An incredible battle came down to one shot, and it was Vince Carter who came through for the Dallas Mavericks.
The 37-year-old swingman hit a three-pointer as time expired to give the home team a 109-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3. ESPN summed up the reaction:
Vince. Carter. Buzzer. Beater. UNBELIEVABLE— ESPN (@espn) April 26, 2014
All of a sudden, the NBA's best team during the regular season is in trouble, as the Spurs are now down 2-1 in the series with another road game coming up in Game 4.
San Antonio appeared like it was going to come away with the key road win after Manu Ginobili scored the go-ahead basket with 1.7 seconds remaining. This was his last of 12 points, all of which came in the second half.
Unfortunately, they could not keep Carter from stealing the win for the elated home crowd.
Monta Ellis led the way for the Mavericks with 29 points, including a number of clutch baskets late. Jose Calderon also had a strong performance with 16 points and nine assists.
Who will win this series?
The Spurs were led by Tim Duncan, who scored 22 points one day after turning 38. Tony Parker had 19 points, but only two of those came in the second half as San Antonio fell just short. The squad will now need at least one road victory to ensure a trip to the second round.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle set the stage for Game 3 by talking about the physical nature fans should expect, via Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram:
"This is the NBA playoffs. This isn’t a volleyball match. This is serious business.'' #Mavs coach Rick Carlisle— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) April 25, 2014
These two veteran teams lived up to this statement, as both sides came ready to battle right out of the gate. The Spurs grabbed the early advantage with a 34-27 lead after the first quarter due in large part to the play of Parker.
However, the Mavericks were able to remain in the game thanks to the performance of Jose Calderon. The guard had 10 points in the opening frame and was extremely aggressive, as David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest noted:
Jose Calderon playing like a guy who hasn't been to the playoffs since '08 and never been to Round 2. Whole lot of emotion from him today.— David Ubben (@davidubben) April 26, 2014
San Antonio remained in front in the beginning of the second quarter, with Parker looking almost unstoppable as both a scorer and a passer. Chris Webber was impressed while calling the game for TNT:
This lead only stood for a few minutes longer, until the Mavericks started making all of their shots. The biggest stretch featured three three-point shots in a row, as Price described:
Back-to-back-to-back 3s by Monta, Marion and Marion to get the #Mavs that halftime lead.— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) April 26, 2014
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News pointed out the poor defense that was taking place in the second quarter.
Spurs gave up 30 points in span of 15 possessions, comprising nearly the entire second quarter.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) April 26, 2014
Dallas outscored the Spurs, 32-20, in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 59-54 lead. Parker led all scorers with 17 points along with six assists at the break, but both sides were hitting over 50 percent of their shots.
The home team built the lead up to seven points in the third quarter and appeared as though it was going to run away with it. At that point, ESPN's Skip Bayless noticed one player who needed to step up his effort:
Key to 2nd half survival for Spurs: Manu must go from cold back to hot.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 26, 2014
It turns out that Ginobili played a big role in bringing his team back, dropping eight points in just three minutes of game time to take the lead. Dallas was then able to make a couple of field goals to take a 77-74 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to some impressive balance, as ESPN's Tim McMahon identified:
Mavs 77, Spurs 74 heading into the fourth. Mavs are a Shawn Marion bucket away from all five starters being in double figures.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 26, 2014
Both teams continued to make their shots as the lead swung back and forth throughout the final 12 minutes.
Ellis was especially impressive, tying the game up on a three-point play with just over a minute remaining, and then again on a floater with 24 seconds left after Boris Diaw gave the Spurs the two-point lead.
Alan Hahn of MSG was one of many who liked what he saw:
The evolution of Monta Ellis is wonderful to watch.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) April 26, 2014
Ginobili put the Spurs in front with a difficult shot, as Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPN Dallas illustrated:
Ginobili. Driving. Hanging. Scoring. Spurs 108-106 with 1.7 left.— Jean-Jacques Taylor (@JJT_ESPNDallas) April 26, 2014
However, Carter got the last laugh with a three-pointer from the corner, leading to this reaction from the veteran player:
Vince Carter struts after his game-winner! pic.twitter.com/YJifjdDTe5— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 26, 2014
The series will continue with Game 4, which is set for Monday, April 28 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT. The one day of rest is the shortest of the postseason for either team, and the fatigue is likely to become a factor with two older squads.
This will also be a must-win game for San Antonio after falling behind 2-1 in the series. A win turns it into a best-of-three battle, but a loss makes it extremely difficult to come back.
The Spurs clearly need to improve defensively after allowing 51.2 percent shooting in this one, but you can never count out reigning NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich. Expect San Antonio to get back on track and look more like the group that won 62 games during the regular season.