Yet it took a key offensive rebound from Devin Brown and a big second half from Manu Ginobili for the Spurs to earn a 98-95 win Friday night after the Mavericks rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Ginobili scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half, including three crucial free throws over the final 13 seconds.
“It was tough,” Ginobili said. “We know against Dallas the game is never over. We knew we’d have to grind it out.”
It was Brown’s offensive rebound off Ginobili’s missed 3-pointer with 16 seconds left that kept the Mavericks from drawing closer when they trailed 95-93.
“They kept fighting throughout the game and kept coming back,” said Spurs center Tim Duncan, who led San Antonio with 25 points. “Luckily we made some free throws down the stretch.”
The Mavericks came in averaging 116 points over the past six games, but the league’s best defense held them under 100 for the first time since a 90-68 win over Atlanta on Dec. 18. Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 36 points, including 15 points in the final period.
“I just wish someone had told me Nowitzki could shoot,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He knows it’s going in and everybody is scared to death waiting to see when it would go.”
Nowitzki was streaky all night, picking up two early fouls and missing his first four shots. The second quarter didn’t get much better when he had a shot blocked by from behind by 6-foot-3 Beno Udrih.
“We made him take some tough shots,” Duncan said. “Our defense is always the same. We contest shots.”
Even with their 7-foot German struggling, Dallas kept it close as Jerry Stackhouse scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half.
Duncan had 17 points in the first two quarters and the Spurs opened the biggest lead of the half at 40-31 before Nowitzki finally found his shot, scoring 12 points over the final five minutes. His 3-pointer from near midcourt swished through at the buzzer to make it 48-45 Spurs at halftime.
Rasho Nesterovic banged a hard shot off the backboard and Duncan dropped in a floater over Nowitzki that made it 83-71, and the Spurs looked like they were ready to coast. Nesterovic had four blocks, and the Spurs outrebounded the Mavericks 46-36.
The Spurs also clamped down on the Mavs’ Michael Finley, who scored eight in the first quarter but managed just seven more points the rest of the way.
But the Mavericks kept coming back as Nowitzki kept firing away.
“It wasn’t lack of effort,” Nowitzki said. “They’re the best home team in the league.”
Nowitzki hit a 15-foot fadeaway and Terry hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two.
Ginobili had an open look but his shot bounced off the rim and the 6-foot-5 Brown leapt high to snag the rebound to keep possession for the Spurs. The Mavericks were forced to foul Ginobili, who made his two free throws to make it 97-93.
“They got second-chance opportunities all game long,” Nowitzki said. “And then the killer when we were down by two, they get another.”
Mavericks forward Josh Howard is still out with an upper respiratory infection and didn’t travel to San Antonio … Horry left the floor late in the first quarter after taking a hard foul on a charge by Nowitzki. Horry returned late in the second and finished with five points … San Antonio is 3-0 against the Mavs this season.