The San Antonio Spurs have put the Dallas Mavericks on the brink of elimination. Tim Duncan had a miserable 34th birthday and Manu Ginobili looked as bad at times as his bandaged-up nose. But George Hill scored 29 points and San Antonio beat the Mavs 92-89 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.
Popovich called out his supporting cast after losing Game 1. But it was his Big Three who had little bark in Game 4.
The Spurs have won three straight since Popovich's tongue-lashing, and they've put the Mavs on the edge of their third first-round exit in four years. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Dallas.
It could be a rough-and-tumble elimination game. Tempers flared as the Mavs threw away a 14-point lead in the third quarter, none more so than when Eduardo Najera was ejected after hooking a hand around Ginobili's head and sending him belly flopping to the floor.
A livid Popovich leaped from his chair and began stomping toward the basket before being slowed down by his assistants. Minutes earlier, Richard Jefferson and Jason Terry had to be separated when words escalated in the third quarter. Just more fuel on an already intense Texas rivalry.
Dallas might need to tap into that aggression to stay alive. It was three years ago that the top-seeded Mavericks were shocked in the playoffs by eighth-seeded Golden State. Dallas is now in danger of getting ousted by the No. 7 Spurs. Only eight teams have come back from being down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series.
The Mavs can no longer count on shutting down San Antonio's Big Three as enough. Hill was 11 of 16 from the floor, while Jefferson scored 15 points and Antonio McDyess had 10. Duncan had four points and made just 1-of-9 shots -- a roaring success for Dallas, considering Duncan scored at least 25 points in the first three games. Tony Parker scored just 10 points off the bench after having 23 points in Game 3.
Ginobili scored nine of his 17 in the fourth quarter, but made just 4-of-16 shots. He wore a bandage across his broken nose that went from cheek-to-cheek, forgoing the discomfort of a face mask. Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler had 17 apiece for Dallas.