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Old 05-16-06, 10:56 AM
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CBS Sportsline article: Spurs not out and Bowen blurted something to Stern

Spurs w/ backs against the walls

Mavs' OT victory puts Spurs' backs against wall
May 16, 2006
By Tony Mejia
CBS Staff Writer

If you're the San Antonio Spurs returning home down 3-1, you're kicking yourselves. In Dallas, they're pinching themselves. Cautiously.

The changing of the guard is imminent, yet so far away. Monday night's Game 4, a brilliantly played 123-118 Mavericks overtime victory, spilled into early Tuesday morning locally. If you're into symbolism, you might think the Spurs have seen midnight pass them by as well. If that's the case, you're wrong.

Expect Manu Ginobili and the Spurs to raise their play in Game 5. (Getty Images)
"They hurt," Tim Duncan said of the losses in Dallas. "One play either way, one call either way, whatever it may be. It came down to that."

If it continues to come down to that, this is still anyone's series, particularly because San Antonio has seen so much go against it in Big D. Coach Gregg Popovich says it came down to a single rebound in both games, and had the Spurs secured them, they would've captured the wins.

It could also be who was on the floor in the final minutes and who wasn't. Duncan was disqualified from Saturday's game and Manu Ginobili sat out the final 2:43 of regulation and all of overtime after he fouled out.

Others would say it came down to foul calls. Duncan disputed ever fouling Dirk Nowitzki on the play where he turned his ankle Saturday night. Nowitzki hit both free throws to tie the game; Duncan was disqualified by his sixth violation.

Bruce Bowen took his turn getting whistled for a foul on Nowitzki in the waning seconds of regulation on this night, and was extremely vocal in his displeasure. If you look at the replay, it looks like Bowen did nothing to merit a call, and he shot over in the direction of NBA commissioner David Stern, seated right behind the scorer's table, and screamed out, "This is terrible!"

Nowitzki tied both games and the Spurs were unable to capitalize the rest of the way without Duncan.

"When we needed to get the stops, we did. It still all comes down to defense," said Jason Terry, who led Dallas with 32 points and iced the game with a seemingly impossible step-back jumper over Duncan. "At the end of regulation we got what we needed, and on the first two possessions of overtime we got stops to continue the momentum. That's what it comes down to."

Whatever it comes down to, take away two things. First, Dallas made its breaks and deserves the spoils, and although San Antonio feels slighted, it can't waste time crying about its misfortune. Two, because they are still the champs and will continue to be until the final second ticks off their final game of the season, the Spurs are as dangerous as Freddy Krueger coming back in a recurring nightmare. Some beings are simply hard to kill.

Case in point, check out the circumstances that created Game 4's drama in the first place. As the first few minutes of the fourth quarter unraveled, the Mavericks were scooting past Spurs guard Nick Van Exel like a drive-through ATM. Devin Harris and Josh Howard went right by him, collecting and-one layups to push Dallas' lead to eight.

As nearly 21,000 came to their feet, you could sense the end of the Spurs run as the Western Conference's primary superpower. Dallas was just quicker, owned more weapons, and most important, wasn't going to waste one of its home games.

Popovich desperately motioned for Tony Parker and Ginobili to get back in the game. There was no time to waste, no way San Antonio could expect to survive unless it came back right that second. In 1:23, a pair of Ginobili 3-pointers and a Parker layup tied the game at 90, setting up a classic finish in what was undoubtedly the most brilliant game thus far in this postseason.

"It was a heavyweight fight. A slugfest," said Mavs coach Avery Johnson. "Fortunately we just had more in the tank than they did in the overtime."

In the final minute of the third quarter, Ginobili and Nowitzki got tangled up as a Jerry Stackhouse jumper went through the net. Ginobili was called for the foul, and the two glared at each other menacingly before being separated.

No one is ever going to confuse the German sniper and the Argentinian acrobat for tough guys. However, they're now hated rivals because these games have become heated to a degree they really never have before, in part because you always figured San Antonio would find a way to win.

Now, with Gen. Johnson essentially defecting from the Spurs side the way Michael Finley did the Mavs, the playing field is level. He's taught Dallas what it takes to win and transformed the team from squeezably soft to mentally tough.

"We're digging deeper and deeper it seems," Johnson said. "When you want to win a championship, you can't hide anymore. Everyone is watching."

What everyone sees in Dallas now is a team that is the equivalent of the reigning champs. They saw 20 ties and nine lead changes. They saw brilliant plays wherever they looked, artwork in any facet of the game. Finley, despite constantly being booed by the crowd that used to adore him, made a pair of critical 3-pointers that gave the Spurs some separation, if only temporarily. DeSagana Diop played some superb defense on Duncan, blocking one of his shots and making it difficult for him to extend on his jump hook. For that matter, kudos to Erick Dampier for standing tall when Duncan stared him down and then went to that same jump hook to try and win the game as time in regulation expired.

This game had it all. This series has it all: Nowitzki's gritty play with an ankle that wasn't 100 percent, Terry's fearlessness in his best Sam Cassell impression and Harris and Parker running up and down the court like jackrabbits.

What remains to be seen is whether there's a comeback in the works as well. Even up 3-1, Dallas doesn't feel safe. Nor should it. Only the foolish would declare victory before their rival is officially buried.
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