Friday April 30th, 2010

For the third time in four years the Mavericks were knocked out in the first round, this time at the expense of a volatile 97-87 Game 6 loss Thursday at San Antonio to the underdog Spurs.

Another strong start. The team with the first-quarter lead won every game in this opening round, and the Spurs again throttled Dallas by seizing a 9-2 lead. They were up 22-8 after holding the Mavs to 22.2 percent shooting (4 of 18) with five turnovers, and they boosted their advantage to 22 points in the second quarter. This was a signature Spurs series: They exerted themselves defensively to stake a 3-1 lead in the series, then appeared to relax during a Game 5 blowout loss Tuesday at Dallas, and ultimately approached this Game 6 as if it were a Game 7. Never mind the Spurs' unimpressive No. 7 seed: The champion Lakers (who are dealing with their own problems at the moment) are now surely viewing San Antonio as their main rival in the West.

• The Mavs' rookie surprise. Rodrigue Beaubois had totaled five points in 10 minutes throughout the series before coach Rick Carlisle -- having run out of other options -- sent him in to replace Jason Terry with the Mavericks trailing 35-16 midway through the second quarter. Beaubois generated seven points in the final three minutes of the half to bring Dallas within a manageable 47-34 at intermission, and he finished with 16 points in 21 minutes overall as the Mavs outscored San Antonio by 10 while he was on the floor. But he would return to the bench for the opening nine minutes of the fourth quarter as Carlisle went with Terry, who would finish 1-of-7 for 2 points in his 20 minutes. When Beaubois came back he lost his dribble and then committed a foul trying to recover the ball, which Manu Ginobili turned into a clinching pair of free throws for a 93-85 advantage with 42.5 seconds left. If nothing else, the Mavs were reminded that 6-foot Beaubois has the potential as an explosive driver and deep shooter to become a star.

Nowitzki's frustration. After senselessly committing his third and fourth fouls while reaching in against George Hill, Nowitzki was forced to the bench with 4:49 left in the half and his Mavericks on the verge of trailing 41-19. He appeared highly agitated throughout the opening periods, but he narrowed his emotions to come out hot for the second half with a 5-for-7 third quarter worth 15 points. By that quarter's eighth minute he was draining a three to give Dallas the lead at 57-56.

Though Nowitzki would score 25 in the second half and finish with a game-best 33 overall on 21 shots, Antonio McDyess -- in his role as a longer Bruce Bowen -- would prevent him from breaking open the game down the stretch. Twice in the last four years Nowitzki's Mavs have been upset in the opening round as a Nos. 1 or 2 seed. After the game the 31-year-old Nowitzki was too disappointed to discuss whether he may opt out of his remaining year with Dallas (worth $21.5 million next season) to become a free agent, though Carlisle predicted Nowitzki will return.

George Hill redux. The second-year point guard had another impressive game with 21 points on 12 shots to go with six rebounds. He scored 17 in the second half to hold off Dallas, and finished off the Mavs with a 4-for-4 fourth quarter worth 10 points. Richard Jefferson played in important role in this series, but it's safe to say that the scoring boost that was anticipated from Jefferson has been provided instead by Hill.

The Spurs' one regret. They ranked No. 24 in free throw shooting this season (74.0%) and their failures at the foul line (19 of 31) kept Dallas within range until the final minute. While Ginobili and Hill were reliable at the line, Duncan was a horrid 1 for 7 and on such nights in future rounds he may yet be faced with an ironic tactic -- the hack-a-Tim.

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