The San Antonio Spurs are one game away from the Western Conference Semifinals after a 109-103 Game 5 win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs now hold a 3-2 series lead.
And just as everybody expected, Tiago Splitter was one of the biggest reasons the Spurs held off an onrushing Mavs squad in the fourth quarter.
You didn't read that sentence wrong. The Brazilian big man was one of two Spurs players who had a double-double. He finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, most of which came in the final nine minutes of the game, per Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
Splitter had 8/8/1 with 9 minutes left. He now has 17/11/4.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 1, 2014
The Express-News' Jeff McDonald wagered that Splitter had never played a better single quarter in his NBA career:
Going to go out on a limb and say this is the best quarter of basketball Tiago Splitter has played in the NBA.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) May 1, 2014
Splitter was one of five Spurs players to score in double figures. Tim Duncan was typical Tim Duncan, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 boards. Manu Ginobili was also great in his 30 minutes on the floor, contributing 19 points off the bench.
Tony Parker led the team with 23 points and added five assists, which is all the more impressive when you consider his status for Game 5 was in doubt as he was dealing with a sprained ankle.
"He says he's playing. I don't think I have a vote," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said before the game, per NBA.com's Tim Price. "I'll watch him when the game starts."
Clearly, Popovich didn't have anything to worry about.
San Antonio was simply in tune offensively. It was moving the ball around the court beautifully, and when it needed a key bucket, it got one.
Mike Prada of SB Nation made the point that Dallas' defensive issues finally came to the fore:
First time this series where it really seems like Dallas’ defensive limitations are too much to overcome.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) May 1, 2014
The Mavericks allowed opposing teams to score 102.4 points a game during the regular season, which was 20th in the league. Opponents also posted an effective field-goal percentage of 51.5 percent (24th) against the Mavs, per Basketball-Reference.com.
For most of the postseason, Dallas' somewhat porous defense wasn't a major problem.
That wasn't the case on Wednesday.
As a team, San Antonio shot 46.6 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from downtown. The Spurs also had a 54-28 scoring advantage in the paint.
You can't be outscored like that inside and allow your opponents to shoot that well from the field and expect to win in the postseason.
Dallas' loss overshadows what was another great performance from Vince Carter, who continued his postseason resurrection. He led all scorers with 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 7-of-9 from three-point range. Those 28 points are a season high, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon:
25 for Vince Carter, which is more than he scored in any game this season.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) May 1, 2014
As NBA on TNT tweeted out, Carter had "Vincetuition":
MacMahon thought the reserve swingman was keeping Dallas in the game all by himself:
Vince Carter (22 points) is the only reason the Mavs have any shot at winning this game.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) May 1, 2014
Although Dirk Nowitzki finished with a double-double (26 points, 15 rebounds), it wasn't until the fourth quarter that he made his presence felt, and by then, Dallas' defense was almost nonexistent.
Dallas made a furious comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. The seeds of the Mavs' loss were sewn in the first half.
Starting out the first half hot is nothing new to the Spurs, though. In each of the four games in the series, they've shot at least 50 percent from the field, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Spurs have shot over 50% from the field at half for the 4th straight game pic.twitter.com/kXhTYZdQcz— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 1, 2014
The key for San Antonio would be maintaining an offensive efficiency at least somewhat close to that in the second half. It had Dallas woozy; the Spurs merely needed to send the Mavs to the canvas for the final time.
However, Dallas kept hanging around after outscoring the Spurs, 22-21, in the third, managing to stay within striking distance.
That third quarter only seemed to prolong the inevitable. The Mavericks couldn't get enough defensive stops in the fourth to get back into the game. As soon as they got a big stop, the Spurs responded in kind.
A Parker three with a little under two minutes to go put San Antonio up seven points, 101-94, all but sealing the win:
Spurs catch a HUGE break as Nowitzki misses the wide-open 20 footer.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 1, 2014
And Parker follows with a 3. Figure that out.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 1, 2014
Game 6 will tip off on Friday night in Dallas. Even with the Mavericks fighting for their postseason lives at home, the Spurs could very well end this series before it gets back to San Antonio. They took Game 4 in Dallas and were one last-second three from Carter away from taking Game 3.
The Mavs' shortcomings are becoming more and more prominent.
Not only that, but the Spurs have only lost once in 11 tries with a 3-2 series lead under Popovich:
Spurs: 10-1 in best-of-7 series under Gregg Popovich when leading series 3-2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 1, 2014
Dallas is in major trouble.