In Dallas' return to San Antonio where they hoped to spoil the Spurs' ring/championship celebration, the Mavericks fell to the reigning champs 101-100. Monta Ellis led all scorers with 26 on 11-21 shooting, though Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had 23 and 20 respectively. Dirk Nowitzki had 18 on 7-11 shooting.
For the beginning of the first quarter, both teams were having a rough go of it, clearly struggling to shake off the offseason rust. It took almost 2 minutes for either team to score, and by halfway through the quarter, both teams were shooting below 35% from the floor.
That, though, is simply a testament to how absurd the two team's offenses are. By the end of the quarter, both team's shooting percentages were approaching 50%, both teams were on track to score 100 or more.
More importantly, though, one quarter in, we already had so many signature moments to signal what is to be in the year to come: Devin Harris to Brandan Wright alley-oops, Chandler Parsons slam in traffic, Dirk one-foot-fade, Monta Ellis midrange jumper, and, of course, a Devin Harris end-of-clock 3-pointer. In one quarter, it already felt like old times.
The second quarter felt like basketball in earnest. We had arrived.
We, as fans, had been primed, and the players had tested the waters. Everyone ventured more freely into the paint starting in the second, 3's started dropping, and there appeared to be, at least, a semblance of a flow to the game.
Monta got hot with a midrange jumper, a layup, and a 3, and suddenly the Mavs were energized and exciting.
They felt like the Mavs, again.
The Mavs got comfortable far more quickly than the Spurs, too. Dallas' defense was rough, at best (particularly Monta), but the Spurs struggled to take advantage. They made all the right passes, but when a player got an open glimpse, or a view of the basket, they often struggled to either shoot or take advantage of the close out. The Mavs, too, have many quick-handed players in Monta, Jameer, Parsons, and Dirk, and found themselves ending a lot of plays with steals.
Because the Spurs are an elite team (and because Tony Parker is a filthy magician with a basketball) they stayed competitive, but ended the quarter trailing Dallas 53-45.
The Mavs clearly began the game by tinkering, too. It's a bit too early to speculate too far, and this isn't the place, but Dallas tried things like rolling out Greg Smith before Brandan Wright, and they went to a lineup of Jameer Nelson - Monta Ellis - Devin Harris - Chandler Parsons really early.
As well, instead of relying on the shooting of Richard Jefferson, Carlisle went with Aminu and Crowder together as the first wing players off the bench, robbing the team of any shooting. Aminu, too, appears to have a green light to shoot at the moment, presumably for Carlisle to see how his shot really looks.
It's hard to know how much of that Carlisle was serious about, but I suppose only time will tell.
The second quarter saw a return to some degree of normalcy regarding lineups, but also regarding pre-game expectations: the Spurs surged back, quickly, behind Tony Parker and Spurs-ian ball movement and shooting. 4 minutes into the 3rd quarter, the Mavericks' lead had completely disappeared, leaving the teams tied at 57-57.
As the game progressed, it just got better. By the end of the third quarter, both teams were putting on clinics on brilliant basketball. Using screens and hand off and post-ups and drive and kicks to perfection. Tony Parker and Monta Ellis traded off brilliant scoring runs, and Devin Harris' batshit shooting almost held off Manu Ginobli going completely nova from the field.
Almost, though. The Mavericks ended the 3rd quarter down 76-73 after Manu hit several incredibly filthy shots,
The Spurs started rolling, they shook off the dust, and at that point there's just not much you can do. The Mavericks refused to lay down, refused to go quietly into the night, reminding me at times of their valiant effort before their postseason dreams last season finally came to a close.
Early into the 4th, despite the effort, it just didn't look like there was much that the Mavericks could do. The Spurs were hitting 3's that were about as contested as they could be without the Mavs having to leave lanes open to strong drivers. For a while, the Spurs couldn't miss.
Marco Belinelli drilled a three literally on top of Devin Harris to punctuate a comeback attempt from Dirk Nowitzki, and it left everyone wondering if the Spurs could ever be stopped. And maybe they couldn't be. Maybe they can't be.
Really, at that point, all anyone can do is hang their head and wish fate had treated them more kindly.
The Mavs won't do that, though. They don't even lay down for fate.
Slowly, the Mavs weathered the Spurs' storm of ball movement, player movement, and shotmaking, to stay within 7. Finally, at the end of the quarter, with a minute left, the Mavericks tied the game behind a beautiful Tyson Chandler baseline cut, a Chandler Parsons 3-pointer, and a foul on Monta Ellis.
And who better to take the game from there, but Dirk Nowitzki. With 1:20 seconds left, Dirk hit a patented baseline stepback shot to put the Mavs in the lead by 2.
The Spurs, though, the reigning champs of the NBA, would not be denied their ring game satisfaction. Tony Parker hit a 3 from the wing with 48 seconds to go, to make the lead 1 point, 101-100.
After back and forth turnovers, the Mavericks had the last 24 seconds to make a shot and win the game. Devin Harris probed the D, Parsons and Dirk ran a pick and roll, and the ball swung around the entire perimeter of the floor before returning to Chandler Parsons for the go-ahead 3-pointer to win the game.
Chandler, unfortunately, missed.
The Mavericks lost 101-100, but this game was a glowing example of what the 2014-2015 NBA season might be. Beautiful basketball played beautifully. Losing here was no shame. Instead, it was a testament to the greatness of NBA basketball.
Long live the Mavericks, long live the NBA.