Vince Carter's Game 3 buzzer-beater threatened to cripple the San Antonio Spurs, and then losing a 20-point second-half lead in Game 4 on Monday night threatened to do the same, but the West's top squad responded in the exact way you would expect from a team in its 17th consecutive postseason.
With a resilient victory.
Manu Ginobili led a balanced effort with 23 points and five assists off the bench, as the Spurs let a huge lead slip away before a late Boris Diaw three sealed the 93-89 victory to even the series at two games apiece.
With 17 points, Diaw showed up at the right time, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:
Boris Diaw gets game-winning hoop in Game 4 win for Spurs. Diaw had 17 points in Game 4, totaled 15 points in Games 1-3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 29, 2014
Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter also added double-doubles, while Tony Parker and Patty Mills each scored in double-figures and Kawhi Leonard added 12 rebounds.
Monta Ellis had 20 points and was at the heart of Dallas' second-half comeback, but a missed layup in the final seconds kept the Mavericks from returning to San Antonio with a 3-1 series lead.
The Mavs raced out to a 12-2 lead in the first 5:27 of the game behind five points from Dirk Nowitzki, but it went quickly down hill from there. The Spurs doubled up Dallas, 48-24, for the rest of the half.
As the Spurs entered the locker room with a 50-36 advantage, ESPN's J.A. Adande noted San Antonio was finally beginning to resemble the West's top seed:
Spurs looking like that team w/the NBA's best record for the past 8 minutes or so— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 29, 2014
After giving up 111 points per game in their two previous defeats, defense was undoubtedly the focus for the Spurs. Both Gregg Popovich, via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Dwain Price, and Leonard, via the San Antonio Express-News' Jabari Young, made that clear after the Game 3 defeat:
#Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: "We scored 108 points and shot over 50 percent again and we lost. It’s about defense. It’s not about offense."— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) April 27, 2014
Kawhi: "We just gotta stick with on defense. If we play better defense, we can win the game." #Spurs— Jabari Young (@jabari_young) April 27, 2014
The message was clearly well received.
San Antonio frustrated Dallas into a slew of contested jump shots en route to an anemic 29.3 percent shooting from the field in the first half, and the Mavs scored just 13 points during a dominant second quarter for Popovich's squad.
On the other end, Duncan had 12 points and five rebounds, while Ginobili led the way with 15 points and four assists—more first-half dimes than the entire Dallas team. The San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald pointed out that Ginobili's impressive play was an extension from Game 3, when he scored all 12 of his points in the second half:
Ginobili has been phenomenal in the last four quarters of this series.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 29, 2014
Things continued to spiral out control for Dallas, as Duncan and Leonard opened the half with two quick baskets to push the lead to 54-36, only for Nowitzki to pick up his fourth foul and head to bench two minutes into the third quarter.
That seemed to light a spark in the Mavericks' backcourt, though, as Ellis and Jose Calderon responded with 15 points as part of 16-6 run to cut the lead to eight.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, much of Dallas' production during the comeback was coming from beyond the arc:
Spurs have outscored the Mavericks by 28 points in the paint tonight— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 29, 2014
Still, while Dallas ended the third quarter on a major run, San Antonio's lead after three was essentially as good as a win with the way things had gone during the regular season, per ESPN's Tim McMahon:
Spurs were 52-1 in games they led going into the fourth quarter this season, including 24-0 on the road.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 29, 2014
Someone forgot to tell the Mavs.
Devin Harris and DeJuan Blair continued the surge, combining for Dallas' first eight points of the fourth quarter. After a Harris assist to Jae Crowder tied the game at 77, Blair bullied Splitter moments later with 4:50 remaining to give the Mavericks their first lead since early in the second quarter.
Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy noted the impressive numbers from the energetic big man:
Dallas' DeJuan Blair hasn't missed a shot tonight. He has 12 points in 15 minutes, and he is 5-5 from the field. Impressive performance.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 29, 2014
While he giveth, though, he also taketh away. After this kick to the head of Splitter, Blair was ejected, and the ensuing free throws gave San Antonio back the lead:
Ellis tied things up with a three-point play in the final minute, but Diaw responded by burying a three on the subsequent possession to put the Spurs ahead with 32 seconds remaining.
After Nowitzki hit a two and Ginobili made one free throw, C.J. Fogler offered some advice for the Spurs:
GUARD VINCE CARTER— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 29, 2014
There would be no Game 3 deja vu, though, as Ellis missed a layup and Ginobili hit a couple of freebies to finish the win.
Pop was in classic Pop form after the win:
Just like with the rest of the Western Conference, this has proven to be a scintillating back-and-forth series, and now we head back to San Antonio for Game 5 on Wednesday.
Who takes this series?
It's been a bit of a rocky week for the Spurs, but in the grand scheme of things, it's hard not feel positive about returning home with an opportunity to take the series lead. As long as they hold home-court, where they lost just nine games all regular season, they'll find a way to the second round.
As for the Mavericks, they can revel in the fact they shot just 38.1 percent on Monday and still had every chance to win. As if it's not already obvious, they can hang with the No. 1 seed, even in Dallas where they won Game 2.
Either way, the upcoming three-game series is going to be thrilling.