Vince Carter made a miracle. Monta Ellis missed a layup. And here we are, tied at 2-2 in the first round of the playoffs.
Another heart-stopping finish this time fell the Spurs’ way Monday night at American Airlines Center, where Ellis’ potential game-tying, left-handed layup bounced in and out with three seconds remaining, allowing San Antonio to escape with a 93-89 win and head back to the Alamo City with a tied series.
Dirk Nowitzki again failed to score 20 points. Ellis missed 14 shots. The Mavs clanged 10 free throws. They didn’t show up for a first half, and eventually dug a 20-point hole. All that, and the thing that did them in might have been a hostile accident that was instead deemed a hostile act.
Trying to produce the largest comeback in franchise playoff history, the Mavs rallied from down 58-38 to take an 83-82 lead. The surge was led by the unlikeliest of heroes, as DeJuan Blair resurfaced for a frenetic, passionate double-double after having just two during the regular season. He rebounded. He set picks. He scored in the lane. He defended Tim Duncan. He fought for loose balls.
But after being called for a foul on a scramble for a ball with the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter, he reacted. Actually, he overreacted, kicking out his feet in disgust from his backside. He obviously didn’t intend to kick Splitter in the head, but it happened. On accident. Nonetheless, referees reviewed the video and deemed Blair’s reaction a “hostile act,” and he was ejected. The end result: The Spurs made three free throws off what was a botched possession.
Bogus. But the Mavs can only blame themselves for not snatching a 3-1 lead.
Head coach Rick Carlisle termed their atrocious first half a “no-show” and “inexcusable.” The Spurs missed 10 of their first 11 shots, but the Mavs only jumped to a 12-2 lead before San Antonio awakened and seized control. And down the stretch Ellis missed a free throw and Samuel Dalembert – who made two clutch ones late in Game 3 – missed two more. Nowitzki, a 90-percent shooter in the regular season, missed a couple in the first half.
Against the NBA’s best team the Mavs’ margin for error is thinner than the ice upon which Donald Sterling skates. You can’t have no-show halves. You can’t miss 10 free throws. You can’t get ejected for accidents.
Yet still, the Mavs almost wiggled off their Game 4 hook. Tied at 87 after Ellis’ acrobatic three-point play, it was Spurs’ reserve Boris Diaw who hit the game’s biggest shot – a 3-pointer off a drive-and-dish by Tony Parker. The Mavs got within one on Dirk’s putback, but then in explicably let nine seconds run off the clock before fouling.
It was the last of their many mistakes.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.