Posted by Art Garcia
DALLAS — This isn’t the time for Gene Hackman to make an appearance. Not in the Mavericks locker room or the Spurs.
“These guys are grown,” San Antonio skipper Gregg Popovich said today. “The Mavs guys are grown. Jason and Dirk don’t need speeches. Timmy and Manu and Tony, they don’t need speeches. We’d probably put them to sleep if we said, ‘Now guys, this is a big game. Guys, it’s going to be loud.’
“That’s a little silly to do with grown men.”
Both sides realize what’s at stake tonight at American Airlines Center. The Spurs are a victory away from the hooking up with Phoenix or Portland in the Western Conference semis. The Mavs are a loss from fishing.
“This is challenging stuff,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, “but this is the ultimate in this game to have put in front of you, this kind of challenge that no one thinks you can do.”
Because few have. Only eight teams in NBA history have rallied from 3-1 down to win a series. Carlisle coach one, Detroit in 2003, and Shawn Marion played on one, Phoenix in 2006.
“From this we’ve got to find strength for each other,” Carlisle added, “we’ve got to keep battling and we’ve got to find a way to win Game 5.”
The Spurs won the second game in Dallas, but Manu Ginobili knows closing the Mavs out on their home floor will take a bigger hit than the one that broke his nose.
“They’re a great team with plenty of talent and we’re getting to know each other even more,” he said. “The important thing is try to beat them. Doesn’t matter if it’s today or the next one.”
The Mavs realize they can’t lose their cool if they’re to extend their playoff lives. Eduardo Najera was ejected for a close-line takedown of Ginobili two nights ago, further igniting the Spurs and their rabid fans. The Mavs didn’t match that intensity and seemed to crack under the pressure.
“Sometimes we let referees and a lot of that stuff get into our heads and we don’t respond the right way,” Dirk Nowitzki said.
They’ll have no choice tonight. Pop understands what’s coming.
“The fourth [win] is the toughest for the obvious reason that teams compete, nobody wants to lose and the longer a series goes on the more competitive it gets in some ways,” he said. “Getting the last game is one’s will over the other’s will. If you’re the team that’s behind you have a lot of fuel, you have a lot of reason to play hard, to do everything the right way and it makes it tough for the team trying to get the fourth win.”