Welp. Not many expected Dallas to put up much of a fight in this 1-8 playoff matchup. After laying an egg in the regular season against their in-state rivals, Dallas has come together as a team and proven their playoff worth despite harsh criticism.
Sights and sounds
I was lucky enough to attend the game in Dallas on Saturday afternoon, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best game of the 2014 playoffs. It had everything you could want in a playoff game. Both teams scored at will, giving fans of either team the offensive showdown that is expected of the Western Conference’s elite. No big leads emerged in the game, adding a thick layer of tension and anxiety throughout the American Airlines Center, forcing fans onto the edge of their seats, anxiously waiting for any opportunity to spring up in mutual celebration. Spurs fans were still in abundance, but the blue sea ousted any attempt of fellowship between the visiting adversaries.
As for the game, it was an absolute coaching duel. Any time either team went down by about five points, the opposing ring-bearing coach would call a timeout without a moment’s hesitation. An aura of pure professionalism emitted from both sidelines, neither team allowing the other to gain any sort of momentum or cause for exuberant celebration.
I was torn throughout the game. I grew up a Mavericks fan, but the Spurs writer in me forced me into a sort of stoic fandom that is hard to maintain in such a overbearingly blue environment. I found myself holding up three-fingers for both teams, shaking my head and clapping at both Dirk fadeaways and Parker pull-ups. I realized that I wasn’t necessarily a fan of either particular team, just a huge fan of good basketball. And boy was it the best basketball I’ve ever witnessed.
Watch the game recap here.
Duncan and Parker came out of the gate blazing. Anything they wanted, Dallas gave them. It’s not that the Dallas defense wasn’t trying, but the smooth precision and flow of San Antonio’s offense completely outmatched any Dallas suffocation attempt early on. By the end of the first, Duncan and Parker had combined on 10-14 shooting to help San Antonio secure a 34-27 lead.
The second quarter belonged solely to Dallas. After having a slow start, struggling to make any magic happen, Monta Ellis came alive, cutting and slashing through the lane for 11 points. The recently replaced Samuel Dalembert stepped up (like he had so many times earlier in the season after a benching) and exploded with production, hauling in 6 boards, a block, and two buckets to help Dallas overcome and retake the lead going into halftime by a score of 59-54.
The third quarter was all business. Both teams came out of their locker rooms bent on correcting mistakes, toughening the defense, and playing with a sense of urgency. Neither team budged one way or the other. 5-point runs seemed to be the only form of offense that either team could muster up. With three minutes left in the quarter, San Antonio tied the game at 69, beginning the tug-of-war that would continue for the remainder of the game. Dallas ended up leading going into the fourth 77-74.
Then came the fourth. The defensive intensity that took over in the third became an instant non-factor. The intensity remained, but the veterans of both teams grabbed the game by the horns and simply willed quick offense into existence. Except Tony Parker seemed to have disappeared. While Monta, Vince Carter, and Dirk were forcing themselves to the free throw line or to the rim, Parker was sitting on the bench for nearly half the quarter.
The lead see-sawed back and forth until the waning moments. The game was tied with 25 seconds left and in San Antonio’s possession. Ginobili slowly dribbled the time away before making his patented right-to-left, left-handed drive toward the basket, laying up the ball high on the glass, and having it toilet-bowl itself through the net with only 1.7 seconds remaining.
The air was released from the crowd. Hands were on heads, disdain showed in each and every face that sat atop blue-clad shoulders while Spurs fans whooped and hollered, scattered throughout the AAC. It seemed like 5 minutes passed before Dallas was able to inbound due to timeouts and substitution mistakes. Everyone seemed ready to just get the hail-mary over with.
Calderon inbounded to Vince Carter, and before anyone could groan or remember the seemingly countless late-game misses he had in the previous season, the ball was through passing the illuminated backboard and falling softly through the net. The stadium erupted in, and I found myself contributing to the deafening roar. After the necessary reviews were made, Dallas danced into the locker room with a 109-108 win.
I still don’t know the reasoning behind Tony Parker’s lack of play-time in the second half, but it seemed to definitely be the main difference in the game. He completely manhandled the Dallas defense in the first half, and though he was bottled up a little more in the second, he still seemed quite capable of producing more than Patty Mills. If it was a minutes issue, then this is the first time I’m finding myself disagree with Popovich’s decision. Parker played nearly 20 minutes in the first half, followed by only 13 in the second, a monumental difference in a playoff game.
All in all, Dallas just had the home-crowd magic on their side. They had proven that they belonged in the series after great performances in the prior two games, and the crowd ultimately helped their team gut out a huge win. The key to game 4 will be if Dallas continues to ride on this surge of energy or merely has a hangover from the national buzz of Vince Carter’s heroics.
No matter your allegiance, this game was a basketball fan’s dream. It was beautiful and hideous at times, forcing each team to call on a hero for victory, which both succeeded in doing. Sometimes it just comes down to who shoots last.
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