Game 4 All-Access: Spurs 93, Mavs 89
DONUT 1: Sometimes they hurt ...
The Dallas Mavericks leapt to a 12-2 lead to open the game as the San Antonio Spurs hit just one of their first 10 shots, then the wheels came off and stayed off for almost two full quarters.
Dallas fell behind by as many as 20 as Dirk Nowitzki once again struggled to find his shot, landing at 7-of-19 for 19 points, though he was far from alone in his inability to get the ball through the net as the Mavs hit only 38.1 percent of their shots on the night -- their fifth-worst shooting performance of the season.
Aided tremendously by DeJuan Blair, the Mavs scrapped all the way back to a one-point lead with 4:30 left in the fourth. A little more than a minute later, their building momentum was drained after a lengthy review showed, after getting tangled and going to the floor, Blair had kicked Tiago Splitter in the side of the head (it didn't look to be a move with malice intent, but there's no denying it happened), earning an ejection for a "hostile act," giving the Spurs two free throws for the foul and one more for the technical: three free points.
Trailing by two, the Mavs inbounded the ball with 10.4 to play. Monta Ellis curled around and took the handoff from Dirk, spun back after a few steps and attacked the left side of the rim, creating a good look but missing the contested layup and the Mavs would fall by the final of 93-89, evening the series at two.
DONUT 2: The collapse …
Let's start with the official NBA highlight reel:
San Antonio opened the game by missing nine of its first 10 attempts. Dallas failed to fully capitalize, building a lead of 12-2, but no more, in large part due to an offense that appeared content to counter the Spurs' slow start by settling for long jumpers.
While the Spurs were missing everything, the Mavs took only two of their 12 attempts in the paint, both makes, and only one of those in the restricted area (at the rim) … while going 3-of-9 outside the paint.
A tone was being set.
You can focus on the dreadful second quarter, when Dallas was outscored 32-13, but the slide encompassed more.
From 6:30 remaining the first through the first three minutes of the third quarter, the Mavs were simply dominated by the Spurs. Dallas failed to match the aggression and energy of their opponent and paid the price.
The general numbers for that 21.5 minutes:
As much as the points, where the Mavs were more than doubled-up, note the 13-to-0 under assists.
Dallas was settling at both ends.
The Spurs were attacking.
DONUT 3: Shooting chart (NSFW) …
Again, this covers from 6:30 remaining in the first through the first three minutes of the third quarter.
Over that stretch, here is the Mavs shooting chart (shooting charts are not supposed to be all red):
DONUT 4: While that was happening …
And, while the Mavs were having one of their worst offensive displays of the season, the Spurs … well, they weren't obliging by doing the same.
The Spurs shooting chart over that same stretch:
DONUT 5: Significant differences …
When looking at those shooting charts, the most glaring separation comes at the rim, where the Spurs were 12-of-14, compared to only 1-of-5 for Dallas.
You can push this out to the paint in its entirety – San Antonio 16-of-22 (72.7%), Dallas 3-of-13 (23.1%) – and the picture is just as ugly.
However, when you consider that the Mavs were not kicking out for assists, zero over this 21.5 minutes, and allowed the Spurs to take almost three times as many attempts at the rim while shooting a much higher percentage, you begin to see the signs of a stagnant offense settling for poor shots complementing a defense that wasn't stopping anything.
And, you see how a team gets outscored by 30 points in just over 21 minutes of a playoff game.
If forced to define it by disposition, a favorite word of coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavs appeared almost complacent … at least in comparison to San Antonio.
"I'm so disappointed in our no-show in the first half that it's hard for me to mitigate it with fight for 24 minutes out of 48 minutes a game with this kind of meaning,'' Carlisle said. "So, I'm glad we showed that we were willing and able to fight in the second half but the way we performed, just competitively, is inexcusable."
DONUT 6: The spark …
While marred by his exit from the game, a moment whose ghost can certainly be seen in the final, the Mavs would not have been in this game without the contributions of DeJuan Blair.
His energy changed the feel of the game. His fight fed life back into the will of the team. And, in his first ten minutes he already had a double-double. Carlisle demands his bench players be ready, a mantra Blair more than lived up to.
Blair led the Mavs bench with 12 points on 5-of-5 field goals, 11 rebounds and two steals.
He was great until …
With 3:08 left in the game, after a great hustle play from Shawn Marion, leaping into the crowd to save a pass he had deflected, Splitter and Blair both went for the ball and ended up on the floor, a foul called on Blair.
With his upper body, Splitter had come down on Blair's left ankle. Blair pulled his foot out from under Splitter, and appeared to either react to the call or to Splitter's presence and kicked his feet out briefly … immediately, Blair put his hands up and seemed to rein himself in.
From all appearances, it was a move of frustration, not an outright attempt to kick Splitter … but there was clear contact. Blair's foot had hit Splitter's head.
The correct call was made, and Blair was ejected.
"I mean, it was an accident, so we'll see what happens," Blair said. "It wasn't intentional. I was just reacting to a call that I thought didn't go my way."
The Mavs were up one when the play took place … down two and without Blair when it was resolved.
DONUT 7: When a concern becomes trend …
In the regular season, outside of one poor performance, the only thing that really seemed to limit Dirk Nowitzki against the Spurs was shot attempts.
In a blowout January loss, Dirk went 3-of-14 for eight points.
In the other three regular season games against the Spurs, Dirk averaged 22 points with a field-goal percentage of 56.3.
After scoring 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting Monday night, Dirk is averaging 16.0 points, 38.5 field-goal percentage, 20.0 3-point percentage, and 6.8 rebounds through four playoff games.
If the Mavs are to win this series, they are going to need Dirk to have a "Dirk"-type of game at least once. Perhaps it's not fair to say he's "due" for one, but the ease with which some seem to accept that what we've seen from Nowitzki through four games is the new norm is disconcerting.
It wasn't the "norm" this season, against the Spurs or the rest of the league.
He hasn't played well. He's missed open looks, and may have allowed the defensive attack of the Spurs to crawl into his mind, making even open looks somehow uncomfortable. He's not the same player he was in the 2011 postseason … but that doesn't necessarily mean he's done either.
"Let's quit talking about missed shots,'' Carlisle said. "Let's talk about guys getting up and getting into people the way we did in the second half. … Look, this is a long series, the shot making is going to even out. Trust me when I say that.''
DONUT 8: Mavsellaneous …
*Vince Carter wasn't hitting shots, 2-of-9 for eight points, but did contribute at least one huge play, climbing to block a Splitter attempt at the rim in the third quarter as the Mavs were surging back.
Vince's Video Visit:
*Eleven times in the regular season the Mavs trailed by double-digits at halftime. They were 1-10 in those games.
Dallas trailed for the first time this series at the half, by 14.
The Spurs were 47-3 in the regular season when leading at the half, and 28-0 when up by double-digits at the intermission.
San Antonio was 54-1 when tied or leading entering the fourth. They entered the fourth quarter of Game 4 up eight.
*Led by Manu Ginobili's game-high 23 points, the Spurs bench outscored the Mavs counterpart 50-30.
*Dallas starters had a combined field-goal percentage of 34.5.
*Monta Ellis did not match his performance from Game 2 or 3, finishing with 20 points on 6-of-20 field goals to go with four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Through the first three games of the series Ellis totaled three turnovers … by halftime of Game 4 he had four, though he would have none in the second half.
*Not to be lost among the numbers: The Mavs missing 10 free throws, including Dalembert going 0-2 with 1:24 to play. Ball game, really.
DONUT 9: The hurt …
When Monta Ellis charged the rim in the final seconds, our stomachs hardened, pushing our guts into our throats, and it felt like the shot had to fall … it was meant to be.
Sure, there was contact worthy of a foul, but that's not going to be called 99-percent of the time in the final seconds of a playoff game (just ask Spurs fans how they feel about the likelihood that Carter's feet may have shuffled on the game-winner and the lack of a call there); but some kernel inside just knew that shot was falling and the Mavs were going to find a way to pull a victory from the ashes of their earlier collapse.
Then the shot fell away, and the truth of the loss shoved its fist into our gut. The series was tied up at two.
"Now,'' said Marion, "it's (best) two-out-of-three.''
Game 5 is Wednesday in San Antonio at 6 p.m. Game 6 is at the AAC on Friday.
DONUT 10: The Sterling story ...
"I think there's a constitution for a reason, right? Because this is a very slippery slope," Mavs owner Cuban said last night. "What Donald said was wrong. It was abhorrent. There's no place for racism in the NBA, any business I'm associated with, and I don't want to be associated with people who have that position.''
That doesn't mean Cuban is calling for Sterling's immediate ouster, though. It's all more complicated than that.
We've got the Sterling story covered from every angle here, including the possibility that there are NBA by-laws that allow owners to "try'' an offending owner in order to oust him. Smartest stuff you'll read on the issue here.
And, if you want the most complete coverage of Cuban's position here -- and you are among those who believe he hasn't said enough -- here you go:
Cuban's complete pregame Stairmaster press conferences. A full 18 minutes. On Sterling and more. Have at it.
"In this country, people are allowed to be morons," Cuban said. "They're allowed to be stupid. They're allowed to think idiotic thoughts.''
DONUT 11: Quoteboard ...
"Hostile act?' Is that a movie?" -- Shawn Marion, responding to the official reasoning on Blair's ejection.
We've got the complete Mavs Quoteboard here.
DONUT 12: The Final Word …
From the rubble, we see a team that was a no-show for the majority of the first half and early third quarter, that got down by 20 … and found a way to make the final possessions of the game matter. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, no silver linings to a loss.
There aren't … but there are signs of hope for what's next, to cling to in what's already come and gone.
With the series headed back to San Antonio, there was nothing in this game that should dent the Mavs belief in their ability to match up with the Spurs. Dallas played their worst for 21.5 minutes, almost a full half of basketball, and was an Ellis layup from sending the game to overtime.
Ellis' Video Visit:
"We didn't compete for 48 minutes,'' Ellis said. "And it cost us the game.''
In a sense, there's hope in that … or there could be.