SAN ANTONIO —
The white flag came out early.
Gregg Popovich had best keep some more handy just in case he needs them again.
With just under six minutes to play, the Spurs in the game were Matt Bonner, Austin Daye, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Danny Green. They weren’t on the floor because San Antonio has one of the strongest benches in the league.
In fact, Green was still playing either out of punishment for a second straight abysmal game or out of hope that he might accidentally find some remnants of his game.
The Spurs were that bad Wednesday night although bad doesn’t come nearly close enough to describing their dismal play. Horrendous comes closer to doing it justice.
There’s no end to the possible excuses for the Spurs.
Or to their turnovers either.
Gregg Popovich’s head had to be spinning, Exorcist-style, after watching his top-seeded Spurs commit all manner of trespasses with a mind-boggling 24 turnovers and an inexplicable 11 missed free throws in a jarring 113-92 loss to the Mavericks that is San Antonio’s third-worst home playoff loss ever.
And there are any number of reasons they can point to.
The turnovers would be a good place to start because Dallas turned them into 33 points. Ten different Spurs were guilty of miscues. As solid as Manu Ginobili was with 27 points, even he had six turnovers.
“It’s 24 turnovers,” Popovich said. “It’s been something that’s hurt us all year long. That’s been a weak link for us this year when we’ve lost games, and it showed up tonight.”
But this was more about the Mavs than the Spurs. Dallas was the desperate team, the one with the energy, the one that made the extra pass, the one that helped in defensive rotations, and the one that now has momentum in this best-of-seven playoffs.
This did not have the look of an upset, but then this has been road-team heaven in the early going. The Wizards have stolen two games from the Bulls in Chicago, and the road clubs won eight of the first 15 games before the Blazers and Rockets tipped Game 2.
Only five times have an eighth seed knocked off a top seed, and Dallas and San Antonio were each the victims in two of those series. The Mavs fell to Golden State in the opening round in 2007, and the Spurs felt the sting against the Grizzlies just three seasons ago.
One would be crazy to suggest the Spurs are in trouble because the series is tied 1-1. They didn’t win 62 games by accident, but the facts are these.
The Mavs have thoroughly outplayed the Spurs in the first two games of this series and — but for an improbable, eight-minute scoring drought in Game 1 when Dallas forfeited a 10-point lead and lost by five — would be returning home with a 2-0 lead and three of the last five at Dallas’ American Airlines Center.
There is much cause for alarm in River City because of what transpired, and there should be. Pick a reason.
Dirk Nowitzki finally got untracked.
DeJuan Blair, the former Spur, got his revenge.
Jose Calderon got hot.
Shawn Marion got even hotter.
Or simply, it was the law of averages. After all, the Spurs had whipped the Mavericks 10 consecutive meetings.
“We didn’t guard well,” Pop said. “It really showed up in guard play. We missed free throws and we didn’t defend well. That’s a bad combination. You get your butt kicked, and that’s what we got tonight.”
Maybe they got it wrong when Popovich ran away with the NBA Coach of the Year award. Rick Carlisle has suggested this week that the Spurs boss should be the “Coach of the Century.” He smartly continues to toss bouquets.
“I think Pop is the greatest coach in NBA history, with all due respect to Phil Jackson, who’s a friend,” Carlisle said. “The coaching matchup is a wipeout. I feel I have boulders on top of me.”
Carlisle has outcoached the genius thus far, eliminating Tony Parker’s drives to the basket for easy layups in the last six quarters and containing Tim Duncan in Game 2, when Dallas held him to just five shots.
“I’m not content about anything,” Carlisle said. “They’re such a dangerous team. We’re mixing up things a lot. We’re doing a lot of things we don’t want to do, but we have to do. It’s a monumental task, but we’re in this thing to win.”
The Mavs seem more engaged, more active and more desperate. That was clear when Nowitzki became very animated after he’d been inadvertently poked in the eye by Tiago Splitter and later was T’d up for arguing a foul on Ginobili that was clearly more a flop.
That led to a second-half scene when a frustrated Nowitzki drained an outside shot as he was fouled and yelled, “And one.”
The Mavs got their one Wednesday night and are looking for more.
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