In defeating their division rivals 107-89 Tuesday night, the Spurs also ruined the pseudo-coaching debut of Avery Johnson, one of the most beloved players in San Antonio history.
Johnson’s Mavericks never led, but were close at the start of the fourth quarter until Devin Brown sparked a victory-sealing spurt with two three-point plays and two dunks. He finished with 14 of his season-high 16 points in the period, leaving Johnson sulking as he walked off the court, merely nodding and waving to Gregg Popovich, San Antonio’s coach and a good friend.
“I didn’t coach against Avery, I just coached my team,” Popovich said. “It wasn’t about that.”
Johnson, the hand-picked successor of Dallas coach Don Nelson, ran the game as if the job was already his. Nelson was there, too, but offered only suggestions. This was the first of about six such training sessions Nelson hopes to have.
“It felt great, you are just mad that you lost,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t sit well with me. … We have a very good basketball team here, but you didn’t see that tonight.”
Nelson picked this game to start breaking in Johnson because he played most of his 16 seasons for the Spurs, including starting on their 1999 championship club. This was the Spurs’ fourth straight win and the second time in a week that they’ve easily handled the Mavericks.
“Avery was pretty into the game,” said Tim Duncan, who had 20 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. “He knew what we like to do and I thought he did a real good job.”
Duncan made jumpers on San Antonio’s first two possessions and the Spurs were ahead the rest of the way. They were up at least 10 for most of the first three quarters.
Dallas got within 69-65 going into the fourth, but the comeback fizzled quickly. Brown’s first layup and free throw restored a nine-point lead, and his second three-point play capped a 10-0 run that made it 88-71 with 7:20 left. When the Mavericks finally scored, Brown answered with a breakaway dunk.
Beno Udrih also had 16 off the bench, while Tony Parker scored 17 and Manu Ginobili added 11 as San Antonio scored its second-most points of the season one game after putting up a season-best 109 against Utah. And after holding the Jazz to 10 points in the first quarter of their last game, the Spurs held the Mavs to 14 in the opening period and 40 at halftime.
Maybe Dallas could’ve used Johnson running the offense on the floor, not the sideline. The Mavs had a season-worst 22 turnovers and a paltry 10 assists. They also played lousy defense, with all seven of Parker’s baskets coming on layups.
“We’ve played better games,” Johnson said. “We got on our heels a little bit and never really could get it in gear.”
Dallas lost for the fourth time in six games. The Mavs are 3-5 since opening the season 7-1 and already have lost three home games after dropping only five all of last season.
“This is probably the toughest loss of the season,” Terry said. “They took us out of what we wanted to do. We couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively.”
There was even a lack of rhythm courtside, as Johnson opened the game by giving Nelson the main coach’s seat on the bench, only to swap spots after three possessions. Old habits die hard, though: Nelson was the first off the bench to argue a questionable foul, and he stayed up longer and yelled louder than Johnson. Nelson also seemed to be biting his lip to keep from talking during the first few timeouts.
Johnson developed a close bond with Nelson and others in Dallas while with the club in 2002 and ’03. The Mavs made him an assistant coach during the 2002 playoffs after leaving him off the postseason roster. He signed this summer to be a player-coach but retired in the preseason.
This was Dallas’ third 20-plus turnover game after having the fewest turnovers in the league last season. … Although Johnson was in charge, the game still counted as Nelson’s 864th career loss. … As Dallas left the court after the game, injured forward Michael Finley confronted a fan who was loudly taunting him. When the fan wouldn’t repeat his harshest comment to Finley’s face, Mavs owner Mark Cuban calmly got Finley to head back to the locker room.