The Dallas Mavericks stormed back from a tough start offensively but couldn't hold onto a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, losing Game 1 of their opening-round NBA playoff series to the San Antonio Spurs 90-85 at the AT&T Center on Sunday.
The game was knotted entering the final 12 minutes, but Dallas took a double-digit lead not long into the final quarter. Then the Spurs mounted a strong push and once again stifled the Mavs in the halfcourt, prompting Grantland's Zach Lowe to weigh in on the outcome. It was reminiscent of how Dallas' season has gone:
Superstar point guard Tony Parker picked a great time for his first field goal and points of the second half, laying it in to cap off a 12-0 run that put the hosts up 83-81 on a beautiful spin move.
ESPN radio personality Ryan Ruocco commented on the excellent drive to the bucket:
It had been a struggle following a hot start, which ESPN Stats & Info alluded to:
Parker added another bucket thereafter to stretch the lead to four, as All-Star Dirk Nowitzki missed several opportunities during that span to keep the Mavs out in front or at least tied. The biggest star of this game came from the Spurs frontcourt.
Tim Duncan scored 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting to lead all scorers and also grabbed seven rebounds, while Parker added 21 and a game-high six assists. Even after getting through his 17th NBA regular season, Duncan evidently still has plenty in the tank to dominate in the postseason.
ESPN's Jeremy Lundblad noted the historical significance of Duncan's performance:
Skip Bayless of ESPN praised Parker and Duncan for rallying their club past a difficult stretch to take Game 1:
Despite the large gap in seeding, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was still a bit anxious prior to Sunday's tipoff, per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
San Antonio is often lauded for its underrated depth, which helped it ascend to the Western Conference's top seed.
But what made this contest close was how Dallas' bench was up to the task. Devin Harris poured in 19 big points and had five assists off the pine, leading to the Dallas Morning News' Brad Townsend to compare Harris to Jason Terry:
Vince Carter added 10 points to help offset off games for two of the Mavs' go-to guys in Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, who missed 20 of their combined 28 shots from the floor.
This matchup featuring two of the Lone Star State's postseason squads saw the Spurs put the clamps down on defense early, limiting Dallas to single digits until late in the first quarter. Momentum began to change when the Mavericks found their groove, netting 32 points in the next quarter to take a 44-43 halftime lead.
Unfortunately, the efforts couldn't be maintained for a full 48 minutes. NBA.com's Jeff Caplan highlighted how bad things got after Dallas put forth its best effort to take a big, late lead:
Once the flow of the game and the crowd swung in San Antonio's favor, there was little even this gritty, veteran Mavs squad could do to stem the tide.
What often determines championship-level teams is how they perform when they aren't at their best. If they're still able to win, it's a sign that they can endure adversity and are battle-tested for the rigors to come. The West is the clear superior conference in the Association, so the fact that the Spurs were able to avoid this opening-game pitfall is a great sign for what they hope is a return to the NBA Finals.
At least Dallas can take solace in the fact that it hung with the reigning conference champions before a bad field-goal drought down the stretch was its undoing.
Coach Rick Carlisle has some selling points to keep his team interested in trying to steal a road win in Game 2 on Wednesday. The question is whether or not the Mavs have the will to fight back after expending so much energy trying to seize the early edge in a series they are almost universally counted out in.