Pop breaks out some vintage Duncan


SAN ANTONIO -- As much as Gregg Popovich has a reputation for being an impossible interviewee, it's rare when he doesn't leave reporters with something worth printing.

And so, after his pregame rap with the media seemed to be winding down after just two minutes of terse answers from the San Antonio Spurs head coach, Pop offered to extend the session. If nothing else, it would take his mind off all the machinations of defensive schemes and rotations that a head coach runs through right before the start of a playoff series.

First, he tried out a bit of humor.

"I didn't even have any wine last night because it's a noon game," said Popovich, lamenting the early start. "That's the worst part about a noon game."

Then, there came some honesty that you might not expect from a man who is fifth all-time in playoff wins and already has four rings on his résumé when asked if he still gets nervous before a game like Sunday's.

"Heck yeah," Popovich said. "If you don't get nervous, you're dead."

Turns out the nerves were warranted, as the Spurs had to rally back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Dallas Mavericks to win 90-85.

And while Popovich might have abstained from popping a bottle on Saturday night, Tim Duncan uncorked what Kobe Bryant would describe as a vintage "vino" performance Sunday afternoon. He drowned the Mavs' hopes of a Game 1 upset with a game-high 27 points to go with seven rebounds and helped the Spurs to a plus-23 in the 38 minutes he was on the floor.

After the game, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle identified Duncan as one of the top 10 players of all time along with Dirk Nowitzki. Yet while the Spurs stuck Tiago Splitter on Nowitzki wherever he went and hit him with frequent double-teams to hold him to an 11-point day on 4-for-14 shooting, the Mavs were willing to take their chances with the 17-year veteran Duncan going up against them.

For Carlisle and Nowitzki, the eighth-seeded Mavericks' best shot at knocking off the No. 1 overall seeded Spurs came down to simple math.

In the Spurs' 4-0 regular-season sweep of the Mavs, San Antonio averaged 10.3 made 3s per game, shooting 43.3 percent from deep, and won the games by an average of 10.5 points. In those games, while his teammates were drilling shots from long range, Duncan was unspectacular yet efficient, averaging 18.5 points on 51 percent shooting.

In true pick-your-poison fashion, the Mavs decided that they'd rather have the 37-year-old Duncan go one-on-one than have the rest of the Spurs team up from 3. They clamped down on the Spurs' shooters like they planned, with the Dallas defense employing more switches than a square dance early on, and San Antonio struggled from the outside, hitting just 3 of 17 attempts (17.6 percent). But the Big Fundamental became the Big Nullifier.

"We got killed on 3s in the first four outings this year, so, I think there was no secret," Nowitzki said afterward. "We stayed a little bit more home on the 3-point shooters and, I mean, you got to give them something. Duncan in there is obviously still solid. He can go over both shoulders. He's got a little face-up and he's still very good on the block. But I guess two points is better than three."

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