, who poured in 13 of his season-high-tying 38 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-8 shooting. The nine-year veteran scored 11 of the Mavs’ final 13 points.
“He was the best player on the floor tonight, without question,” Carlisle said. “Without him getting 38 points, this was going to go the other way.”
A 3-pointer by Ellis tied the score at 89. Then he scored on three consecutive trips up the floor, with the last driving layup giving the Mavs the lead for good at 95-93 with 1:48 left.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Chandler Parsons, who registered his first double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “He’s one of the most clutch players I’ve ever played with.
“He’s got a knack for scoring the ball, especially late. He’s fearless.”
Rondo was also fearless, finishing the night with six points, seven rebounds, nine assists, two steals and four turnovers in 34 minutes. He was 3 of 11 from the field.
“I thought he played well tonight,” Carlisle said. “He didn’t shoot particularly well, but he did a lot of great things. He did a lot of things that most guys in that position just don’t do — rebounding, making plays, things like that.”
Besides Ellis, Rondo and Parsons, the Mavs got 13 points apiece from Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris, and 14 rebounds from Tyson Chandler. Their stout defense turned 19 San Antonio turnovers into 25 points.
The Mavs trailed 47-42 at the half, but outscored the Spurs 57-46 after the break.
“Well, we needed to take it to another level,” Carlisle said. “We weren’t very good in the first half.
“San Antonio played a great 3 1/2 quarters, and we were just able to chip away and stay in it and get the lead to get a little bit of a cushion at the end. We didn’t play our best and we didn’t shoot the ball well, but it is a really good win and it’s the kind of game we expected.”
The Spurs played without Tim Duncan (rest), Tony Parker (hamstring), Manu Ginobili (rest), Kawhi Leonard (hand), Danny Green (rest) and Patty Mills (shoulder). But the players San Antonio did put on the floor almost pulled off an improbable victory.
“When they sit their top guys like this — their top five, six guys are out — they play with their hair on fire,” Parsons said. “They have absolutely nothing to lose.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, just because they weren’t playing their top guys and they weren’t going to be a pushover. I’m glad we hung in there and at the end of the day, it’s still a win against the Spurs.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760