The Dallas Mavericks had the San Antonio Spurs awash in a sea of blue t-shirts in Monday’s Game 4 of their first-round NBA playoff series. After trailing by 20 in the second half, Dallas claimed a slim lead in the final three minutes to create a raucous home atmosphere, but a timely trey from Boris Diaw lifted the Spurs to a 93-89 victory and knotted the series at two games apiece.
Manu Ginobili turned back the clock and led all players with 23 points and five assists off the bench. The Argentine's production came with Tony Parker struggling his way to only 10 points and three assists. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter each double-doubled, and Kawhi Leonard finished three points shy of his own.
Monta Ellis finished with a team-high 20 points, but his last-second layup caught slightly too much iron and caromed out of the cylinder to deny Dallas a shot at overtime. Ellis missed 14 of his 20 shots, committed four turnovers and dished only three assists.
Dirk Nowitzki notched 19. DeJuan Blair turned in a stellar second half, but he was ejected for some extracurricular activity—mushing his shoe in Tiago Splitter's face.
After playing excellent defense to start the game, the Mavs got blown out 32-13 in the second quarter and trailed 50-36 at the half. Dallas settled for a slew of long jump shots and converted just 29 percent from the field to that point.
The Spurs owned the paint all evening and enjoyed a stunning 44-16 advantage in paint scoring after three quarters. They will be delighted with the victory, but head coach Gregg Popovich will not be pleased about surrendering a 20-point lead in the second half and very nearly needing overtime to claim Game 4.
Player grades start at a C+ for a decent overall performance. That increases or decreases based on the quality of each player's contributions, with extra credit for huge stats or clutch performance. (We'll put role players on the grading curve.) Instead of gold stars and frowny faces, here are grades for every player.
Key Spurs Grades
Tim Duncan, Power Forward
Duncan notched a dozen in the first half to pace San Antonio's starters. but he fell silent after that. The "Big Fundamental" notched just two points in 18 second-half minutes and finished on 6-of-16 shooting.
He also collected 10 rebounds and blocked a shot, but if the Spurs bench hadn't been pouring in the points, it would have spelled disaster for San Antonio.
Tony Parker, Point Guard
TNT cameras provided multiple shots of a sullen Tony Parker sitting on the bench during the fourth quarter. In a continuing trend this postseason, Patty Mills saw minutes at crunch time instead of Parker. But Popovich called Parker's number in the final minutes, and mixed results followed.
He drained a big pull-up jumper to stretch the lead to three inside of two minutes. However, Parker held it too long on the next possession and earned a shot-clock violation.
His lackluster production tells the tale of how vital the Spurs bench was: 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting, four turnovers and three dimes.
Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward
Leonard didn't have the nose for offense in Game 4, but he did notch seven points on eight shots to go with his 12 rebounds.
He also swatted a shot, comprising half the team's total. Leonard's opposite starter, Shawn Marion, managed only one field goal.
Manu Ginobili, Shooting Guard
Manu Ginobili dropped 15 first-half points to lead all scorers. It was a fountain-of-youth kind of night for him, and his timing was impeccable with Parker stubbing his toe. Though he missed five of his six attempts from three-point range, he got to the line 11 times and notched 23 points on just 14 shots.
Dallas has a speedier backcourt, but Ginobili forced the action and got to the rack with regularity.
Tiago Splitter, Center
Splitter fouled out after hacking Samuel Dalembert with just shy of two minutes remaining. That could have loomed large if Ellis' late layup had tied the game and forced overtime, but that scenario didn't play out.
Splitter finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and a dozen rebounds. He has routinely helped in the largely successful effort against Nowitzki.
Danny Green, Shooting Guard
Danny Green did virtually nothing in a starting role. He made a jump shot early in the fourth quarter. That was it. He played 15 minutes.
Rest of Bench
The Spurs bench was potent on the offensive end, and it happened in both halves with the starters sputtering. The Spurs bench mob beat Dallas' reserves 50-30.
Boris Diaw drained an enormous triple in the final minutes to break an 87-87 tie. and he turned in a huge effort off the bench, dwarfed only by Ginobili's prowess. Diaw racked up 17 points, four assists and four rebounds. He also hit three three-pointers, while the rest of his teammates tallied only two in total.
Patty Mills scored 10 points in reserve action and continues to receive playing time in key situations down the stretch. He's certainly familiar with the schemes by now.
Marco Belinelli did not receive an invitation to the party, however, and scored zero points.
Key Mavericks Grades
Dirk Nowitzki, Power Forward
Nowitzki picked up a flagrant-1 late in the second quarter when he hacked Manu Ginobili twice while preventing the same free throw. It was a clash of foreign NBA legends who have battled each other many times over at this stage.
Dirk was an obvious focus for San Antonio's defense, and while he scored 19 points, he did not spark any of the Mavericks' runs. He made seven of his 19 shots and pulled down seven rebounds, but Dallas got back in the game because other players got hot.
After putting up 21.7 points per game during the regular season, he has not cracked 20 in the series.
Monta Ellis, Shooting Guard
Ellis only had five points after two quarters, but he came out for the second half as if shot out of a cannon. He scored seven in a hurry and got the crowd back into the game after the deficit had ballooned to 20.
His and-1 tied it inside the final minute. He also created the potential game-tying look in the final seconds, but he is subject to the vicissitudes of ball on rim. Duncan got a hand in the vicinity, and Ellis put it just too high off the glass, causing the layup to land just too violently on the side of the rim and carom across to spell defeat. That's just too bad.
Ellis finished on 20 points, but the 6-of-20 line was not pretty.
Jose Calderon, Point Guard
Jose Calderon is an opportunistic shooter, and his 13 points mainly came from the open looks he found from downtown. He had three treys to go with three assists. He also found some of his minutes getting siphoned off by Devin Harris.
Shawn Marion, Small Forward
In a long-awaited confirmation that his bizarre chest-pass jump shot does not work, Marion bricked five of his six attempts at the hoop and scored only four points. Calling it a shot does not really accurately describe the strange shot-put action he puts on the ball.
Marion did some useful things and grabbed seven rebounds, but a 35-year-old veteran is going to have his share of clunkers.
Samuel Dalembert, Center
Yes, Dalembert scored only three points. And yes, Dalembert went to the free-throw line six times. And yes, he missed five of those tries at the charity stripe. But on the plus side, he snagged a game-high 15 rebounds. The long arm of "Slammy D" also added a block and a steal.
DeJuan Blair, Center
DeJuan Blair had a whale of a second half, and one could be forgiven for thinking that he spent years as a mole in the Spurs organization gathering information just so he could play this game.
He romped to 12 points and 11 rebounds and made all five shots he took once he started shooting after halftime.
However, Blair got tangled up on the ground with Splitter, and in pulling his leg out from under him, Blair seemed to intentionally nudge Splitter in the face with his sneaker.
Devin Harris had 18 points in Dallas' Game 2 win and 19 in Game 1, but he has been quiet since then. He missed his first four shots, but he provided a spark in the fourth quarter when he finally tallied a field goal. His four points helped in the comeback effort, but this was his second forgettable effort in a row.
Vince Carter didn't have his shot working after nailing the game-winner in Game 4, but he did splash a couple of treys. He led the team with five assists, tied with Ginobili for the game-high, and added two steals and a block to his eight points. But he also bricked seven shots on nine attempts.
Jae Crowder's layup tied the game at 77 with just over six minutes left. He missed his other two shots, which, of course, were three-pointers.
Brandan Wright scored four points, but none of them were worth talking about.
The Mavericks have played valiant basketball so far, yet the series is knotted at 2-2. Dallas has to do better in the paint to at least prevent the gap in scoring from being so lopsided. They won the turnover battle again in Game 4, and getting out in transition will be a key to success.
Most of all, the Mavs need their living legend Dirk Nowitzki to bust out and lead his charges.
Things are looking gloomy for the Mavs as Game 5 will be back in San Antonio Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on TNT. The Spurs lost only nine games at home during the regular season, but Dallas snuck a road win in Game 2. Game 6 brings the series back to Dallas on Friday.