SAN ANTONIO -- C'mon, there just had to be another one of these games.
If that's the reason Jason Terry's potential series-clincher missed so badly, so be it. If that's why Dirk Nowitzki's shot put-like follow had no chance, that's just fine.
Every game seems to top the previous one, and what we saw in Dallas was pretty special. With the stakes higher, emotions and consequences were all the more unnerving, and San Antonio survived. The Spurs' 98-97 victory continues a parade of what has been the birth of the NBA's premier rivalry.
As good as the NBA has been lately, with the infusion of young stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, man, did we need one of these. A good old-fashioned, Celtics-Lakers, Bulls-Pistons rivalry. The hatred may not be there, but the intensity sure is.
"You don't want to overstate it, because you don't know what direction these franchises are going to go in, but certainly, this year, with us fighting all year for that top seed and being intrastate rivals, it's been pretty special," said Spurs guard Brent Barry. "I guess time will tell where this goes."
What has transpired over the last week certainly doesn't hurt the cause. Who has ever seen a pair of jump balls in the final 6.3 seconds of a game? Consider that a bounce here or there could have sent San Antonio home, or made the outcome less climactic than it actually was. You never know with these two teams, because one play, call or decision can impact everything so greatly.
"Two teams that just refuse to lose," said Mavs coach Avery Johnson, upbeat only because more bounces have gone Dallas' way, giving his team a 3-2 lead. "Unfortunately, they had one more point than we did. It was nobody's fault. Now you just go out and play basketball."
It's that pure. Just basketball, toss it up and see what happens. In this case, toss the ball up a couple times with the game on the line and see. No one scored in the final 1:59, following a Manu Ginobili free throw, which broke the fourth tie of the quarter. Instead, progress wasn't made with baskets, but rather desire. Bruce Bowen's block of Nowitzki with 6.9 seconds was among the most impressive defensive plays I've ever seen.
Nowitzki goes up, does his usual pump fake to rid himself of the league's top gnat, and then ends up blocked so emphatically from behind that the ball doesn't go anywhere. It was a block you're normally only able to get away with when it's you against a 10-year-old and you've have about a foot-and-a-half on him. No one is supposed to be able to do that to Nowitzki.
Then, the tip ends up on the floor, and here comes Ginobili throwing himself on the ground for the 17th time to tie up Terry after a frantic couple of seconds.
"He's the most competitive player I've ever been around," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Ginobili. "He comes up with a lot of plays to help a team to win basketball games. He's the ultimate competitor."
The ultimate competitor admitted being scared after the game.
"There's always a sense of urgency that you have to have, but yeah, this was a little different. We knew what today was. We knew we could be sent home," Ginobili said. "You know, sometimes you might think I screw up, there's always another game in Dallas. But there was no other game to look to. This was it."
There was a little bit of history on the line as well, considering Tim Duncan had never been involved in an elimination game that he survived. That's one of those little stats that researchers dig up and leave you to wonder, "Hmm, that's interesting."
Whether Duncan knew about that or not, he came out intent on making sure that didn't happen again. But even an 11-for-11 effort from the field, producing 28 points and tying his career playoff high for scoring in a half, couldn't shake the Mavs. Despite better than 60 percent shooting by San Antonio, the score was knotted at 57.
Duncan, who ended up scoring 36, did his best to clinch the game for his squad, knocking down clutch free throws, blocking three shots and showing up every time a Maverick went to the basket. He hit the offensive boards, fueled his team with emotion and made sure that if this little streak of bowing out continued, no one would be able to pin it on him.
Nowitzki did his part to extend the Spurs' misery. There was no talk of the ankle that was such an issue in Game 4, nor did there need to be. He made shots at impossible angles with defenders draped all over him. He rebounded well, finishing with 10, and ended up scoring 31. Basically, he led his squad the way the great ones do.
Naturally, as this wouldn't be the rivalry it is if he hadn't.
San Antonio went on a 13-2 run midway through the third quarter to turn a one-point deficit into the biggest lead of the entire game, going up 81-71 with 3:34 remaining.
This is where we would find out about Dallas, regardless of the fact it pulled out a couple of games at home and held a stranglehold on the series. The Spurs came back from eight-point deficit early in the fourth in just over a minute two nights ago to create that classic.
Would the Mavericks wilt and utilize their cushion to mail the result in, or would they continue to fight and demonstrate they're fit to be champions? They provided an emphatic response, outworking the Spurs to loose balls and willing this game toward another dramatic finish.
Oh yeah, they're worthy.
Naturally, as this wouldn't be the rivalry it's become if they weren't.
Can this end in anything but a seventh game? Dallas wants nothing to do with that, but sometimes, fate and destiny end up dictating how the truly special unfolds.
Good post phantom.
Hibbert, who worked out with Duncan in San Antonio during the lockout, said he has grown close to the perennial All-Star. On Friday, he texted Duncan and asked how he should guard him.
"He said, 'Go for every pump fake,' " Hibbert said.
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