SAN ANTONIO -- Want to put on positive spin on the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 1 loss? OK, neither do the Mavs.
But at least Dallas proved it can play against the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise that has dominated its Interstate 35 rival for the last few years. The Mavs managed to build a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining, a minor miracle considering that Dallas led during their four regular-season meetings against the Spurs for a grand total of 10 minutes, 45 seconds.
The Mavs’ success for the first 40-plus minutes Sunday at the AT&T Center doesn’t make their 90-85 loss any easier to swallow, however. If anything, it makes their 10th straight loss to the Spurs feel even more like a kick to the stomach.
“I’m always frustrated after a loss,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who fell far short of his lofty postseason standards with an 11-point, 4-of-14 outing. “Maybe I’ll see the positive tomorrow, but as of today, we had our chance.”
The Mavs couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to end their losing streak to the Spurs and start this series against the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs.
This game was there for the Mavs to take, especially after backup center Brandan Wright’s and-1 layup with 7:45 to go gave Dallas a double-digit lead. Then the Mavs melted down. Or the Spurs flipped the switch, depending on your perspective.
Dallas didn’t score from the floor again until point guard Devin Harris’ meaningless last-second layup. That double-digit lead disintegrated in less than three minutes, which unfortunately isn’t surprising to anyone who watched the Mavs blow so many big leads during the regular season.
The Spurs seized the lead for good by scoring 15 points -- including seven of Tim Duncan’s game-high 27 -- during Dallas’ five-minute, 40-second scoreless drought. Give an elite defensive team credit for tightening the screws down the stretch, but the Mavs also missed some open looks that had them scratching their heads.
“Look, I love the way we played up until that point,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “We fought the whole way. We just didn’t finish. I’ve got to help our guys finish better.”
So much for the Mavs’ chance to steal the series opener. Instead, the Spurs’ slammed the door on Dallas’ face, denying the Mavs their first playoff win since they celebrated their 2011 championship by chugging a $90,000 bottle of champagne in Miami Beach’s Club Liv, an experience shared by only two players remaining on the roster.
If the Mavs couldn’t get this win, it makes you wonder when they’ll ever be able to beat the Spurs. Or at least if it will happen in this series.
“We have two days to sit around and watch the film and make some minor adjustments and let it all rip in Game 2,” Nowitzki said. “That’s all you can do in the playoffs. Be the more desperate team in Game 2.
“I thought we competed great. If we do that again in Game 2, we should be right there at the end of the game and see what happens.”
Those final seven-plus minutes illustrated the difference between a team that had to fight for the West’s final playoff spot and a top seed that was a play away from a championship last season.
The disparity between the Mavs and Spurs, who formed one of the league’s great rivalries not too long ago, has been painfully clear for the last few years. Few of Spurs’ nine consecutive regular-season wins against the Mavs were close, with San Antonio rolling by an average margin of almost 15 points.
Dallas defiantly promised the playoffs would be different. They backed those words up, executing a game plan that focused on shutting down the Spurs’ greatest offensive strength, limiting San Antonio to 3-of-17 shooting from 3-point range.
Despite off days by Nowitzki and scoring sidekick Monta Ellis, who also had only 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting, the Mavs positioned themselves to pull off the biggest shocker of the playoffs’ opening weekend. They just failed miserably to finish the job.
“We definitely let this one slip away,” Wright said.
As lopsided as this rivalry has been recently, that missed opportunity represents progress for the Mavs.