By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
SAN ANTONIO — Ever since the Spurs and Mavericks were first paired up in the first round, Rick Carlisle hasn’t missed a chance to praise the wonders of Pop. Even before Gregg Popovich officially won the Coach of the Year award on Tuesday, Carlisle anointed him the undisputed king of the hill.
Then it was Coach of the Century. Followed by best coach in the league. Ever. Which pretty much covers the last 100 years.
If Carlisle, a former Coach of the Year winner and the last coach to lead a team from the Lone Star State to an NBA championship, wasn’t so dang syrupy in his admiration for Pop, you’d swear he was playing some kind of Jedi mind trick.
The eighth-seeded Mavs headed home Wednesday night filled with gusto after a thorough, 113-92 thrashing of Pop’s perplexingly bumbling top-seeded bunch. This best-of-seven series that many figured came with a black-and-silver broom is tied 1-1. And as noted late Wednesday night, this could well be Mavs, 2-zip.
Not that you could tell listening to Carlisle.
“The coaching matchup is a wipeout, really,” Carlisle said following Game 2. “I feel like I have boulders piled on top of me. This kind of thing, you know you’re playing the No. 1 seed and all that, you’ve got to dig as deep as you can. They’re going to come up with some things up their sleeve for Game 3 and we’re going to have to counter and be ready.
“I’ve said it: I think Pop’s the greatest coach in NBA history, and I don’t think it’s close.”
Still, it’s not like Popovich and the Spurs don’t know failure. The last time San Antonio entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, in 2011, it ended badly, with Memphis sending them home.
Carlisle and his staff came to San Antonio last Sunday with a tricked-up defensive scheme that the Spurs admitted caught them off guard. Dallas switched up matchups everywhere, closed out hard to limit 3-point shots — or at least limit the good ones — and barely went into its well-known zone.
This has been one of the league’s most porous defenses all season, yet they are completely discombobulating the clockwork-like precision of the almighty Spurs. San Antonio shot the ball well in Game 2 (50 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc, as opposed to Game 1, in which they they shot 3-for-17 in threes) when they didn’t turn it over a season-worst 24 times.
Anybody not named Manu Ginobili is struggling from beyond the arc. He’s 8-for-12; everybody else is 5-for-25.
Surprisingly for Dallas, it’s success has come with Dirk Nowitzki wildly out of rhythm, having made just 11 of 33 shots. Monta Ellis came back with a good Game 2, but the Mavs have boosted their confidence with detailed defensive work and a team effort all around.
Can Carlisle keep weaving this magic against the Coach of the Century and the Western Conference reigning champs? Nowitzki half-joked that he wants to play Game 3 in San Antonio because Dallas hasn’t been very good at home. San Antonio led the league in road wins with 30, four more than the Mavs’ home win total.
With a 48-hour break between games giving ample time for both coaches to adjust, Popovich will go back to the drawing board, .
“We didn’t expect to go 16-0,” said Tim Duncan, who had 11 points in Game 2 after 27 in Game 1. “We’ll make adjustments. We’ll play better. It’s all we can do.”