Commentary

Ex-Wizards cast winning spell for Mavs

Butler, Haywood put it all together to keep Spurs from making season disappear

Updated: April 28, 2010, 12:48 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has delivered messages to the boys from Washington through playing time. Brendan Haywood lost his starting job down the stretch of the regular season, and Caron Butler suffered the ignominy of being benched the entire second half of a playoff game.

In Tuesday's do-or-die Game 5, both delivered resounding messages of their own with their best performances as Mavericks. Butler, who has been getting ripped in the local press -- and even by a Wizards blogger back in the District -- came out gunning and set a career playoff high with 35 points, plus 11 rebounds, that allowed the Mavericks to stave off first-round elimination by beating the San Antonio Spurs, 103-81, at American Airlines Center.

Butler left to a standing ovation with 6:09 to play and the Mavs blowing up the Spurs by 25. After Butler sat down, Mavs owner Mark Cuban jumped up from his baseline seat and hustled over to the Mavs' video board operator and ordered him to play the hilarious, in-house-produced Old Spice spoof starring none other than Butler.

Caron Butler
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesCaron Butler didn't stay quiet in Game 5, scoring 35 points. "I was talking to myself, I was talking to my teammates, just trying to stay aggressive and keep myself going," he said.

As for Brendan "I just work here" Haywood, his reinsertion into the starting lineup obviously got his head fully engaged for 48 minutes of survival. His four blocked shots, one being a stuff of a suddenly struggling Tim Duncan, and helped the Mavs kick their offense into free-flowing, Jason Kidd-friendly transition mode. Combined with Haywood's six offensive rebounds and strong put-backs, Dallas owned the paint for the first time in this series.

Afterward, Haywood, who finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two assists, had a message for Carlisle heading into Thursday's Game 6 in San Antonio.

"No disrespect to anybody, but if you're talking about getting out and running early in the game, unless you're starting Eduardo Najera, you got to start me because I'm the more mobile of the two of us," said Haywood, referring to Erick Dampier, who not only didn't start in Game 5, but didn't play. "That's just one of the things that I think helps me and I think it helps the team."

Butler was sending himself messages throughout Game 5, talking out loud to remind himself to stay aggressive, think quickly and attack. He's acknowledged problems against the Spurs' sharp defensive rotations. He's been tentative, unsure whether to drive or shoot or neither, and in that split second of hesitation, his opportunity gets swallowed up.

It was why he was dangling at 38 percent shooting from the floor for the series and why he found himself benched for the final 24 minutes of Game 3. He played better in Game 4, and his dynamic performance Tuesday -- in which he scored 19 points by halftime, got to the free throw line nine times, drained 3-of-8 from downtown and overall shot an efficient 12-of-24 -- gave the Spurs more to think about.

"I was talking to myself, I was talking to my teammates, just trying to stay aggressive and keep myself going," Butler said. "I play my best basketball when I'm angry, so I just tried to keep myself going and, you know, our back is against the wall, if not through the wall. So when you're backed into a corner you've got to claw and kick and do everything you possibly can, and that's what we did tonight."

Butler and Haywood combined for nine steals and blocks as the Spurs coughed it up 18 times, reminiscent of Game 1 when the Mavs were quick to cut off paths to the basket and disrupted bounce passes and dump-offs in the lane, leading to 17 Spurs turnovers.

And it was Butler who set the tone for a triumphant third quarter that had all the makings for a second consecutive third-period meltdown. The Mavs led by as many as 17 in the first half, but the Spurs closed it out on an 11-2 run and trailed just 53-46 at halftime, which sent a nervous twinge throughout the AAC.

Butler took the Mavs' first possession off a Shawn Marion steal to the basket and got fouled. He picked off Manu Ginobili's pass and Kidd repaid Butler with a pass for a layup. A couple of possessions later, Dirk Nowitzki darted a pass to Butler for a 3-pointer for a 13-3 run and a 66-49 lead.

"He really is one of our tough guys," Carlisle said. "I was really, really thrilled to see him have a game like that. He is just a great guy. You just love to see a guy like that succeed and have that kind of night because since he has come here he has just been a great pro and a guy that is really into winning."

Within the next two minutes, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had removed Duncan and Ginobili and raised the white flag.

Afterward, Nowitzki, who enjoyed a rare night when a reserved stat line -- 15 points, nine rebounds -- resulted in a victory, said he told Butler after his Game 3 benching to trust himself and play his game.

"He's obviously a pro and a veteran and he's seen a lot in this league and he knows how to play," Nowitzki said. "We need him to attack. That's basically what I told him: 'We need you to be aggressive at all times and we want you to shoot the ball and be a scorer for us'. He knows what he has to do."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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