In Game 1 of the first-round series between the Dallas Mavericks and heavily favored San Antonio Spurs, the No. 8-seed Mavs held a surprising 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for them, that advantage didn't last — the Spurs held them to one field goal in the final seven minutes of regulation to grab a 90-85 win and 1-0 series advantage. Given the circumstances, the Mavericks could be forgiven for thinking they had squandered their best chance at stealing a road victory.
They would not let go of the same opportunity in Wednesday night's Game 2. On the strength of their typical offensive prowess and impressive defensive thievery, the Mavericks cruised to a 113-92 win to break a 10-game losing streak against San Antonio, even the series at 1-1, and gain homecourt advantage as the series heads to Dallas for Games 3 and 4.
The Mavericks' strong play started early, in large part due to some unfamiliar carelessness from the Spurs. While the Spurs managed to shoot 57.6 percent over the game's first two quarters, they had an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers — more than they committed in 45 of the regular season's 82 games, according to ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton — to help the Mavericks to a 56-41 lead with 2:41 remaining before the break.
That's when Manu Ginobili took over. San Antonio's longtime sparkplug hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to begin a 10-0 run to close the half, which culminated in a twisting reserve lay-in of a buzzer-beater to put back Patty Mills's miss and bring the Spurs to a much more manageable 56-51 deficit. Check it out below:
Ginobili remained his team's top performer after the break and finished with a game-high 27 points on 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc, but the Mavericks corrected course quickly. The Spurs' dominant half-ending run turned out to be an aberration, not a sign of things to come. Dallas had worked the lead back up to double-digits before the halfway point of the third quarter and only built on the lead from there. With a steady stream of baskets and defensive tactics that made the Spurs look out of sorts, the Mavericks built a 101-78 lead with 7:07 left in regulation.
Gregg Popovich, known for conceding games earlier than other coaches, subbed out his stars approximately 80 seconds later to create some extended garbage time. It's hard to blame him for his choice, because the final marks from this game are ugly for San Antonio. Not only did the Mavericks snap a 10-game losing streak against the Spurs, but they also won their first playoff game since clinching the NBA title against the Miami Heat in June 2011. Game 2 was the Spurs' worst home playoff loss in their NBA tenure since April 1979, when they lost by 23 to Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. That's right — San Antonio was in the Eastern Conference at the time.
The Mavericks won this game with a combination of two strengths. The first came at the offensive end, where Dallas made their name this season with the second-best scoring efficiency marks in the NBA. In Game 2, they shot 48.9 percent from the field and turned it over only seven times (against 19 assists) for a full 28-point improvement on their Game 1 performance. With Dirk Nowitzki (16 points on 7-of-19 shooting) not having one of his better games, Monta Ellis (a team-high 21 points), Shawn Marion (20 points on 8-of-10 shooting), and Devin Harris (18 points on 7-of-9 shooting) picked up the slack. This is a deep team with many offensive options, and they proved that in this win.
The second Dallas strength is perhaps less known. The Mavericks do not have a particularly effective defense — their 105.9 points allowed per 100 possessions mark ranked 22nd in the NBA. However, the Mavs do force turnovers — their 15.4 forced per game was tied with the Washington Wizards for fourth in the league. Their 13 steals on Wednesday were on the higher end of things, but it's not as if they came into the game with no expectation of such a result.
At 1-1 with three games left in Dallas, the Mavericks have new life in the series. Of course, it's not as if the Spurs have reason to panic. Given their high turnover mark, they can head into Game 3 with the belief they were largely responsible for their own demise. Plus, they were in a similar situation in the playoffs last season. In the Spurs' second-round series against the Golden State Warriors, they headed to Oakland with a home split that very easily could have been an 0-2 deficit. All they did was control the terms of the rest of the series, winning three of the next four on their way to the NBA Finals. As the Spurs learned long ago, a single loss can always be corrected in future games.
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