The best bridge builders in the world would have had their work cut out for them trying to span the gap between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in the regular season.
Connecting Earth to the moon might have been simpler.
Then, Sunday happened.
Yes, the Mavericks lost, 90-85, to the Spurs in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series, but as far as they are concerned, there’s really only one way to look at their late-game meltdown that erased 31/2 quarters of gritty, hard work.
At times like this — down 1-0 in a best-of-7 series — you grab at whatever straw you can, even after an epic collapse.
“After Game 1, yes,” Vince Carter said Monday about whether the distance between the Spurs and Mavericks seems less foreboding now. “There have been times since I’ve been here that they’ve really put a whipping on us.
“I’m just glad to see we were able to fight and give ourselves a chance to win in the end. That’s all you can ask for.”
Sometimes, progress comes in small increments. The Mavericks were 10 points ahead with less than eight minutes remaining and flopped miserably the rest of the way.
But the fact is that they were 10 points up. Of course, when Tim Duncan returned to the court, the Mavericks had no clue how to slow down the Spurs on offense and were powerless to score against them.
Again, those are issues that can be addressed another day — such as Wednesday in Game 2. Just being able to battle on a level playing field is evidence that the Mavericks aren’t that far away from the Spurs.
“If you don’t believe that you (can) beat a team, you should just stay at home,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had a clunker in Game 1 but rarely strings together off games in the playoffs. “That’s how you go into a series with your mind set up.
“You can lose 20 times to a team. But you got to go in there with a fresh mind-set and leave it all out there and see what happens at the end of the series. So we’re going to go in with the same mind-set in Game 2. Forget what happened in Game 1, and hopefully we’ll adjust some small, little things and compete the way we did in Game 1 and go from there.”
While Game 1 ultimately went to the Spurs, it seems like the Mavericks have their attention. It doesn’t look like the Spurs are going to be able to brush aside the Mavericks with the proverbial flick of their wrist.
And while the Spurs remain prohibitive favorites to win the series, the Mavericks were proof Sunday that the difference in the top seed and bottom seed in the Western Conference playoffs isn’t the abyss everyone may have thought.
Carter said that the Mavericks approached that game exactly like they need to.
“They’ve had a lot of games where they’ve come out and gotten up 12 before you knew it,” he said. “And they did so (Sunday), but we were able to fight back. If we can just stay close instead of having to fight and close a deficit of 10 or more late, we’ll give ourselves a chance. If not, it’s a tough, uphill battle, especially at their home.”
Rick Carlisle watched the unraveling at the end of Game 1 undo what was a terrific effort and a solid job of execution up to that point.
Like everybody else, he knows it was an opportunity that was booted away. But that doesn’t change his approach going forward.
“It’s obvious we did a lot of great things,” he said. “We built a lead. But 71/2 minutes is a long time in an NBA game, so you got to be able to sustain.
“We got to work on getting another lead in Game 2, and then closing. Look, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and start talking about the future, but we got to be process-oriented. Everybody’s got to do their job within our system. We got to be aggressive. We got to be tied together. And we got to execute.
“What is execution? It’s not just running plays. It’s running the floor, it’s spacing, it’s screening, the very basics of the game. We’re concentrating on everything.”
Unfortunately, if one thing isn’t accounted for, it can sabotage everything else, just as the Mavericks’ offensive ineptitude late Sunday did.
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