Spurs' loss raises specter of 2011


SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs spent the past 10 months trying to erase the memory of their NBA Finals collapse against the Miami Heat in June.

After Wednesday's blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs suddenly find themselves having to fend off other skeletons in their closet. It was only three years ago that San Antonio became one of just five No. 1-seeded teams in NBA history to be upset by a No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs.

With the Mavs thoroughly dominating in a 113-92 Game 2 win to knot the series 1-1 as it shifts back to Dallas, these Spurs sure seem ripe for history to repeat. Only, if you listened to most of the Spurs' players after a game in which they coughed up 24 turnovers leading to 33 points for the Mavericks, were outmuscled on the boards and allowed four Dallas players to hit for 16 points or more, it was nothing to get bent out of shape about.

"We lost one game," Tim Duncan said, flatly, after following up his 27 points in Game 1 with just 11 points in Game 2. "We didn't expect to go 16-0. We didn't expect to win every game."

Danny Green, who was 12 for 20 from 3 in the Spurs' four-game regular season sweep of the Mavs but now finds himself just 2-for-6 against them in the playoffs, was similarly unperturbed by how the series has opened.

"This group has been together for a couple years now so I expect us to bounce back," said Green. "To have that experience helps a lot. I'm pretty positive in the direction that we're going in. I don't think anybody in this locker room is too nervous about anything."

The Spurs have been a model of consistency -- 15 straight 50-plus win seasons, four titles and a third coach of the year trophy coming just this week for Gregg Popovich as a reminder of all that -- largely because of the never-too-high, never-too-low mentality that Duncan and Pop have spread throughout the organization year after year.

But they're going up against a Mavericks team with several of its key players -- Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Samuel Dalembert and even DeJuan Blair -- on their first ride with Dallas. The Mavs haven't had enough time to establish a true identity for their current group, so in the short term they've adopted a go-for-broke mentality.

"We've got to hit this thing with guns blazin'," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before Game 1. "That's how it's got to be."

They came close, leading by 10 with less than eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter before the Spurs rallied.

Afterward, looking forward to Game 2, Dirk Nowitzki declared the Mavs just had to "let it all rip" their next time out. And they did.

"I like our intensity right now," said Nowitzki, heading home with a split even though he shot just 11-for-33 (33 percent) in the cause.

The Spurs will spend the next three days rationalizing where they stand every which way they can. They'll blame it on their turnovers, but consider them an aberration rather than a glaring weakness that's been exposed, considering it was more than San Antonio has coughed up in any game this season. "We can take care of the ball better," said Duncan. "We just made careless mistakes."

The Spurs will count on Kawhi Leonard, who was just 5-for-16 through the first two games, to find his rhythm. "Sometimes a player doesn't have a great game," Popovich summed up of Leonard.

They'll see the advantage that Dallas had in the transition game, outscoring San Antonio 23-3 while shooting 8-for-8 on Wednesday, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information, and they'll want to prove that they can play quicker and better, too, rather than just try to slow things down. "We're going to have to be way more consistent, more solid, find the easier pass and not always try to make an assist and play a little faster," said Manu Ginobili, who saw his 27-point night spoiled by the loss. They'll focus on execution and improving the things they can control, and not even allow the thoughts of theĀ  Memphis Grizzlies' celebration three years ago or the confetti falling in Miami after Game 7 to enter their minds. At least for now.

Meanwhile, the Mavs are perfectly content to keep using their emotion as the most important aspect of their game plan.

After Game 1, coming off the loss, Nowitzki said, "That's all you can do in the playoffs, be the more desperate team."

After Game 2, coming off the win, Ellis wanted the Mavs to trick themselves to play the same way.

"Play like we down," Ellis said, rattling off the simple four-word answer when asked what his team needs to do to keep the momentum going that it's built so far.

Nowitzki and Ellis know a little bit about 1-8 upsets themselves. Ellis' Warriors upended Nowitzki and the Mavs in 2007. Now they're teaming up to try to make it happen again.

While the Spurs remained matter-of-fact about their predicament -- win Game 3 on Saturday and the series swings back to normalcy anyway -- even Carlisle is feeding off the underdog outlook.

"They are such a potent team and they have such great players. They have the coach of the year. It is a monumental task but we are in this thing to win," Carlisle said. "We aren't in it just to get a split and be happy. We can't do that. We cannot let up."

The Spurs are going to stick with what got them to this point. There were no panic buttons being reached for.

"A lot of things to clean up, but things we can take care of," said Duncan. "We just need to be a little more focused and a little sharper."

If not, those not-so-fuzzy memories from three years ago could come flooding back.