DALLAS — Now that the Dallas Mavericks' first round series against the Spurs has been reduced to a best-of-three, Mavs fans have to hope their team learned a valuable lesson in Game 4 about what results from sub-par effort.
"The way we performed just competitively in the first half was just inexcusable," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game, which Dallas lost 93-89.
The Mavericks were seemingly playing well, opening a 12-2 lead to start Game 4. But emotion was high on the heels of their thrilling Game 3 win. Fans were rowdy, proud, and loud — just the way the Mavericks' marketing department like them.
But when the initial emotion faded away, so did the Mavs' collective game.
"[The Spurs] set the tone," said Mavericks guard Vince Carter. "We tried to set the tone early in — which we did a good job of — but I think we got comfortable and we kinda relaxed. And as soon as we relaxed, the tide changed immediately."
Did it ever.
The Dallas offense ground to a halt and went Arctic-cold. The Mavericks made just 4 of 19 second quarter shots.
"Tough night," said Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. "They make it tough on us. They're into us, and they take us out of our comfort zone a little bit. We've got to keep battling you know, its 2-2."
The Spurs pounced and their offense clicked as San Antonio shot a sizzling 68 percent in the second quarter, propelling the Spurs to a 20-point lead early in the third.
"Our horrific second quarter put us in a hole ultimately we couldn't get all the way out of. The key thing is, you just can't get in a 20-point hole," said Carlisle. "It can snowball quickly if your disposition isn't there on both sides of the court."
The Mavericks rallied in the third and fourth quarters and actually took a lead in the game. Reserve center DeJuan Blair spearheaded the rally, playing like an oversized Energizer bunny on his way to scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
But Blair was ejected for what officials called a "hostile act" when he kicked Tiago Splitter in the head late in the fourth period.
"It was clearly a reaction to the call," said Blair, "I didn't know his face was down there."
With Blair out, the Mavs lost momentum — and eventually the game — by four points, as the Spurs reclaimed home-court advantage.
And now, as the series shifts back to San Antonio, guard Monta Ellis says Game 4 was a reminder of what the Mavs must do to win.
"We just got to fight for 48 minutes," he said. "We know what we have to do to beat them. We just have to play for 48 minutes."
More than halfway through this back-and-forth series we now know a couple things.
First: The Mavs absolutely can beat the Spurs, even in San Antonio — something many fans doubted before this series began.
Second, and perhaps more importantly: We know if they Mavs play like they did in the second quarter of Game 4, they won't even come close to hanging with the Spurs.
"Our approach has to be hit first, hit often, and hit for 48 minutes," Carter said. "I mean, that's plain and simple, because if we don't play at their level, we see what can happen."