SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs already were struggling with the Dallas Mavericks when Hall of Fame-bound forward Tim Duncan limped off the court in the third quarter with a bad knee.
But Duncan, after resting for several minutes, returned to the game, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter as the Spurs defeated the Mavericks 90-85 Sunday afternoon in the opening game of their Western Conference playoffs series.
San Antonio used a 15-0 push to erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and gained its 10th straight win against Dallas.
The Mavs missed 12 straight shots down the stretch, scoring just four points — two on free throws — during the final 7:45.
“They missed some easy shots; we played some good defense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Duncan finished with 27 points. He left the game with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter after a knee-to-knee collision with Dallas guard Monta Ellis. The Spurs trailed by two at the time.
For Duncan, it was the left knee, the one that was surgically repaired in 2000.
Even so, Duncan said he knew the issue with his knee was not serious.
“My leg just kind of went numb,” Duncan said. “I knew I needed a couple of minutes for the feeling to come back.”
He returned with 9:26 left in the game. The 6-foot-11 Duncan found room to maneuver around the basket because Dallas was concerned with guarding the 3-point line. The Spurs had made 42 3-point baskets while sweeping four games from the Mavs during the regular season. On Sunday the Spurs hit just three of 17 3-pointers.
“We got killed on threes the first four outings this year,” Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “There was no secret that we stayed a little more home on the 3-point shooters (Sunday). You have to give them something.”
Guard Tony Parker contributed 21 points and six assists for San Antonio. Guard Manu Ginobili scored 17. Forward Kawhi Leonard produced 11 points and 10 rebounds. Center Tiago Splitter grabbed 11 rebounds.
Reserve guard Devin Harris led Dallas with 19 points. Nowitzki scored only 11, missing 10 of 14 shots, largely while guarded by Splitter or Boris Diaw. He went two for six in the fourth quarter. Nowitzki and his teammates missed several makeable shots.
“We had some uncharacteristic misses right at the rim,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
Nowitzki acknowledged that some of the shots he missed were not difficult. But he also said the Spurs are smart defensively.
“What they want to do is take you out of your comfort zone,” Nowitzki said. “If you like one move, they won’t let you get that one move.”
Dallas led 44-43 at halftime after falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter.
The Mavericks missed seven of their first eight shots. They were down 21-9 late in the quarter, but then Harris responded with a 3-pointer, the last basket of the period for either team. That started a 15-0 Mavericks push, the final 12 of which came in the second quarter.
Harris started a spurt in which 24 straight Dallas points were scored by a reserve. He finished the half with 13 points.
Parker led San Antonio with 17 points in the half. All seven of his baskets were driving shots inside.
Dallas limited Parker to six shots and two baskets in the second half.
“They played great defense,” Parker said.
In the end, it was not enough.
“We gave ourselves a good chance to win this game,” Dallas forward Shawn Marion said. “When you hold a team under 90 points, you’re supposed to win.”
NOTES: The San Antonio Spurs began the season as the NBA’s sixth oldest team, with an average age of 28.3 years. The Spurs’ so-called Big Three — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — average nearly 35 years. But coach Gregg Popovich was so careful about managing playing time that nobody averaged 30 minutes a game, a first for any team since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. … Dallas finished the regular season with a huge disparity in offensive and defensive efficiency. The Mavericks rank second on offense and 22nd on defense, according to ESPN. The Spurs had better balance, rating sixth in offense and fourth on defense. … Craig Sager Jr. filled in for his father, Craig, interviewing Popovich after the third quarter. The elder Sager is receiving treatment for leukemia. … San Antonio F/C Aron Baynes, who played in 53 games, starting four, this season, was inactive Sunday. The Spurs have 14 players for 13 spots. … Dallas guards Ricky Ledo and Gal Mekel were inactive.
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