GAME 5: Mavs 103, Spurs 81. My Top 10 Observations.
10. Welcome to the playoffs, Tuff Juice. Caron Butler set the tone last night at the raucous American Airlines Center. 35 points and 11 rebounds were nice. But it was his aggression - and 0 turnovers - that punched the Spurs in the face.
9. Game 6 is Thursday night in San Antonio. Though the Mavs are a dreadful 2-15 in playoff road games since 2006, remember that both wins came at the AT&T Center. Furthermore, Dallas held leads this series of 9 points in Game 3 and 15 points in Game 4 before losing by 4 and 3. This, my friends, is doable. One more thing: The Mavs won 27 road games this season, most in the Western Conference.
8. During his pre-game StairMaster routine, Mavs owner Mark Cuban said none of his season evaluations would be solely based on this series. "Or the next series," he added with a more than a hint of optimism.
7. Rag on Dirk Nowitzki all you want and keep pounding your chest and telling me how Deeee-Wade can "put a team on his back" and "refuses to lose." But, um, Wade's Miami Heat lost again last night. Done. Since - admittedly - whipping Dallas for the title in '06, Wade hasn't gotten out of the first round. Over. Rated.
6. I feel bad for Manu Ginobli. Since breaking his nose he's ... Scratch that, screw him. No sympathy at all.
5. Can't remember the last time the Mavs won a playoff game in which Dirk had a pedestrian 15 points. Oh yeah, it actually happened in last year's closeout win over the Spurs when he scored 12. Another benefit to playing up-tempo: Nowitzki didn't endure a night of San Antonio's double-team mugging defense.
4. In the last two games Spurs' star Tim Duncan is a combined 4 of 18 shooting. Sssssh. Don't wake him up.
3. Been saying since Game 4 that for the Mavs to be better they had to play faster. Ta-da! Last night you could count on one hand how many times Jason Kidd walked the ball across half-court. Result: The Spurs were flustered, like an old 33-speed LP played on a 45-speed turntable. Dallas had 23 fast-break points - its most of the series - through three quarters. Simple: Mavs get to 100, they win.
2. I've been tough on Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in this series, but Wednesday night he made the right moves. Benching Erick Dampier. Starting Brendan Haywood. Playing Eduardo Najera. Cattle-prodding the pace. Four thumbs up. By the way, Najera is dirty and ugly and ... absolutely necessary.
1. Not if - but when - the Mavs win Game 6 Thursday night and then Game 7 at home on Saturday, I don't want to hear this whole "nobody believed in us except the guys in this locker room." B.S. Some of us believed even down 3-1. Some of us now fully expect Mavs in 7.
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