Posts Tagged ‘Monta Ellis’

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

‘Melo sits in center of Knicks-Mavs trade


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s future

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks fans never wanted to see the band split up in the first place. But a new collective bargaining agreement spiked with harsher tax penalties, plus an aging roster, convinced owner Mark Cuban to reassess his team-building strategy as an annual luxury tax payer and set out on a new course bound for cap space.

So out the door went several key contributors to Dallas’ 2011 championship team, but none more beloved than its one-hit wonder Tyson Chandler, the best center Dirk Nowitzki had ever played with and the one who complemented him the best. Even so, Cuban passed on paying Chandler major bucks over the next half-decade, fearful of fueling an overage, overpaid roster with no escape hatch in this new era. As Cuban has said time and again, he didn’t want to become the Brooklyn Nets.

So the New York Knicks stepped in with $60 million over four seasons.

On Wednesday, Cuban reclaimed his drummer, the backbone of a defense that’s sorely lacked identity and disposition since Chandler exited and became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year the very next season. To get Chandler, though, Cuban had to take on troubled point guard Raymond Felton, the state of his career in distress, and who now leaves the scorn of New York fans to become a pet project of adaptable coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas sent steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, whose lack of quickness, but intelligence and excellent shooting make him more suited for the Eastern Conference, and perhaps a decent fit  in Jackson’s Triangle offense under rookie coach Derek Fisher. Erratic starting center Samuel Dalembert, little-used shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and speedster point guard Shane Larkin, Dallas 2013 first-round pick who found only sporadic playing time last season, plus the Mavs’ two second-round picks (34 and 51) in Thursday’s Draft are headed to New York.

At the center of all this, like a radiant sun glowing brightly on all that orbits it, is discontented star Carmelo Anthony. Knicks new president Phil Jackson made his first major deal of his tenure seeking to unload salary and create cap space to begin a rebuild that will convince Anthony to stay in the Big Apple. Anthony has already opted out of his contract and will become a free agent on July 1.

One of three teams free-agent Anthony will grant a face-to-face meeting with, according to ESPN.com, is the Mavs (the Rockets and Bulls are the others). While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut.

But, again, Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas, which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team.

The Mavs continue to be one of the more active teams in the league over the past several summers, turning over the roster, save for a few key core components, in search of a mix to give Nowitzki, 36, a chance to contend again in his final few seasons. Since the title and the dismantling of that club, Dallas hasn’t finished better than the seventh seed and hasn’t advanced past the first round.

But last season’s 49 wins provided hope. Monta Ellis blended well with Nowitzki and Dallas boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their defense, however, never found its footing. That’s Chandler’s job now and Dallas will have to hope that the 7-foot-1 center can stay as healthy as he did in playing 74 games in the championship season, his rebound season after two years of dealing with injuries.

Chandler managed just 55 games last season and averaged 8.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 30.2 mpg. While Dallas upgraded its frontline, it seemingly took a step back at the point. Felton, for the time being, would seem to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. Free agent Devin Harris could be re-signed, or they could go a different route in free agency.

Now left without a draft pick, they won’t find one on Thursday night. But unlike when Cuban chose to let Chandler walk in 2011, the club has sufficient cap space available to be aggressive players in free agency. Targets include Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.

And, obviously, that scorer from New York.

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s — that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

No fluke Mavs have Spurs on the ropes

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Sam Mitchell preview Game 7

DALLAS – The Mavericks have pushed the reigning West champion and top-seeded Spurs to a decisive Game 7 because they’re working their game plan to near-perfection. Dallas is improbably winning the 3-point battle, getting widespread contribution, nearly matching San Antonio’s defensive efficiency and Monta Ellis has become a very big deal.

“It’s called speed,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, asked why Ellis is so effective attacking the rim.

Only San Antonio point guard Tony Parker has more drives to the basket in the playoffs than Ellis, according to the SportVU tracking system, and Dallas’ defensive scheme is practically begging him to do so as the Mavs concentrate on choking off the 3-point arc.

The Spurs’ Achilles heel is locking down athletic squads such as Oklahoma City and Houston. San Antonio didn’t beat either one in eight regular-season games. Dallas won’t typically fall into the “athletic” category with Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35 and Vince Carter, 37, so relied upon, but Ellis, 28, is penetrating with attitude and altering that dynamic.

He’s making life miserable for 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and anybody else trying to stay in front him. Ellis pumped the Spurs for 29 points — 22 in an electrifying second half — during Dallas’ stay-alive Game 6 win Friday night, his second game with 29 in the series.

“When he scores like that, he is to tough to stop,” Parker said. “We are going to have to control him.”

Ellis is Dallas’ leading scorer at 21.8 ppg. Only one other time in 12 previous playoff appearances has Nowitzki not led the team in scoring. That was a disaster, a 2007 first-round ousting as the No. 1 seed by Golden State, exactly what Dallas is attempting to do to San Antonio. Ellis played with decisive force in recent fourth quarters, and has helped to crumble a typically unbreakable end-of-game Spurs defense.

The Mavs’ success extends throughout the lineup. From Carter to Devin Harris to DeJuan Blair‘s inspired, revenge-minded hustle, Dallas’ depth has grabbed a much larger role in this series than a bench that was so important to San Antonio all season long.

Ginobili had his first poor game of the series in Game 6, having averaged 19 points in the first five games as San Antonio’s best player. Starting shooting guard Danny Green finally shot it well in Game 6 with 19 points after averaging 3.4 through the first five games.

Boris Diaw has come on in recent games, but Marco Belinelli has been a virtual no-show, averaging less than one 3-point attempt a game. Patty Mills is shooting 23.5 percent from deep. He’s 4-for-17 in the series after dropping six 3s on Dallas in their final regular-season meeting in April.

“I don’t know, it just happens,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ bench struggles. “Some matchups are good for some players and some matchups are good for others. We’re 3-3 with home court advantage. I don’t think we’re in an awful position. We’re not a team that needs the bench to score 45 points. We take what the opponents give us.”

Dallas is doing all it can not to give up the 3-pointer. The Spurs have devastated the Mavs with the 3-ball for two consecutive seasons, but so far in this series they are losing that key battle. Only once has San Antonio made more 3s, and that was an irrelevant 10-8 advantage in Game 2, which Dallas won in a blowout.

The Mavs’ defense, ranked in the bottom 10 in efficiency all season, has limited the Spurs to 17.3 attempts a game, fewer than any team in the playoffs other than Washington and Memphis. They’re averaging nearly two fewer 3-point baskets than Dallas, which is shooting the 3-ball at 37.9 percent, slightly higher than San Antonio’s 37.5 percent. The Spurs led the league in the regular season at 39.7 percent.

It’s no fluke that Dallas has its longtime nemesis on the ropes.

San Antonio will be favored to win Game 7 on their home floor, but several concerning patterns could make end this playoff run much sooner than anybody could have expected.

Mavs push Duncan, Spurs to the brink

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs top Spurs to force Game 7

DALLAS – Tim Duncan started this unpredictably wooly series with 27 points and talking about doing this playoff thing a couple more times. In the middle of it, he turned 38.

By the end of Friday night’s Game 6, his goatee seemingly sprouting a few more grey hairs, Duncan was left explaining how former kicked-to-the-curb teammate DeJuan Blair dominated a fourth quarter that now has the top-seeded and reigning Western Conference champions staring down another improbable Game 7 long before they figured they would.

“We’re here to win four games, it doesn’t matter how many games it takes,” Duncan said, his voice terse. “We’re not worried about being disappointed. This is a very good ballclub over there. There’s eight, nine and 10 good teams in the West, so we’re here to win four games. We have one more at home to do that. We played great in the regular season so that we would be in this position to have homecourt. There’s no disappointment there.”

There certainly was no joy in the visitors’ locker room following a sloppy fourth quarter that led to Mavs 113, Spurs 111, to set up Sunday’s Game 7 back in San Antonio. The last one they played didn’t go so well last June in Miami after the Spurs somehow let Game 6 and another championship slip away in the final 28 seconds. It’s only the first round, yet suddenly the stakes are as equally high for this tight-knit group that regrouped so brilliantly this season to win a league-best 62 games.

Coach Gregg Popovich, being pushed to the limit by the scheming of Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, won the Coach of the Year award for their efforts. Now his team finds itself in the same precarious spot as the East’s No. 1 seed, the embattled Indiana Pacers. Both get Game 7 on their home floor.

“Well, you wouldn’t give it away, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Popovich said of playing the finale at home. “We’ve won Game 7s and we’ve lost Game 7s.”

San Antonio led the eighth-seeded Mavs 87-82 with 9:15 to go. It seemed this would be a methodical ender for the Spurs, 52-1 during the regular season when leading after three quarters, a slow death for the home team like a boa crushing the final, desperate breaths from its prey.

But then we should have known better. The gutty Mavs have spent this series escaping danger and reinforcing their resiliency. Even in Game 5 when the Spurs seemed to be in total control from the start, there were the Mavs hustling to within four points in the final minutes, and a missed Dirk Nowitzki jumper from making it two.

This time, a 16-4 Dallas charge sparked by a scrambling defense and two steals by Blair, who had four on the night to go with 10 points and a game-high and career-playoff best 14 rebounds, led to a flurry of buckets in the 37-point quarter. By the time Dallas’ leading scorer in this series, Monta Ellis, who dropped 29 points for the second time, hit an eight-foot driving jump shot with 2:59 left, the Mavs, buoyed by a boisterous, believing crowd, went up 102-94.

A pair of late 3s accounted for the extra-thin final margin, but Blair, who stole Tony Parker‘s interior pass with 29.9 seconds left, then made enough free throws to skate away out with the win.

Earlier in the day on his local radio program, Carlisle fumed that he wasn’t proud of anything his team had accomplished to this point. “We should be the ones up, 3-2,” he said. “That’s how I see it.”

Maybe he was right. Maybe if Blair, whose energy flipped the Game 4 momentum in Dallas’ favor, hadn’t of kicked Tiago Splitter in the head in the fourth quarter of a one-point game, drawing a “hostile act” violation and automatic ejection, maybe the Mavs win that one to go up 3-1. Blair was subsequently suspended for Game 5.  The Spurs won by six.

On their three home games, San Antonio has been less than dominant, getting blown out in Game 2 and winning Games 1 and 5 by a combined 11 points.

“Of course it’s disappointing, but it is what it is,” said Manu Ginobili, just 1-for-8 for six points after averaging 19 in the first five games. “We have to go and fight and try to get it in seven.

“I don’t think we’re in an awful position.”

Blair would certainly enjoy putting them in one. He’s held a grudge against his former club all season for being ousted from the rotation first spot by Splitter, suddenly the Spurs’ best inside scoring threat, and then Boris Diaw, and finally being set free last summer.

“Of course,” Blair answered when asked if his massive Game 6 served as sweet revenge after watching Game 5 sequestered in his San Antonio hotel room. “It ain’t over yet, we’ve got Game 7 on their court. Winning on their court would be the best revenge.”

Nowitzki, a solid 22 points on 11-for-20 shooting, knows that feeling. The last time these two longtime rivals went seven games in the 2006 conference semifinals, Nowitzki bludgeoned the Spurs with 37 points and 15 rebounds. He and re-acquired guard Devin Harris are the only Mavs left from that series, but Popovich and the Big Three remember it well.

It kept them from challenging for a repeat, and possibly a three-peat after they won it all again in 2007. New Knicks president Phil Jackson recently reminded the Spurs that their three titles in five seasons do not constitute a dynasty.

Now they’re just desperate to avoid a second first-round exit in four years as the No. 1 seed.

Sunday is about one thing: survive and advance.


VIDEO: Ellis discusses Dallas’ Game 6 victory

Dirk’s eruption comes too little, too late

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs hold off Mavs in Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — For the past 10 days in Dallas, it’s as if Mavericks fans have been waiting for a volcano to finally blow. They feel the rumbles, building, building as anticipation heightens, yet still with no eruption.

This is Dirk Nowitzki against the San Antonio Spurs. The big German is not producing a memorable postseason, and in a first-round, 8 vs 1 series so surprisingly tight, one can only wonder what might otherwise be. His shot just hasn’t been falling with the clockwork regularity he’s accustomed while battling a mountain of man in younger, stronger Spurs center Tiago Splitter.

Nowitzki’s slowly been bubbling — 11 points in Game 1, then 16, 18 and 19 in Game 4. Get that overdue, epic-type outing the entire city believes is roiling under the surface, and who knows where this thing might go?

If it’s going to happen, it will be in do-or-die Game 6 with a nod to a potential momentum-building fourth quarter in which Nowitzki, 3-for-10 after three, dropped his first six shots, finally missing when he rushed a 3 sensing a second of daylight. Each possession he demanded the ball. He put his head down and drove, sank four consecutive jumpers, then banged into Splitter and buried a fallaway. Dallas, which never led, but also never fell far from striking range — down 79-71 after three — was suddenly within 98-94 with 3:09 to go.

“He was hitting tough ones, and if he can hit those tough ones, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it whether you double-team or not,” Tim Duncan said. “With his size and the arc he puts on his shot, if he starts to hit those shots, we just have to continue to work hard, make him work for his shots and hopefully he tires out or he just misses a couple.”

With 2:35 left, the 35-year-old Nowitzki grabbed his 15th rebound and headed back the other way. At the left wing, he faked Splitter out of his air space, and launched unobstructed from 17 feet. The high archer landed short, bouncing high off the side rim.

“I think that was actually the easiest shot I had all night,” Nowitzki said. “I got Splitter off his feet. He didn’t want to give up that corner 3 and it was there. It was open. I wish I had that back.”

From there, the Spurs were able to close it out for the 109-103 victory and a 3-2 lead in the series.

Nowitzki scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, outscoring his point total through three. Vince Carter singlehandedly kept Dallas in it with a mesmerizing long-distance shooting display. He scored 28 points and knocked down seven 3-pointers after making just four in the first four games.

Through three quarters, he had eight buckets and 22 points while Nowitzki and cold-shooting Monta Ellis had just seven field-goals and 23 points combined.

“I told the reporter after whatever quarter you have to do that thing (television interview), she asked, ‘what we were going to do?’ Popovich said. “I told her we were going to pass out a picture of Vince on the bench so everybody knows he’s on their team.”

The Spurs, though, were just too tough and the Mavs’ defense too porous, the story of their season. Finally figuring out the defensive curve ball Dallas threw starting with Game 1 to defend the 3-point arc at all costs, San Antonio’s pick-and-roll was deadly. Tony Parker, who welcomed a baby boy on Tuesday night and played with a mildly sprained left ankle, had 23 points and five assists. Duncan (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Splitter (17 points and five assists) practically scored at will in the paint.

Manu Ginobili continued his torrid pace with 19 points and five assists and Kawhi Leonard had 15 points and eight rebounds in what was easily San Antonio’s most efficient game of the series.

It was also Nowitzki’s most desperate. Despite his scoring struggles early and defense that needs tightened, Nowitzki knew the Mavs had already overachieved just get this far. A second consecutive loss after being up 2-1 would force them to win two straight, a monumental feat against the league’s best team.

He was leaping for rebounds and lunging for loose balls. Drenched in sweat, his hair as floppy as it’s been all season and a thickening beard, Nowitzki logged 39 hard minutes and had the look of that old playoff monster, being one of just four players in postseason history to average 25 points and 10 boards.

In this series, he needed a 7-for-10 fourth quarter just to raise his overall shooting percentage above 40, while he’s just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. During the regular season, Nowitzki got as close to the rare 50-40-90 mark without actually hitting any of three — 49.7 percent overall, 39.8 percent on 3s and 89.9 percent at the free-throw line.

If the Mavs can’t come back and win two straight to move on, Nowitzki will likely finish second in playoff scoring on his own team for only the second time in 13 playoff appearances — the last being the forgettable 2007 first-round exit against Golden State.

While Dallas has been on the search since winning the 2011 title for a bona fide scorer to ease Nowitzki into a less burdensome role, Monta Ellis, averaging a team-best 20.4 ppg in the series, is doing so on 18.8 shots a game and hitting on just 40.4 percent.

For Dallas to force a Game 7 back in San Antonio, it’s going to take a mighty eruption from Nowitzki back in Dallas on Friday night.


VIDEO: Nowitzki discusses Dallas’ Game 5 loss

Manu allows Spurs to back off the edge

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Spurs grabbed Game 4 away in Dallas to even the series

DALLAS – Without the magic of Manu Ginobili in this first-round series being played at a maniacal fervor, the San Antonio Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, could well be tied at the ankles with their their Eastern Conference brethren, teetering at the edge of the plank.

Ginobili’s 23 points and five assists against the relentless, eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, the bulk of which came during a 40-17 swing in the first half, was the razor-thin difference in yet another game that came down to the wire. The Spurs — down 10 early, up 20 in the third quarter and down again in the fourth — finally sealed Game 4, 93-89, with Ginobili free throws.

Even as he creeps closer to 37 years old in July, the acrobatic Argentine was at his whirling dervish best, knifing into the lane, Euro-stepping past 7-foot defenders and twisting in mid-air for brilliant backhand finishes at the right side of the rim, and then at the left. His 3-ball wasn’t hitting and his path to the rim got smothered for much of the second half, yet Ginobili managed to get to the free-throw line eight times in the final 24 minutes, more than any player on either team did all game.

The red scratches and bruises flared across his arms and back were proof of the price he paid to get to the line.

“It’s going to be a little sore for sure,” Ginobili said when asked how his body will feel when he awakes Tuesday morning. “But at least it’s going to be sore after a good effort and we won. It was sore yesterday too, with a bad mood, too. So, glad we won.”

Had they not, the Spurs would be right there with the Pacers on the brink of total disaster, two No. 1 seeds going down in flames. For San Antonio, they press on now with homecourt advantage restored and critical Game 5 coming up quickly on Wednesday night.

There is concern, however, that All-Star point guard Tony Parker will continue to be gimpy. He twisted his left ankle in the second quarter and play was uneven throughout. He managed to log 30 minutes, but scored just 10 points, including a clutch pull-up jumper with 1:37 left, with three assists.

He left the American Airlines Center with the ankle taped a limping slightly. He said he was unsure if he will undergo an MRI in San Antonio on Tuesday. “We’ll see tomorrow,” he said.

Beyond Parker’s status and blowing a quickly allowing a 20-point lead to whittle down to eight before completely evaporating in the fourth quarter, the positive outlook for San Antonio is it finally found a way to get bench help beyond Ginobili. Boris Diaw scored 17 points, was crucial in the third quarter with eight points and hit the decisive 3-pointer off a Parker dish with 32.9 seconds to go. Patty Mills contributed 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting.

Still, a significant story of the series is the rejuvenated Ginobili, who much of America probably remembers flinging bad passes, missing shots and, ultimately, questioning his own basketball mortality after the Spurs’ loss in the 2013 Finals.

Besieged by various injuries throughout last season, Ginobili contemplated retirement, never for too long or too intently, but he acknowledges that the questions did flicker in his mind: Is it time? Are all the injuries just too much?

He signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract and made the decision to skip international competition last season.

“He really took it to heart because he wasn’t whole during The Finals,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s why for the first time he didn’t play overseas and he just lifted all summer, let his body recover and get stronger. It’s helped him a great deal so that he’s whole going into the playoffs this year. He wanted to do what he needed to do to be ready for his team and he did it.”

If he’s had to adjust his fearless, attacking style, it’s hard to tell. He’s the Spurs’ leading scorer in the first round at 19.8 ppg. He’s a tick behind Parker for the assists lead at 4.3, and he’s grabbing 4.0 rpg. He’s shooting 48.0 percent overall and 40.9 percent from 3-point range, going 9-for-22.

Most impressive is his driving statistics. He’s among the playoff leaders in getting to the rim, while by far being the oldest among the leaders. In this series he’s holding his own in terms of drives to the basket and scoring average with 28-year-old Monta Ellis, Dallas’ leading scorer.

“I know I’m not 27 anymore, but I am feeling much better than last season with my legs and confidence,” Ginobili said. “With the way they play ‘D,’ I’ve got to try to be more aggressive because shooters are not open in the corners as usual. I just think I had a bad season last year with injuries. This year I am taking more care of myself, doing more treatments. I’m going back to normality.”

In a series that’s gone bonkers, Ginobili has provided the stability that at least, for now, has the Spurs backing away from the edge of the plank.

Morning Shootaround — April 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers dismiss pressure | Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ | West and George Save Pacers | Terrence Ross must step up | Vinsanity outshines ‘Monta Madness’

No. 1: Blazers dismiss pressure — The Portland Trail Blazers were minutes away from a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Houston Rockets before D-League call-up Troy Daniels hit a miraculous 3-pointer in overtime. The shot kept the series alive and, according to James Harden, transferred pressure to the Blazers. Not surprisingly, the Blazers disagree. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian with more:

“The pressure wasn’t on us — it’s never on us,” Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum said. “They have huge expectations. They talk about championships. We just talk about the next game.”

That comes Sunday, when the Blazers host Game 4 at 6:30 p.m., and there’s a feeling around the Blazers that the end result will be different if they merely play they way they did in Game 3, only with a tweak here and there.

The Rockets entered Friday night in desperation mode and coach Kevin McHale altered his starting lineup in hopes of resuscitating his flatlining team, replacing Terrence Jones with mammoth center Omer Asik. He made the move, primarily, to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been unstoppable in the first two games of the series.

Aldridge acknowledged the Rockets “caught” him “off guard” with their new schemes, but he pledged to be prepared for Game 4. Similarly, coach Terry Stotts downplayed Houston’s defense.

“We scored 110 in regulation, so we scored enough points,” he said. “We didn’t lose the game at the offensive end, that’s for sure.”

Stotts was more concerned about other areas, most notably the Rockets’ 22 offensive rebounds and the fact that they attempted 15 more shots than the Blazers. The prodigious rebounding no doubt led to many of those 15 extra shots and directly facilitated Houston’s 25 second-chance points. If even five of those rebounds had bounced the Blazers’ way, today’s narrative likely would be on the probability of a Blazers’ sweep rather than which team carries the most pressure.

“That’s probably our biggest concern right now,” Stotts said of Houston’s 58 offensive rebounds this series.

There are no more secrets between these teams. They’ve played seven times this season and three games have gone to overtime — including twice in the postseason. This best-of-seven grudge match has been wickedly competitive, wonderfully entertaining and wildly unpredictable. The line separating the teams is razor-thin, and likely will continue to be.

So, what about Harden’s declaration the Blazers are now facing the pressure?

It took a playoff-high 37 points — on 35 field goal attempts — from James Harden, an unlikely three from an unlikely player and a new starting lineup for a team that opened the season with championship aspirations to beat a team most didn’t expect to be in the playoffs.

Pressure? That idea elicited a few laughs Saturday from the Blazers after they went through a light workout at the practice facility in Tualatin.

“We were predicted to lose this series — I don’t think the pressure’s on us,” Wesley Matthews said, chuckling. “Actually, we weren’t even supposed to be here. We’re up 2-1, we’ve still got two games at home. We’re not taking that for granted by any means, just like we didn’t take anything for granted all season. We’re going to come out with a better urgency than we did last night, more of a toughness, more of a mental edge than we did last night.”

Added Batum: “We still control the series. We know who we are. We’re still the underdogs … people don’t expect something from us. So we’re going to go out there tomorrow, try to win this game, try to go up 3-1 before we go back to Houston.”

***

No. 2: Garnett wants Brooklyn crowd to ‘do better’ — From his days with the 50-plus-win Minnesota Timberwolves to the big-three Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett knows how a great crowd can sound. And he doesn’t sense this necessary noise and engagement level from the Brooklyn crowd after Game 3. Mike Mazzeo from ESPN New York with Garnett’s quotes:

The Barclays Center crowd was pretty good on Friday night.

But Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who played in front of some absolutely raucous playoff crowds for several years at Boston’s TD Bank Garden, expected more.

“They could do better,” Garnett said Saturday. “I was expecting Brooklyn to be real hostile, New York-style. I know what it’s like to come here as the opposition, so our crowd could do better, but they were there when we needed them, and we fed off of them.”

Added Pierce: “Well, we know gradually they got into it. Hopefully the next game, it will get a lot better from the start. We want to come out from the jump, from the beginning, and have them in the game. It shouldn’t take a big play from us. We want them behind us. It was a great crowd tonight.”

The Nets beat the Toronto Raptors in Game 3, 102-98. They got off to a slow start, and some of the crowd arrived late due to the 7 p.m. tipoff.

“I mean, I thought the crowd was pretty good,” Joe Johnson said. “We just gotta go out and make them be excited, we gotta make plays on the court. That’s it.”

The Nets finally got going late in the second quarter, when Pierce’s crossover dribble and slam dunk highlighted a 10-0 run. In the final minute, Garnett dove for a loose ball.

When he got up, Garnett was screaming and popping his white home jersey.

“I don’t really know [what I was doing]. I blacked out at that point,” Garnett said. “I have a kid at the game, setting an example, being a role model, all that goes out the door. I’m playing with heart at that point, I’m playing with passion, I’m feeding off the crowd; my friends, my family there; my teammates; J [coach Jason Kidd]. I’m just going. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going.”

Garnett was eager to see what the atmosphere was going to be like. He figured the fans didn’t appreciate it when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said, “F— Brooklyn!” prior to Game 1 of the series.

“I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn,” Garnett said earlier in the week. “So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

The crowd will have a chance to get better on Sunday night in Game 4. Brooklyn leads the series 2-1.

***


VIDEO: Pacers vs. Hawks: Game 4

No. 3: West and George save Pacers — Things were about to get dire if the Indiana Pacers lost yesterday to fall down 3-1 to the Atlanta Hawks in the series. But they rallied in the final minutes, through the play of David West and Paul George, to take a victory from Atlanta and reclaim home-court advantage. It was a critical victory which would not have been possible without West and George, writes Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:

Music played in the postgame locker room. Voices of joy rang out. There was elation, there was relief, and now the Indiana Pacers, 91-88 Game 4 winners over the Atlanta Hawks, have another chance to make things right in this series.

One minute, they were facing a 3-games-to-1 deficit that only eight NBA playoff teams have overcome. Daunting? There’s a 3.7 percent chance of winning a series from that position.

The next minute, they were making heroic plays, the kinds of plays that keep a season on the brink alive for another couple of days — or weeks or months.

When it had to happen, it was the Pacers’ leaders, their best players, who made it happen.

David West and Paul George.

With a lot of help from George Hill, who once again played great defense and scored seven huge points down the stretch.

For a few short minutes, those were the old Pacers, the First Half of the Season Pacers, grinding down an opponent underfoot. This was about shot-making and defense and rebounding and will, the kind of will we haven’t seen often enough in the latter stretches of the season.

West was plagued by early foul troubles in the first two games, but took complete ownership of this game. It was as if he made up his mind, “Enough of this nonsense. Our season’s on the line. Now follow or get out of the way.”

“(West has) the best will I’ve ever been around as a coach,” Frank Vogel said. “He has that whatever-it’s-called inside to find a way to win. Whether it’s making a 3 or a big bucket in the post or making a play with his hands defensively, he finds a way to win a game.”

It wasn’t just West’s 3-pointer. Perhaps more important, it was his late defense against the Hawks’ best player Saturday, Paul Millsap.

“We felt like they were a little too comfortable the two games they won, swinging the ball, coming off screens,” West said. “This game, I thought we were the aggressors. It’s all about making them uncomfortable. Kyle Korver is one of the greatest shooters ever, we’ve got to make him uncomfortable, make all their guys uncomfortable. If they’re walking into shots, if we don’t pressure them, they’ll make those shots.”

West, who has been around the block a time or two, understands that these kinds of opportunities don’t come along often. The postseason is not a divine right. It’s rare to earn the No. 1 seed and have home-court advantage.

“It was all or nothing, and we understood that,” he said. “We were in desperation mode.”

The other guy, George, left it all on the court, playing almost 44 minutes and filling up the stat sheet: 24 points on efficient 10-of-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. He also helped hold Jeff Teague to a 5-of-15 shooting day.

After talking to the media at the podium, he returned to the locker room and slumped in his chair, too beat to contemplate a shower.

There was no way Vogel was going to take George off the floor in the second half. No way. There will be plenty of time to rest in the off-season, an off-season that would have come early had the Pacers lost this game.

“He missed a couple of 3s in the second half and I thought about (resting him) but against this team, with the speed they have out there, you have to play him, at least for the defensive end,” Vogel said. “He’s guarding an elite point guard all night and doing all of the intangible things on the defensive end.”

***

No. 4: Terrence Ross must step up — One of the best features of the Toronto Raptors this season has been their swingman pairing of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Unfortunately, Ross hasn’t come to play so far in the playoffs and it’s making some consider whether he should stay in the starting lineup. Eric Koreen of The National Post reports:

Ross is a flat line. When he was introduced to the Toronto media after the Raptors drafted him in 2012, it was one of the things he said: Do not expect him to try to get the fans involved with a gesture or primal scream.

Heading into the post-season, it seemed as if Ross might benefit from that. The kid never gets nervous, so extra attention from the officials, louder crowds, a one-on-one matchup against seven-time all-star Joe Johnson would barely register with him. If anybody was going to push a little too hard and take himself out of his game, it was bound to be DeRozan.

It has not worked out that way. DeRozan has pressed at times, and is shooting just 36 percent from the floor in his team’s series against the Brooklyn Nets. DeRozan is adapting, though, and he is playing through the learning process. In contrast, Ross is lost, just another tourist in New York City. He has just 10 total points in 63 minutes of action through three games, and things have actually been worse on the other end. He has lost Johnson and Deron Williams on the perimeter and been knocked off his man by sturdy Nets screens far too easily. When he failed to contain Nets reserve Marcus Thornton in the second quarter of Game 3, Raptors coach Dwane Casey had finally seen enough, sending him to the bench. Ross played just the first five minutes in the second half on Friday, and then was done for the night.

Now, he must consider replacing Ross in the starting lineup.

“We’re still going to look at that,” Casey said. “The decision hasn’t been made but we will look at it. Right now we don’t want to do anything drastic. … It’s not panic time, but we do have to look at that position and get more productivity out of that spot.”

It might not happen, just because the options are limited. They could start Greivis Vasquez, who is already responsible for a large playmaking burden, and would put DeRozan on Johnson permanently — a situation he has struggled in so far. Casey could opt for John Salmons, who has been unpredictable on both ends since arriving in Toronto. Or he could start Landry Fields, the team’s best defender but an absolute offensive non-threat. As always, given the options, Ross represents the highest upside.

Winning this series is not Casey’s only consideration, though. All along, both Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri have emphasized that player development is still a big factor for the Raptors, despite the semi-accidental success they have achieved. That becomes much tougher to live by during the playoffs — after a grinding 82-game season, a surprise Atlantic Division title and the first three coin-flip games of this series that could have been turned by getting something, anything from Ross’s spot. Given the way he is playing, Ross is actively hurting the Raptors’ chances of winning this series.

Certainly, that is not ideal. That does not mean Casey should change it, though. Casey acknowledged that it is far tougher to stick with young players when they struggle in the post-season than it is during the regular season.

“But a big part of the reason we’re here is because of their play,” Casey said. “I’m not blind to the fact that they are our future and the only way they’re going to learn is to go through it. The amount of time might be a little shorter, but they’ve got to get out there.

“Both [Ross and Jonas Valanciunas] are soaking up big minutes. If they weren’t young guys, if that wasn’t our future, our direction, they probably wouldn’t be in there with some of the mistakes they’re making. But, they’re our guys.”

Now, it is on Ross to wake up.

***


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Vince Carter

No. 5: ‘Vinsanity’ outshines ‘Monta Madness’ — Vince Carter‘s corner 3-pointer at the buzzer Saturday afternoon gave the Mavericks a 109-108 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, a 2-1 series lead, and took the spotlight away from Monta Ellis‘ incredible game. Ellis, the same player who helped knock-out the one-seeded Mavericks in 2007, is thriving in the Dallas and his ability to penetrate has been nearly impossible for the Spurs to stop. Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News with more on Ellis:

 Even on a mostly balanced afternoon, one in which Coach Rick Carlisle had all hands on deck in a 109-108 Game Three upset of the Spurs, one player had to rise up to make Vince Carter’s game-winner possible.

That man was Monta Ellis, and it’s not surprising at all when you think about it. He’s the only Maverick who has been here before.

Eighth seeds enjoy success over No. 1 seeds on an infrequent basis in the NBA. It has happened five times in 20 years. But Ellis was on the other side of the Mavericks’ most frustrating playoff start — a first-round loss to Golden State in 2007 after Dallas had won 67 regular season games — and so he’s feeling right at home.

“That series was similar because that Dallas team was a great team, too,” Ellis said. “For Golden State, it was just our time. Now we’re trying to make this our time, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not going to get big-headed because we’ve won two games.”

Carter’s deep corner jumper drove the place crazy, but it was Ellis who led all scorers with 29 points, driving inexorably and sometimes recklessly to the basket, forever on the attack.

“We need to ride a hot hand whenever we can find it,” Carlisle said. “Ellis down the stretch was great. The ‘and-one’ was big.’ ”

Ellis’ ability to deliver in the clutch and his willingness to do it in selfless fashion are making all things possible.

Keep in mind he was a 21-year-old backup guard on that Warriors team. He never would have guessed that seven years later Golden State’s upset of Dallas would be his only taste of playoff success.

“I’m just going out and playing basketball like I have all season,” Ellis said. “The points may look like it was me, but it was a total team effort. We’re playing as a team. We’re winning.”

Ellis insisted that nothing about his post-season play is designed to suggest he was overlooked around the league when Dallas signed him for three years and $25 million — far below what most 20-points-per-game scorers command.

“I don’t make anything personal,” he said. “I’m just on a better team. I don’t have to go out and get 65 percent of the team’s points or anything.”

While Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki struggled from the floor in a Game One defeat — each went 4-for-14 for 11 points — the Mavericks’ shooting guard has picked up the pace by averaging 25 points in the two Dallas wins.

Nowitzki has not yet had his first 20-point playoff game — he averaged 25.9 in the post-season before this series — and while he shot a higher percentage Saturday, he has had trouble freeing himself from the attention he’s getting from Tiago Splitter and the occasional double teams.

But Ellis is being Ellis. He’s willing to attempt some of the more improbable hanging drives to the bucket you’re likely to see. They don’t all connect, but he was 12-for-22 from the field Saturday including 3-for-7 from three-point land. The Mavericks will take that from last season’s free-agent bargain every time.

As three-time champion Tony Parker said afterwards, “I thought we did pretty good (against the point guards), it was more Ellis that was hurting us today.”

And then, having led the way for 47 minutes and 58 seconds, Ellis stepped into the shadows and ceded the spotlight to Carter.

Eight-seed madness ensued.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sacramento Kings will draft the best player available. … Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr may meet this weekend to discuss the Knicks’ coaching vacancy. … The NBA continues to investigate the alleged Donald Sterling recording. … Former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley died Saturday at age 77.

ICYMI: NBA TV’s Inside Stuff ventured to Toronto to find out why Amir Johnson is so important to the Raptors …


VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Amir Johnson

Mavs backcourt punishing Parker and Co.

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Vince Carter’s buzzer-beater gives Mavs 2-1 series lead

DALLAS – One minute, 54 seconds into Game 3, Gregg Popovich had steam spewing out his ears and he gave Tony Parker an earful.

On consecutive possessions, the All-Star point guard provided no defensive resistance as Jose Calderon routinely dribbled the ball upcourt, lost Parker and lofted passes to Samuel Dalembert and then Shawn Marion for easy buckets at the rim. After Marion’s alley-oop, Popovich leaped from his chair, angrily signaled timeout and marched directly toward Parker and chewed him out.

It was the beginning of another strange night for Parker and the Spurs.

Parker responded by ramping up his effort and he had an excellent first quarter, and 17 points at the half. But he had to work his tail off to get it. And guess what? Dallas made him work at the other end, too. Calderon, who looked like a moped in a backcourt full of speed bikes in playing only 16 minutes in Game 1, continued to turn the tables as he did in Dallas’ Game 2 road win, and had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting as surprising Dallas led by five at the half.

Calderon made plays with his dribble, made floaters and knocked down two of his three 3-point attempts. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting and nine assists in 30 minutes. Parker, who Popovich had told earlier that if he had to shoot 25 times then do it, played only 13:24 in the second half, scored two points, missed four of five shots and finished with 19 points on 18 shots.

“I don’t know,” Parker said of how the Mavs made him a non-factor in the second half. “It just happened, flow of the game in the second half. I played less, you know, and I don’t know, they didn’t do anything special.”

Maybe so, but the unfolding and improbable story line of this first-round series that the eighth-seeded Mavs suddenly lead 2-1 over top-seeded San Antonio is the dominance of the Mavs’ backcourt. No one could have expected Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris to outshine Parker, who is carrying a burdensome load, and his underachieving pals who had been so good throughout a 62-win season.

And, actually, Dallas’ 109-108 victory Saturday evening was indeed special. With 1.7 seconds left after Manu Ginobili spun in an off-balance leaner for the potential game-winner, Vince Carter, his heels barely inside the sideline, swished a desperation, fall-away 3-pointer from the deep corner after pump-faking Ginobili in the air. The shot instantly rekindled memories of Ray Allen‘s backbreaking 3-pointer against the Spurs late in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

San Antonio played Game 7 tough last June, but ultimately lost, leaving a feeling the Spurs allowed the title to slip through their fingers. Among some who watch the Spurs closely, there was some question after Saturday’s loss if they’re falling into a ditch they won’t escape.

“You always feel like it happens [last-second game-winners] more against you than in your favor, but it’s always tough,” said Ginobili, so far the Spurs’ only other reliable backcourt presence. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years and it’s happened multiple times and it hurts always, especially in the playoffs. We are not out. We lost a tough one, but we’ve got to come back on Monday and play even better so as to not to get in that position.”

The Spurs are getting no help from starting shooting guard and 3-point specialist Danny Green. Green, guarded by Calderon, whose lone defensive job is to stick to Green, hit his series average in Game 3 — three points. Popovich has taken to mainly benching him. Reserve Marco Belinelli doubled his series average coming in of 3.5 ppg. Patty Mills, who blitzed Dallas for 26 points and six 3-pointers late in the regular season, had five points Saturday.

In Games 1 and 2, Harris scored 19 and 18 points and shot 60 percent. In Game 3, Ellis tortured San Antonio for 29 points, 12 in the fourth quarter. Still, San Antonio led 100-95 with 2:11 to go but couldn’t close it out. Ellis, fending off the defense of Kawhi Leonard, scored seven points in the final 1:37 and tied it at 106-106 with 24.9 to go.

Calderon, Ellis and Harris have played so well they’re allowing Dallas to excel even with Dirk Nowitzki having entered Game 3 as the Mavs’ fourth-leading scorer, unheard of in his career. He had 18 points on a pedestrian 7-for-13 shooting on Saturday.

Parker has had to deal with the 6-7 Marion as Dallas continues to switch up its defensive coverages. Parker went 9-for-18 from the floor with six assists and four turnovers. He played 6:49 in the third quarter, started the fourth quarter, but came out three minutes into it. The Spurs found some success with a small unit that included Patty Mills and a rare appearance from Matt Bonner.

Popovich stuck with it and kept Parker on the bench until the 4:06 mark.

“Manu was rolling, he was playing great and he [Popovich] felt leaving me on the bench to have more energy for the last four minutes,” Parker said. “I trust Pop’s judgment. Me, personally, I feel fine. The team was playing well.”

Well enough until Carter’s heroics.

But the No. 1 seed shouldn’t be sweating like this, not against a team it had carved up over the past two seasons. If the Spurs’ backcourt doesn’t find Parker some help soon, it could be a very, very early summer.

Crafty Carlisle puts Pop to the test

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Rick Carlisle (shown earlier this season) and the Mavs must be doing something right in the playoffs (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Rick Carlisle (shown earlier this season) and the Mavs must be doing something right in the playoffs
(Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

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.”


VIDEO: The Mavericks evened the series with a win in San Antonio on Wednesday night