DALLAS -- A 10-game losing streak to the San Antonio Spurs didn’t strike any fear in the Dallas Mavericks, so the Mavs definitely weren’t going to let something like a little 20-point deficit faze them.
They made a furious comeback.
In the end, however, the Spurs evened the series 2-2 by withstanding the valiant rally, holding on for a 93-89 win in Monday night’s Game 4 at the American Airlines Center.
As the series heads back to San Antonio, the odds heavily favor the top-seeded Spurs, who regained home-court advantage when Dallas fell inches short -- if you measure it by the distance from which Monta Ellis’ potential game-tying layup missed its mark with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Make no mistake, the Mavs certainly aren’t scared of the big, bad Spurs, who were supposed to use this first-round series as a tune-up.
“We’ve always been underdogs to a certain degree,” Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. “Even when we won the championship, we were underdogs. Didn’t nobody pick us to win it.
“But we busted everybody’s ass, though, didn’t we?"
That’s true, although Marion and Dirk Nowitzki are the only two players remaining on the Mavs’ roster from the surprising title run of 2011. The Mavs missed the playoffs last season, snapping a dozen-year postseason streak, and had to scrap to claim the West’s final spot this year.
But the Mavs definitely don’t carry themselves like an 8-seed.
Maybe the Mavs had to fool themselves into believing they could compete with the Spurs before the series started. After all, that San Antonio winning streak in this Interstate 35 rivalry dated to Jason Kidd’s days playing point guard for the Mavs.
That swagger was legitimized in Game 1, even though the Mavs crumbled in crunch time. They gave themselves reason to really believe by building a 10-point lead with a little more than seven minutes remaining.
The Mavs followed that up with a Game 2 rout, handing the Spurs their worst home playoff loss since a dominant Dallas effort in Game 2 of the 2006 Western semifinals. At that point, there was no doubt Dallas could make this series competitive.
“One thing I think the guys have done is looked past the past and how many we haven’t won,” said Mavs sixth man Vince Carter, whose miraculous buzzer-beating 3 from deep in the left corner lifted the Mavs to a Game 3 victory. “We realized that we have to play as hard as them, if not harder, to win.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle bitterly pointed out that the Mavs failed miserably to match the Spurs’ intensity in the first half Monday. He called the Mavs out for a “no-show in the first half.” And yet the Mavs found a way to add this game to the long list of heart-thumping finishes from around the NBA this postseason.
“All four games, we’re right there,” Nowitzki said after scoring his series-high 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting in Monday’s loss. “Gotta go down there with confidence and see what happens Wednesday.”
It’s a best-of-three series now, with the Spurs having the edge of getting two of those games, if necessary, at the AT&T Center, where a fan base that lives and dies with its lone big-time pro team will surely be worked into a frenzy.
That’s fine with the Mavs, who tied for the league’s fourth-best road record in the regular season and silenced the “Go Spurs, Go” chants during their last visit to the Alamo City.
They’d never admit it, but the Mavs might have entered the series hoping they could hang with the Spurs, who didn’t have to sweat much to sweep the four regular-season meetings between this Texas rivals. The Mavs know now that they can give the Spurs all they want and more, having proven it despite Nowitzki's being held to fewer than 20 points in four straight playoff games for the first time in his Hall of Fame career.
“We know the only thing we have to do is fight,” Ellis said. “If we fight and get stops and get out and run, we can beat anybody.”
Few believed the Mavs could beat the Spurs when the series tipped off on Easter. Four games later, it's clear the Spurs are in for a fight.