Spurs escape a disastrous outcome

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DALLAS -- This time, the Dallas Mavericks didn't get a miracle shot from Vince Carter to win a game. This time,  Monta Ellis' driving layup hung on the rim for an instant before falling off Monday night at American Airlines Center. This time, San Antonio survived.

Now, the  San Antonio Spurs nearly blew a 20-point, third-quarter lead, but no one on the Riverwalk will care in the morning. All that matters is the Spurs figured out a way to win. That's because the chasm between winning and losing would've been as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Manu Ginobili scored 23 points, Tim Duncan had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Boris Diaw hit a key 3-pointer in the final minute, but the Spurs won this game with defense. They played tough, physical, tenacious defense. They did it so well that coach Gregg Popovich almost smiled when he talked about it. Emphasis on almost. Hey, that's pretty good for him.

San Antonio 93, Dallas 89.

"Holding them to 89 is a lot better than 109," Popovich said. "And that's what had to happen."

The series is now tied at 2-2, but there's no reason to think this first-round Western Conference quarterfinal is going to end anytime soon. Not when you consider the Mavs seem determined to push the Spurs to the limit.

This, however, is the first game of the series that San Antonio controlled. The Spurs shut down the Mavs' beautiful ball movement, which has made them one of the NBA's best offensive teams this season.

The Mavs' offense flows best when they're swinging the ball around the perimeter and using the pick-and-roll to get into the lane.

Dallas made only 12 of 41 shots in the first half, including just three of 13 3-point shots in the first half. And they had only three assists, so we probably shouldn't have been surprised San Antonio led by 14 at halftime.

It was their largest lead of the series. Ellis finished with 20 points, but he made only six of 20 shots. Dirk Nowitzki scored 19, his highest total of the series, but he made just seven of 19 shots. Nowitzki has made only 25 of 65 shots (38.5 percent) in this series.

This from a dude who shot nearly 50 percent from field while averaging 21.7 points during the regular season.

"We did a good job of defending the 3, and we kept Monta from having a straight line to the basket," Duncan said. "I thought he had really clean looks at the basket the first couple of games, and we were just more active and into it. Our effort was really good."

The Mavs' effort? Uh, it stunk in the first half. Well, that's the nicest thing coach Rick Carlisle could say about it in a public forum.

"I'm so disappointed in our no-show in the first half that it's hard for me to mitigate with fighting for 24 of 48 minutes," Carlisle said. "I'm glad we showed we were willing and able to fight in the second half, but the way we performed, just competitively, is inexcusable." It was a lazy defensive play by the Spurs that enabled the Mavs to rally. With 8:28 left in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 58-38  Danny Green failed to hustle back on defense.

Ellis took his time and lined up a 3-pointer from the same left corner that produced Carter's miraculous shot on Saturday. Like Carter, he made the shot, which pulled the Mavs within 17.

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