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Spurs Gut-Wrenching Loss to Mavs Feels Like 2006 All Over Again

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJanuary 9, 2010

Manu Ginobili threaded a gorgeous pass between two Dallas Mavericks defenders to Dejuan Blair, who slammed the ball with authority as he was fouled.

The rookie forward swooshed the free throw, affording the San Antonio Spurs a 13-point third-quarter lead.

For most of the night, the home team made the more athletic plays and looked younger and more equipped to win four playoff rounds.

The supposed old fella, Tim Duncan, poured in a monstrous 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Tony Parker needed 18 shots to reach the 21-point mark, but when he showed the determination to drive to the rim, he abused anyone who tried to guard him.

Richard Jefferson ended the half with a two-handed slam off a pass from (you guessed it) Ginobili.

He made what looked to be the play of the night when he ran full-court after a Spurs turnover to swat Jason Terry's fastbreak layup attempt into the first row.

Then, with the San Antonio up 80-70 to start the fourth, 2006 came back to haunt the Spurs again.

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It has for years, and not just in this heated Texas rivalry.

Behind a 42-point fourth quarter, Dallas erased every bit of that deficit and stormed ahead to win 112-103.

How the Mavs did it is what should frustrate the Spurs. Yes, the road team won the paint battle 50-44, but many of those were second-effort tip-ins achieved when the coaching combination of Mike Budenholzer and Gregg Popovich decided to go small.

Referee Zach Zarba tossed Popovich in the second quarter after the coach railed at the official about a no-call on Shawn Marion against Ginobili.

The Mavs scored 18 second-chance points to the Spurs' four.

The Spurs managed 19 fewer points in the final period than their opponents.

Ballgame.

Yet, the victor in this matchup owes its Friday success to a boneheaded foul and a lopsided win from four years ago.

Ouch. This one hurts.

Every time the Mavericks defeat the Spurs at the AT&T Center, and they have accomplished that coup at least once in three of the four seasons since, it serves as a reminder of the painful one that got away.

Then, both squads competed in a classic series where all but one game was decided in the final moments.

The final moment that stung the worst, a stupefying Ginobili foul on Dirk Nowitzki to tie up game seven after the Spurs had come back from 22 down to take the lead, prevented a probable repeat for San Antonio.

If the Spurs handled Mike D'Antoni's Suns in five games in the 2005 Western Conference Finals, with Amare Stoudemire averaging an absurd 37 points a game, they would have drubbed Phoenix without the All-Star big man.

Would the Spurs have wilted in Miami the way the Mavericks did?

Not likely.

In that series, most said Dallas won because of its younger, fresher legs.

The real story was apparent again Friday night.

The Nowitzki-led Mavericks are a streak jumpshooting team. Always have been, always will be.

The Spurs won the points in the paint battle in all but one of those seven playoff games. They were competitive on the boards and on the fast break.

The real difference was Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse nailing tough jumper after tough jumper. Nowitzki often crashed the party, too.

Dallas' small advantage had little to do with youth, and it has nothing to do with that now.

Those same quick, tightly contested jumpshots that sank San Antonio did not fall at a high enough clip in Miami.

The same stepback and fadeaway jumpers that Terry and Nowitzki drained in Friday's fourth-quarter comeback betrayed them against the Denver Nuggets last spring.

And the New Orleans Hornets in 2008. And the Golden State Warriors in 2007.

When the Mavs' bombers missed late in contests against the Nuggets, Denver took advantage of long rebounds and sprinted to the other end for backbreaking scores.

Those long rebounds rarely fall the Spurs way because the Mavs don't miss much at the AT&T Center or the American Airlines Center.

Though Marion has added another crinkle into a high-powered Dallas offense with his ability to post up smaller defenders, anyone watching the game knows how the Mavs pulled away: five three-pointers, each made over a Spur defender's outstretched arms, and a deluge of mid-range jumpers.

Call it the pull-up jumpshot festival.

This is not a championship-level offense, but thanks to the results of a semifinal war in 2006, it usually works against the Spurs.

Had the Mavs trailed the Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, or any other contender on the road by 10 after three, they might have lost by 20.

Dallas Morning News writer Eddie Sefko is right. Dallas owns this rivalry of late, even if San Antonio boasts the more important hardware.

Until Nowitzki and Duncan retire, it would be reasonable to expect this result again and again.

Going into that Game Seven, 80 percent of all home squads had won the winner-take-all bout. The Mavericks joined the rare 20 percent or so in the history books to steal such a joust.

That final score changed everything about the matchup.

It allowed Dallas to thump San Antonio in five last year when it had done nothing all season to demonstrate championship character.

After a stinker in Oklahoma City, Mark Cuban sent an e-mail to the team's regular beat writers threatening to blow up the roster if such lackadaisical play continued.

That overtime win four years ago still resonates with the Mavs. They can lose 131-96 in L.A. to the Lakers and squeak by the woeful Detroit Pistons.

None of those struggles matter when they face the Spurs.

Ridiculous shots fall now because they did in 2006.

What has Cuban done to his roster since?

He traded a potential youngster stud for a point guard in his mid-30s and added a 30-year-old forward with tons of playoff experience.

The Mavs are as old as the Spurs, with an older starting lineup in average age than the one Popovich trotted out Friday.

Go see for yourself. I do not tell lies.

The Spurs dunked six times. The Mavs dunked zero times.

Toss out the "more athletic and younger" garbage before you embarrass yourself.

Name three other teams against which Nowitzki could overcome a four-for-17 start to make seven of his last 12.

Thought so.

The above comment should take nothing away from Nowitzki's MVP-level play. If you don't think he belongs in the same sentence as Kobe Bryant in terms of clutch performance, you should watch more Mavericks games.

That said, even the Dirkster would struggle to replicate some of the preposterous shots he willed in versus the Spurs.

The resounding message after the not-so-shocking San Antonio surrender was this:

The Spurs do not need a Nowitzki stopper. He finished 10-of-28 from the field and is shooting in the mid-30s in his last five games against San Antonio.

No, the Spurs need a time machine to take them back to 2006, when they let one get away. They afforded an interstate rival a lethal confidence that still kills them today.

A 42-point fourth quarter in the house of the four-time champs, with Duncan playing as well as he ever has?

Get used to it, if you haven't already.

The Mavericks will do this a lot, even if it seems like they cannot do it against anyone else.