PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Mavericks lead 3-1.
Going home facing a 3-1 deficit, the Spurs try to send this series back to Dallas and prevent the Mavericks from clinching their third trip to the Western Conference finals.
San Antonio is 0-5 when trailing this deep into a playoff series since Duncan arrived in 1997. The only time the former MVP has won any game when facing elimination was Game 7 of last year’s finals, when the Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons for their third title in seven seasons.
The usually congenial Duncan was clearly dejected following a 123-118 overtime loss Monday in Game 4, spending little time at the podium during a postgame news conference.
“One play either way. One call either way. Whatever it may be, it came down to that,” said Duncan, who has averaged 31.3 points and 11.8 rebounds in the series.
His impressive production after a lackluster first round against Sacramento has not been enough to offset San Antonio’s poor play defensively.
Dallas has averaged 113.3 points in winning the last three games, shooting 124 free throws and committing just 32 turnovers, after losing the series opener 87-85.
“It’s a heavyweight fight, a slugfest,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. “Fortunately, we had a little more in the tank (Monday).”
Only eight teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
While the Spurs have lost three straight for the first time all season, a loss in this contest would mark the team’s longest losing streak since dropping four in a row to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 West semifinals.
Dallas hasn’t been to the conference finals since 2003, when it lost in six games to San Antonio.
“It’s going to take tremendous effort,” Mavericks point guard Jason Terry said. “We like our chances.”
It was Terry who came up with the biggest shots in Monday’s win as he finished with 32 points. He made a crucial basket with 23 seconds left in regulation, opened overtime with a go-ahead layup and protected the lead with a pair of rainbow jumpers.
Terry being joined by fellow point guard Devin Harris in the starting lineup for the last three games has proved to be a brilliant decision by Johnson. The duo averaged 41.3 points in Games 2-4, combining for 50 points and 11 assists on Monday.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, has been unable to find the right combination. He started Michael Finley for the first time this postseason on Monday, one game after having Manu Ginobili come off the bench for the first time in these playoffs.
Ginobili responded with 24 points in Game 3, and had 26 in Game 4 before fouling out with 2:28 left in regulation. The Spurs led 105-101 when he departed but could not hang on, getting outscored 22-13 over the game’s final 7 1/2 minutes.
“It’s not a situation where we’re getting blown out and getting our hats handed to us,” Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. “It’s the small things. If we do the small things we’re going to be successful. We’re right there. I feel like we’re on the cusp of doing great things.”
Bowen, an NBA All-Defensive first team selection the last six seasons, has been unable to slow down Dirk Nowitzki.
The All-Star forward’s point production has gone up in every game of this series, and he’s 35-of-39 at the foul line over the last two. Nowitzki scored 28 points Monday despite battling a right ankle sprain, suffered when he stepped on Duncan’s foot in the final minute of Game 3. His pair of free throws with 8.5 seconds to play in regulation helped force overtime.
The series returns to Dallas for Game 6 on Friday should the Spurs win Wednesday.
“We’re still breathing,” Finley said. “We have the opportunity to go back to San Antonio. I hope we’re fortunate enough to make the trip back here.”
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 27.6 ppg and 9.8 rpg; Terry, 4.4 apg. Spurs - Duncan, 23.5 ppg and 10.2 rpg; Parker, 3.8 apg.
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