But at least Dallas proved it can play against the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise that has dominated its Interstate 35 rival for the last few years. The Mavs managed to build a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining, a minor miracle considering that Dallas led during their four regular-season meetings against the Spurs for a grand total of 10 minutes, 45 seconds.
The Mavs’ success for the first 40-plus minutes Sunday at the AT&T Center doesn’t make their 90-85 loss any easier to swallow, however. If anything, it makes their 10th straight loss to the Spurs feel even more like a kick to the stomach.
“I’m always frustrated after a loss,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who fell far short of his lofty postseason standards with an 11-point, 4-of-14 outing. “Maybe I’ll see the positive tomorrow, but as of today, we had our chance.”
The Mavs couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to end their losing streak to the Spurs and start this series against the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs.
This game was there for the Mavs to take, especially after backup center Brandan Wright’s and-1 layup with 7:45 to go gave Dallas a double-digit lead. Then the Mavs melted down. Or the Spurs flipped the switch, depending on your perspective.
"Harris played terrific," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss.
After starting 1-of-5 from the field, Harris hit seven of his next 11 shots and exploded for a team-high 19 points. His effort alone nearly led to the Mavericks being able to pull off the improbable Game 1 upset over the Spurs.
The Mavericks needed Harris in a big way as Jose Calderon was struggling to start the game. Early on, Calderon showed signs that he might be ineffective in a series against the Spurs as he started 0-of-4 from the field and was subsequently pulled from the game by Carlisle in favor of Harris. The backup guard led the bench as they had a 46-23 bench scoring advantage against the Spurs. With the starters having a lull to start the game, Harris and the bench stepped up.
"Our bench has been big all year long," Harris said. "It's an important part of our team and what makes it so dynamic, so I think we're a big part of this series."
After getting out of the blocks slow, Harris was able to turn things around and delivered the full offensive repertoire against the Spurs. A majority of his efficiency came due to being able to get a quick first step along the perimeter.
SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan scored 27 points, and the San Antonio Spurs held the Dallas Mavericks to one field goal in the final seven minutes to rally for a 90-85 victory Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
The Mavericks also went scoreless for 5 1/2 minutes during that stretch, their lone field goal coming as time expired.
Tony Parker had 21 points, and Manu Ginobili added 17. Kawhi Leonard had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Tiago Splitter pulled down 11 rebounds for top-seeded San Antonio, which has won 10 straight against Dallas.
Devin Harris scored 19 points for the Mavericks, which nearly pulled off a huge upset.
How it happened: The Mavs became a mess after building a double-digit lead.
After Brandan Wright’s and-1 free throw put the Mavs up 10 points with 7:45 remaining, the Spurs locked down defensively, holding Dallas scoreless for the next five minutes, 40 seconds. San Antonio seized the lead for good by scoring 15 points during that span, including seven by future Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan.
Dallas didn’t score again from the floor after Wright’s bucket until Devin Harris’ meaningless layup with one-tenth of a second on the clock.
It was a sensational outing for Duncan, other than a scare when he banged knees with Mavs guard Monta Ellis during the third quarter, sidelining him briefly. Duncan scored a game-high 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ future Hall of Fame power forward, couldn’t come close to matching his longtime foe. Nowitzki never got in a groove, scoring only 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
After a slow start, the Mavs got a big boost from their bench, which scored 46 points. Harris had 13 of his team-high 19 points in the first half.
However, the Spurs got big games from the foundation of their last few championship teams. Tony Parker (21 points, six assists) and Manu Ginobili (17 points) served as sensational complements to Duncan.
What it means: The Spurs took a 1-0 series lead, extending their overall winning streak against the Mavs to 10 games. Dallas still hasn’t won a playoff game since clinching the 2011 championship in Miami.
Play of the game: After Nowitzki missed a wide-open layup, Duncan grabbed the rebound and threw an outlet pass to Parker to spark a one-man fast break. Parker spun past Harris in the lane and finished with a right-handed layup to give the Spurs the lead with 3:25 to go.
Stat of the day: Ellis’ plus-minus was minus-23 in 36 minutes.
Nowitzki and Ellis were each 4-of-14 from the floor and finished with 11 points, which isn't close to being good enough to beat the team that finished with the NBA's best record.
San Antonio 90, Dallas 85.
It's hard to believe the Mavs led 81-71 with 7:45 left after Brandan Wright's dunk and subsequent foul shot following yet another successful pick-and-roll with Harris.
But then they missed 12 consecutive shots, including four by Dirk. The Mavs didn't score another basket until Harris' layup as time expired.
"I thought Dirk had some good looks and there were some that were heavily contested,"Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's a long series. The shot-making is going to be up and down a little bit, even if you're one of the 10 greatest scorers in the history of the game."
That was never more apparent than when Nowitzki snatched an offensive rebound after Ellis missed a jumper with the score tied 81-81. He flipped the ball toward the basket and the 2-foot shot rimmed out with 3:32 left.
Cuban infamously referred to one of San Antonio’s most popular tourist destinations as the “ugly-ass, muddy-watered thing they call a River Walk” during the epic 2006 Western Conference semifinals between the Mavs and Spurs. He’s taken several verbal jabs at San Antonio and the River Walk in the years since then.
But Cuban was lobbing verbal bouquets before Game 1 at the AT&T Center.
“I couldn’t ask for a better view out of my hotel room,” Cuban said, smirking.
Did the water look clean?
“I’m assuming it was pristine,” Cuban said. “It was dark, so it was hard to say, but I saw people with straws.”
Cuban has admittedly enjoyed riling up San Antonio citizens over the years. Asked why he was being so politically correct, Cuban cracked, “Because I’ve come to realize that [the media] gets the greatest benefit out of it.”
Let the games begin.
They made the most of that time, finishing with the best record in the league this season, and their 62-20 mark secured home court throughout the postseason.
As much as the Finals collapse sparked the Spurs to the No. 1 overall seed, there remains just one thing that matters for San Antonio.
"It shows a lot of character on our team, but at the same time, it doesn't mean anything if we don't win the whole thing," Tony Parker said after practice Saturday. "We have home court. We did a good job. But we know it doesn't guarantee anything. We just have to stay focused and we know we have a long way to go."
The championship culture is so prevalent for the Spurs that a local television station was promoting a one-hour playoff preview show entitled "Drive for Five: Unfinished Business" on Saturday, an example of the city's expectation this spring to add to the four titles the team has captured since 1999.
Should Tim Duncan be classified as a power forward or a center?
There is no question that Nowitzki's name appears near the top of any list of all-time great power forwards.
As the two future Hall of Famers prepare to face each other in a playoff series for the sixth time, let’s take a look at how they stack up against each other statistically.
Games: Duncan 1,254; Nowitzki 1,188
Points: Nowitzki 26,786; Duncan 24,904
Points per game: Nowitzki 22.5; Duncan 19.9
Rebounds: Duncan 13,940; Nowitzki 9,594
Rebounds per game: Duncan 11.1; Nowitzki 8.1
Assists: Duncan 3,832; Nowitzki 3,139
Assists per game: Duncan 3.1; Nowitzki 2.6
Blocks: Duncan 2,715; Nowitzki 1,095
Blocks per game: Duncan 2.2; Nowitzki 0.9
Steals: Nowitzki 1,037; Duncan 915
Steals per game: Nowitzki 0.9; Duncan 0.7
Field goal percentage: Duncan 50.6; Nowitzki 47.6
3-point percentage: Nowitzki 38.3; Duncan 17.6
Games: Duncan 211; Nowitzki 128
Titles: Duncan 4; Nowitzki 1
NBA Finals appearances: Duncan 5; Nowitzki 2
Points: Duncan 4,614; Nowitzki 3,321
Points per game: Nowitzki 25.9; Duncan 21.9
Rebounds: Duncan 2,522; Nowitzki 1,314
Rebounds per game: Duncan 12.0; Nowitzki 10.3
Assists: Duncan 682; Nowitzki 329
Assists per game: Duncan 3.2; Nowitzki 2.6
Blocks: Duncan 516; Nowitzki 118
Blocks per game: Duncan 2.4; Nowitzki 0.9
Steals: Duncan 150; Nowitzki 139
Steals per game: Nowitzki 1.1; Duncan 0.7
Field goal percentage: Duncan 49.9; Nowitzki 46.3
3-point percentage: Nowitzki 38.0; Duncan 15.6
Games: Nowitzki 80; Duncan 74
Minutes per game: Nowitzki 32.9; Duncan 29.2
Points per game: Nowitzki 21.7; Duncan 15.1
Rebounds per game: Duncan 9.7; Nowitzki 6.2
Assists per game: Duncan 3.0; Nowitzki 2.7
Blocks per game: Duncan 1.9; Nowitzki 0.6
Steals per game: Nowitzki 0.9; Duncan 0.6
Field goal percentage: Nowitzki 49.7; Duncan 49.0
3-point percentage: Nowitzki 39.8; Duncan 0.0
All-Star appearances: Duncan 14; Nowitzki 12
MVP: Duncan 2; Nowitzki 1
Finals MVP: Duncan 3; Nowitzki 1
Rookie of the year: Duncan 1; Nowitzki 0
All-Defensive team: Duncan 14 (eight first team); Nowitzki 0
All-NBA: Duncan 14 (10 first team); Nowitzki 12 (four first team)
Player of the week: Duncan 22; Nowitzki 16
Player of the month: Nowitzki 6; Duncan 3
Regular season head-to-head
Points per game: Duncan 21.6; Nowitzki 21.3
Rebounds per game: Duncan 11.3; Nowitzki 8.3
Assists per game: Duncan 3.0; Nowitzki 2.4
Blocks per game: Duncan 1.8; Nowitzki 1.0
Steals per game: Nowitzki 0.8; Duncan 0.6
Field-goal percentage: Duncan 51.3; Nowitzki 45.6
3-point percentage: Duncan 40.0; Nowitzki 37.5
Wins: Duncan 31; Nowitzki 21
Points per game: Duncan 26.0; Nowitzki 24.5
Rebounds per game: Duncan 12.3; Nowitzki 10.1
Assists per game: Duncan 3.6; Nowitzki 2.3
Blocks per game: Duncan 1.9; Nowitzki 0.6
Steals per game: Nowitzki 1.3; Duncan 0.8
Field-goal percentage: Duncan 53.9; Nowitzki 49.8
3-point percentage: Nowitzki 22.9; Duncan 0.0
Wins: Duncan 14; Nowitzki 12
The Dallas Mavericks meeting the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs means we get the treat of watching living legends Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan compete against each other.
They don't necessarily match up against each other most of the time when the Mavs and Spurs play, but this is a historic occasion that should be appreciated by basketball fans around the world, not just up and down Interstate 35.
"It’s a showcase for two of the 12 greatest players of all time," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Both of those guys have been more than 10-time All-Stars, league MVP and Finals MVP. There’s only a dozen guys that have done that and you got two of them. They still play like they’re in their prime, both those guys.
"So this is a treat for people who appreciate NBA basketball and the history of the game. You got two guys whose love and respect for the game is so high and their work ethic and standards are so high that they’ve kept it going in their mid-30s as well as anybody I’ve ever seen."
This will make a half-dozen times Dirk Nowitzki has seen the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. He’s felt some agony and some ecstasy in the previous five series against the Mavericks’ Interstate 35 rival, a four-time title-winning franchise that served as a roadblock on Dallas’ route through the West for years.
They are unforgettable highs and lows from those series from the Spurs, memories that are engrained in the minds of Mavs fans, as well as the face of the franchise.
This is how Nowitzki remembers those Mavs-Spurs series, as shared with ESPNDallas.com a day before he departs to start another series in San Antonio:
Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Spurs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 23.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 44.6 FG%
Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “We had no chance.
“We had just beaten Utah in the first round after being down 0-2. I remember when [Karl] Malone missed that last shot in Game 5, we were running around on the court like we won the championship. I mean, it was insane. I was lapping around the arena like twice. It was insane. So just for us to beat those guys, that’s how much respect we had for Utah and Malone and [John] Stockton.
“We lost the first two down there. I remember we went straight from Utah to San Antonio for the first one. It was pretty much over with. The second one, we were kind of around, but not really. And if you want to make a series of it, you’ve got to win Game 3. I remember I was sick. I had food poisoning that game, and then we’re down 0-3. That was basically it.
“We played hard in Game 4 and were able to steal one. The game we stole here, I came back in [after getting a tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow] and we won the game. Then in Game 5, they were just so good defensively. Whatever we tried, they had counters. They were long in there with those two 7-footers. I mean, they were good.”
Series: West finals
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 25.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 43.1 FG% in three games
Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “I remember we stole Game 1, which was amazing. We were 49-of-50 from the free throw line. That was an amazing, amazing game for us. Game 2, we lost and then here in Game 3 is a big game. Obviously, you want to hold home court, and that’s the game I got hurt.
“But looking back on my career now, it probably was the right decision. Nellie didn’t want me to play. I was young at the time. At this stage of my career, it probably would have made sense to play. I’m old, but then, even I felt it sometimes getting up in timeouts and stuff. It just wasn’t right, just didn’t feel right. Probably looking back on it now, it was the right decision, but it was tough.
“We go down there [for Game 5] and we’re thinking they might close us out. We steal that game. It’s 3-2 and we have a chance here to force Game 7. We were up  in the fourth.
“Nellie played small ball. We played Walt Williams at the 4 and just spread it out and let Nick [Van Exel] and Steve [Nash] drive, and it worked great. Then they subbed in Steve Kerr and he made like three or four 3s in that fourth quarter. They came back, and that was that.
“I don’t know, I might have tried to play in Game 7. You never know, but that was disappointing.”
Series: West semifinals
Outcome: Mavs in seven
Nowitzki’s numbers: 27.1 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 52.7 FG%
Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Maybe the best over the course of seven games, the best series I’ve had in my career.
“Just felt locked in, felt in my prime and felt whatever coverage they’re doing, I can score on it. That’s how confident I was. What a great series.
“We win both home games here and went up 3-1, but that’s just how good they are. They just keep coming. They win down there and it’s 3-2. We try to close out here, and they just keep coming. They make it 3-3. Jet [Jason Terry] was suspended for one of those games for a little [groin] clip, so that was tough.
“I always remember Jet leaving Ginobili on the wing when Duncan was posting up on me, and he pulled the trigger. I looked when it was in the air -- boom! Bottoms! The place went absolutely nuts.
“Down three and I remember we had [32.9 seconds left], and I was thinking we were kind of in a similar situation in Game 6. We were down three and I shot a bad 3. I was thinking to myself and Avery even said it: ‘In this situation, don’t hoist a bad 3. Make sure you get to the basket. Anything can happen.’
“So I just spun and put my head down on [Bruce] Bowen and said, ‘I’m going to lay this in.’ We can foul again and at least extend the game. And Ginobili just left [Jerry Stackhouse] in the corner and came over and wanted to block it. I was able to kind of luckily muscle it over a little bit. It hit the rim and bounced in. That was probably one of the biggest plays of my career. Made the free throw.
“I don’t think I scored again in overtime. [He actually hit two free throws to put the Mavs up eight with 9.9 seconds left, giving him 37 points for the game.] The boys were great. We subbed in Gana [Diop] and he made some big stops on Duncan. He had one or two big offensive rebounds. Stack made two pull-ups, I remember.
“Yeah, that was a fun game, fun series for me. I mean, to win a Game 7 in that building is about as sweet as it gets for me.”
Series: West first round
Outcome: Mavs in five
Nowitzki’s numbers: 19.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .493 FG%
Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “Ginobili was hurt and they really never had enough weapons to beat us that year. I don’t think they had enough weapons without him.
“We tried to take Duncan and [Tony] Parker out as much as we could, and it worked really well. With them without Ginobili, it made it a little easier.”
Series: West first round
Outcome: Spurs in six
Nowitzki’s numbers: 26.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 54.7 FG%
Down Memory Lane with Dirk: “It was a little messed up, because we’d just traded for Caron [Butler] and DeShawn [Stevenson] and [Brendan] Haywood and we were actually the No. 2 seed. They played without Ginobili most of the season, and right at the right time he gets healthy. They’re the 7 seed, we’re the 2 seed.
“That’s obviously a tough matchup for any 2 seed, to run into the Spurs healthy at the right time.
“We made some mistakes, but they were good. They were healthy at the right time.
“We wanted to win and force it here and at least force it to a Game 7. I remember we were so good on the road after we traded for these guys, and we just needed to win one road game. We lost all three games down there and that ultimately sealed it. They stole Game 2 up here and we figured we’ve got three chances to steal a game down there, because we’re pretty good on the road. They won all three down there, and that’s what ultimately lost us that series.”
That’s a fact the Mavs are trying to forget.
Shawn Marion said. “Don’t nobody have a victory in the postseason yet. So that’s our objective: Go out there and win the first game.”
Marion, the Mavs’ stopper, went into shutdown defense mode when the media attempted to delve into the specific challenges presented by a San Antonio squad that had the NBA’s best regular-season record.
“All I know is we play Sunday at 12 o’clock,” Marion said. “Y’all going to be there? Sounds good to me. I’m not saying nothing else. It’s a new season. That’s all that really matters. And we’re ready.”
There’s no denying that the Spurs have dominated Dallas recently, rolling to those nine straight wins by an average margin of almost 15 points. But there’s no point in the Mavs dwelling on just how slim their odds seem to be of winning this series.
Jose Calderon vs. Tony Parker: This is the biggest mismatch of the series. Calderon, a subpar defender, struggles to guard a lot of point guards. He really gets exploited by Parker, who averaged 23.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting in three games against the Mavs this season. That was Parker's highest scoring average against any team he faced more than once this season. Parker loves pushing the pace and running pick-and-rolls, both of which present major problems for Calderon, whose plus-minus was minus-40 in the Mavs' four losses to the Spurs, including minus-25 in 86 minutes with Parker on the floor. If Calderon isn't lighting it up from long range, coach Rick Carlisle should seriously consider giving Devin Harris a bigger share of the minutes.
Monta Ellis vs. Danny Green: On paper, this is the Mavs' best matchup. It hasn't worked out that way on the floor, however. Green is a lethal 3-point shooter who has especially lit it up against the Mavs, going 12-of-20 from long distance against Dallas this season. The numbers indicate he has also done a good job defending Ellis, who has shot only 38.9 percent from the field when Green is in the game. The Mavs have been outscored by 60 points in the 81 minutes in which Ellis and Green have both been on the court. The Mavs probably wouldn't be in the playoffs without Ellis, a better fit than the Dallas front office believed even when they signed him to a three-year, $25 million deal. They'll need a huge series from Ellis -- who seems to thrive under pressure -- to have a chance to pull off a stunning upset over the Spurs.
Shawn Marion vs. Kawhi Leonard: Leonard looks a lot like a young Marion -- a freakish, 6-foot-7 athlete who is a versatile defender and efficient offensive weapon. That's an awfully tough matchup for the 35-year-old version of "The Matrix." Leonard gets overshadowed by the Spurs' living legends on the roster, but he's a 22-year-old rising star. His all-around skills were on full display during the Spurs' recent trip to Dallas, on which Leonard stuffed the box score for 16 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. By comparison, Marion had a total of 21 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in three games against San Antonio this season.
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Tim Duncan: The two all-time greats don't actually match up with each other much these days, but it will be a treat to watch a pair of surefire Hall of Famers compete in a playoff series for the sixth time in their careers. The 37-year-old Duncan's numbers have dipped in recent seasons, but that's primarily because the priority for him is being as fresh as possible for the playoffs. He's still a dominant defensive presence and capable of putting up a 20-point, 15-rebound line, the way he did in the Spurs' last win over the Mavs. Nowitzki, an All-Star again this season after a one-year, injury-related hiatus, remains one of the most distinct and effective offensive threats in the league. However, Nowitzki has averaged only 15.4 points against the Spurs in the past three seasons, during which San Antonio has won 10 of 12 meetings.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett at Mavericks media day to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
Play Podcast Mark Cuban joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Mavericks' new GM Gersson Rosas and much more.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.