Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/17/12
DALLAS It was natural for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to be forced to endure questions about Dirk Nowitzki, the backbone of a Dallas Mavericks team that on Saturday was missing three starters and still beat the Southwest Division-leading Spurs won 106-99. "Dirk gets a lot of points no matter who's guarding him,'' Popovich said. "He's an MVP and Hall of Fame player. Dirk is Dirk.'' But then Popovich dug deeper into the makeup of the defending champs, a team enduring some change that have manifested themselves in what Jason Terry labels "a little turmoil.'' "Dirk is Dirk. But I think Jason Kidd had a good game, I think (Roddy) Beaubois had a good game, Vince Carter had a good game, I thought Ian Mahinmi was good," Popovich said. The Spurs coach could've continued rattling off Mavericks names. Dallas, who was missing forward Shawn Marion (a bad knee caused him to miss his first start of the season) along with Delonte West and Brendan Haywood, won its third straight game in a fashion familiar to those who paid attention to the club's championship run from a year ago. Dirk is Dirk But he cannot do it alone. And while the been-theredone-that Mavericks have not displayed that on a nightly basis heck, during a grueling recent cluster of games Dallas made its fate more grueling by losing to each of the four cellar-dwellers in the West they do seem to understand the consequences of "playoff-atmosphere'' games. "It was a playoff battle,'' said Nowitzki, who scored a game-high 27 points against the Mavs' long-time arch-rivals. "Anytime we see the Spurs it's a fun game, great atmosphere, both teams really trying to get the win. I thought as a team, we always made the right play, find the open guy. That was definitely big." Those "right plays'' and "open guys'' permitted Dallas to start relentlessly, to avoid shifting into cruise control and to lead from the opening tip to the final whistle. When San Antonio battled its way back into it, drawing within five in the final quarter -- or at any other time, for that matter -- the Mavericks responded. Whether it was Jason Terry or Vince Carter drilling back-to-back late daggers from behind the arc, Kidd putting up his first double-double of the season (14 points, 10 assists), Mahinmi hustling and making himself felt in the paint, Brian Cardinal contributing, Brandan Wright not allowing himself to be buried by the much stronger Tim Duncan, the dynamic play of Beaubois and even the fully-engaged Lamar Odom...the Mavericks countered every punch thrown their way. Like the veteran playoff team they are. Seven different Mavericks scored in the final period, only Odom and Cardinal did not. Nowitzki may have carried the brunt of the load for most of the night, but when the final curtain waited to fall, it was an entire team that took the stage. Terry (17 points) and Beaubois (16) added backcourt electricity that San Antonio couldn't match. "He kind of controlled Tony Parker," Terry said of Beaubois. "He was pretty darned good." The Spurs were coming off a 114-105 win at Oklahoma City on Friday and despite that got solid work from Tim Duncan and Danny Green (17 points each). But the Spurs had problems from the free-throw line and as has been the case for so much of Nowitzki's career, had problems trying to invent a formula to contain him. That was true from a pure scoring perspective (Nowitzki scored the last 12 points of the first half for Dallas), but it was also true from a physical perspective. Nowitzki won a few wrestling matches with Manu Ginobili and didn't back down from old nemesis Stephen Jackson (re-acquired in trade by the Spurs on Thursday) and his attempts to "punk'' Nowitzki. "(Dirk) probably doesn't get enough credit for being the competitor that he is, and for being so tough-minded," teammate Lamar Odom said. "There's nothing soft about Dirk. He's tough." The same can be said of a Mavericks team playing short-handed, dealing with the eccentricities of Terry and Odom, and enduring the Spurs' singular advantage, as San Antonio outscored Dallas 50-to-26 in the paint. But in every other way, the defending champs looked ready to begin an elevation in the West standings in this game in particular using a smaller lineup and still managing to outworked San Antonio on the glass in dominating fashion, out-rebounding the Spurs 48-35 and working to triple their second-chance points (12-to-4). "The rebounding is a big stat when you play these guys,'' said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who then, not coincidentally, mirrored Popovich's way of rattling off Mavericks' names. "Second-chance points was the difference in the game, and it was an emphasis for us. The good thing was we had a lot of guys who had three or more rebounds; Carter had six, Kidd had five, Terry had three, Odom got three, Brandon (Wright) had a big night. '' In other words, Dirk is Dirk But he cannot do it alone. And in this playoff-flavor game, despite his stellar level of play, he didn't have to.
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