Despite all the rallies the Dallas Mavericks have made this postseason, they seemed to have forgotten the most important components when they needed it most: scoring and making stops.
The Mavs could do neither in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Friday night, and the result was a 96-83 loss that gave San Antonio a 2-1 lead in the series.
Dallas was within one, at 67-66 with 20.6 seconds left in the third, then allowed a 14-0 run. Adding to the misery, Dirk Nowitzki had to be helped off with a sprained left knee and didn't return. Coach Don Nelson doesn't expect him to be ready for Game 4 on Sunday night. He'll have an MRI exam Saturday.
Not having Nowitzki would certainly hurt the Mavericks' chances far worse than any strategy the Spurs might throw at them.
"If he's unable to play, that's 25 [points] and 10 [rebounds] we have to make up," said Michael Finley, who had 11 points. "Everyone will have to take it up to another level."
They couldn't in this game, although Tim Duncan and the Spurs did a good job of getting in the way.
Duncan had 34 points, 24 rebounds and anchored an interior defense that changed the game.
"We try to go inside and they clogged it up," said Steve Nash, who had 10 points and nine assists. "We never loosened up the defense and got shots we liked. It never looked good for us."
San Antonio also outrebounded Dallas 59-36. That advantage could grow even wider in Game 4 if the Mavericks got with a short lineup, which is almost a must without Nowitzki. Shawn Bradley and Evan Eschmeyer also are nursing injuries, and Eduardo Najera is recovering from one.
"We've just got to find a way to make it work," Nash said.
Nelson said the Mavericks played their best defense of the playoffs in the first half, when they led 46-38. A 3-pointer by Raja Bell put them up 11, their biggest of the night. Then everything changed.
San Antonio regained control with a 15-2 spurt keyed by Tony Parker, who scored 19 of his 29 points in the third quarter. While a jumper by Nowitzki capped a run of three straight baskets and put the Mavericks back ahead 64-63, they never led again.
The Spurs' game-breaking run ended when Nick Van Exel made a layup with 7:28 left. By then, San Antonio was up by 13 and the energy was sapped from the Mavericks and their franchise-record crowd of 20,695.
Duncan even went 10-of-14 from the line, although for the first time this series referees weren't much of a factor. Dallas took only six free throws, making just four. Both stats are franchise lows in a playoff game.
Videoland will broadcast Detroit at New Jersey (Game 4) live at 8am today and CTV will show Detroit at New Jersey (Game 4) at 8am. ESPN will show San Antonio at Dallas (Game 4) live tomorrow at 8:30.