By Jeff McDonald
The first sign something had gone awry came when Matt Bonner — not typically a point guard nor a ball-handler — dribbled away about 12 seconds of the shot clock before finding himself trapped between a pair of 7-footers in Dallas blue.
Bailed out by a timeout with 4.8 seconds left on the shot clock, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich drew up a play that almost certainly didn’t include Richard Jefferson milking about 4.4 of those seconds before hot-potatoing the ball to backup point guard T.J. Ford about 5 feet behind the 3-point stripe.
After his Hail Mary found the bottom of the net, one of 11 3-pointers the Spurs would make in the first half of Thursday’s 93-71 rout of the defending NBA champion Mavericks, Ford offered the only reaction that seemed appropriate.
“I didn’t give a you-know-what,” Ford said. “I just threw it up there, and it went in.”
That was the first half in a nutshell for the Spurs, who used a red-hot opening to their first 5-0 start at the ATT Center since 2007-08.
Gary Neal earned his second career start in place of injured All-Star guard Manu Ginobili and set the tone early, burying a pair of 3-pointers in the game’s first 89 seconds.
By halftime, the Spurs had hit 11 of 18 from beyond the arc, equaling both the number of total field goals Dallas had made and turnovers the Mavs had committed.
At that point, the Spurs had outscored the Mavs from 3-point range by a startling margin of 33-0. Bonner had outscored Dallas’ starting five 11-8. Not surprisingly, the Spurs led convincingly at half, 55-29.
“It’s always like that,” said Bonner, who made five 3-pointers en route to 17 points, out? scoring Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki combined. “Misses are contagious, and makes are contagious.”
In the second half, an epidemic case of clank-itis broke out at the ATT Center.
With Dallas (3-5) playing its fourth game in five nights, and the Spurs (5-2) playing their third in four, the final two quarters were played on fumes. The third quarter, in which the teams combined to miss 33 of 41 shots, was lockout ball at its not-so-finest.
The Spurs scored just 11 points in the frame, yet saw their halftime lead of 26 shaved by just two points heading into the fourth.
“Neither team was very sharp,” said Popovich, whose team finished 16 of 33 from 3-point range. “We’re thrilled to have the win. We’re not going to give it away.”
Nowitzki, who came in averaging better than 22 points, struggled through a 3-for-11 night on his way to six points. For the reigning Finals MVP, it was the worst scoring night since Dec. 18, 2009 when he notched six points in 10 minutes in a loss to Houston, a game Nowitzki left early after a collision with the Rockets’ Carl Landry.
“You didn’t see the real Dirk tonight, that’s for sure,” Popovich said.
The list of Spurs who outscored Nowitzki included Jefferson (16 points, seven rebounds), Neal (12 points), Tony Parker (11 points, eight assists), Danny Green (eight) and Ford (seven).
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle refused to let the rugged schedule take all the blame for the dinosaur egg the Mavs laid.
“San Antonio’s energy was better to start the game,” said Carlisle, whose team made just 1 of 19 3-pointers. “We struggled, but their competitive level was higher and that was the difference in the game.”
And sometimes, as Ford proved with a prayer and a shrug early in the second quarter, the difference is in catching a team on the right night.
Ford’s clock-beating bomb, which inflated a 14-point lead to 17, was his only field goal until the fourth quarter.
“That was nothing that you can practice,” Ford said. “Just great timing.”
In a lockout-compressed season like this one, sometimes timing is everything.