They never returned.
Humiliated since the opening tip, coach Gregg Popovich decided Game 3 of a first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks was a lost cause.
Instead of hurting the Spurs with hard fouls—like Mavs center Erick Dampier threatened to do—Dallas slapped around San Antonio with tight defense, the return of Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting touch and the energy of their home crowd, producing an 88-67 victory Thursday night and a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
“It was great,” Nowitzki said. “We all fought for each other.”
Dampier drew the scrutiny of the league office for saying he would pop Parker on his first drive of this game. Dampier never even collided with Parker, although he did swat away a shot during a frenzied first-half defensive performance by the Mavericks.
Dallas limited San Antonio to 30 points by the break, then went ahead 62-36 with 7:42 left in the third quarter. That’s when Popovich essentially gave up, opting to let his top players rest up for Game 4 on Saturday.
“I didn’t see where we were going to get back in that one,” Popovich said.
The Spurs’ backups weren’t much better, resulting in their fewest points ever in a playoff game. The numbers were so ugly—things like making only 31.2 percent of their shots, and missing 15 of 17 3-pointers—that Popovich playfully shoved aside the box score at the start of his postgame news conference.
“Have some mercy will ya?” Popovich said, laughing. “It’s bad enough I had to watch this. Now you’re going to make me look at the stat sheet?”
The Mavericks allowed their fewest points in a playoff game while improving to 16-1 at home since the All-Star break and 7-1 in games following 20-point losses.
Now Dallas will have to show it can handle success. After winning the opener, the Mavs came out flat in Game 2, getting trounced about as soundly as they did the trouncing this game.
“The challenge is to maintain same kind of edge heading into Saturday,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a good effort and an important victory for us, but it’s only one step.”
Nowitzki missed his first shot, then hit his next five. He finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, then also took a seat for good once Dallas’ lead reached 30. Josh Howard had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Dampier had two points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
J.J. Barea had 13 points and seven assists in his first career playoff start and Jason Kidd had six assists and eight rebounds. Kidd’s only points came on a 3-pointer that was immediately followed by Popovich’s give-up move.
“This is how we have to play as far as tempo goes,” Mavs guard Jason Terry said. “Defensively, we were there with great energy.”
Parker was San Antonio’s leading scorer with just 12 points—down from 38 the previous game. He made only five of 14 shots, with as many turnovers (three) as assists. Duncan had four points on 2-of-9 shooting, with as many fouls (two) as rebounds.
“We have to play with a lot more energy,” Parker said. “That’s it.”
Feeding off a crowd of 20,491 that was chanting “Let’s go Mavs!” long before tipoff, Dallas pestered San Antonio into missing its first five shots. They also turned the first four into quick baskets, sparking fans to scream even louder. Folks really went bonkers when Dampier blocked Parker’s shot and Barea followed with a 3-pointer, putting Dallas up by 12 after only 6 minutes.
“Everybody was in attack mode after we got stops,” Nowitzki said. “We didn’t have to grind it all out all the time.”
The Spurs couldn’t hardly do anything right.
They often took shots late in the shot clock, and those rarely went in. They had six passes stolen—some were so off the mark they seemed intentionally thrown to the Mavericks—and had five shots blocked. If not for a buzzer-beater by George Hill, San Antonio would’ve matched its worst half in a playoff game.
“This was an awful game,” Duncan said. “Hopefully I’ll come out here (Saturday) and be a leader.”
San Antonio’s previous playoff low was 70 against Phoenix in 2000, a series Duncan missed with a knee injury. … Dallas’ previous low-allowed was 76, done twice. … Nowitzki was 0-for-1 on 3s, keeping him without one this series. He needs four to pass Michael Finley for the franchise postseason lead; it’s the most significant mark he doesn’t already own.