SAN ANTONIO -- Devin Harris drove the lane for the umpteenth time early in the third quarter when Manu Ginobili leaned in underneath him and caught an elbow to the mouth.
Dallas stars: Harris and Howard
Ginobili was called for a blocking foul, but as he arose blood flowed from his lower lip after one of his top teeth pierced it.
The foul call seemed to be the correct one, yet the crowd let out a ferocious chant of "Javie Sucks," directing their scorn at one of the league's most quick-triggered officials as trainers tended to Ginobili in a futile effort to stop the bleeding.
"Ever heard a chant like that before?" I asked a friendly face on the scorer's table.
"No, but I've only been here for 35 years," the man replied, going on to explain how referee Steve Javie and the locals have a bit of a contentious history dating back to the days of David Robinson, and how Javie -- in this man's estimation -- might have called half the technicals against Robinson that the Admiral received in his entire career.
The Javie chant was stunning, too, because the fans in San Antonio are generally a conservative bunch. This is a military town, and disrespect for authority figures is usually verboten. But the Spurs' fans needed an outlet for their frustrations, and Javie was a convenient target after he whistled four technical fouls in the first 16 1/2 minutes as the Mavericks were slowly turning the game into a rout.
But this Game 2 mismatch was not about Javie.
It was about Harris and Josh Howard, and the difficulties they presented to the San Antonio Spurs in the Mavs' 113-91 victory Tuesday night that evened their Western Conference semifinal series at 1-1. Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 ET.
"Their aggressiveness was fantastic. Both guys have speed and quickness," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Josh really took it to us in the first half, and Devin made penetration tough for us. He's done it to us before."
Howard had 27 points and nine rebounds, and Harris replaced Adrian Griffin in the starting lineup and scored 20 points as Mavs coach Avery Johnson went with a quicker backcourt to attack the hobbled Tony Parker and Ginobili.
"That game was played pretty much in our style, a little better pace -- and a lot of that had to do with Devin being out there," Johnson said. "They've got guys on the perimeter that you've got to try to make play some defense."
So if Game 1 was all about the Mavs' inability to stop Tim Duncan in single-coverage, Game 2 was all about the Spurs' inability to stop Harris and backcourt partner Jason Terry from dictating the style of play. Both were too quick to be contained by Parker and/or Ginobili, and the Spurs backcourt reserves -- Nick Van Exel, Beno Udrih and Michael Finley -- are even worse off when it comes to keeping up with speedsters.
A turning point came early in the second quarter, which began with the Mavs ahead by just four points. A driving layup by Harris around Van Exel made it an eight-point game, and a 3 by Jerry Stackhouse off a feed from Harris made it 35-26. Van Exel then drew Harris off his feet with a pump fake from behind the 3-point line, and Harris came down on him as Van Exel released the shot. No call was made, however, and Van Exel was ejected 18 seconds later for complaining. Dallas' lead hit double figures eight seconds later, and the Mavs were up by 20 by halftime behind 18 from Howard and eight points from Harris.
When the Mavericks are lauded for their depth, it's players like Harris and Howard that people are speaking about. It's particularly tough for the Spurs to watch Howard beat them, because they had a chance to grab him with the 28th pick of the 2003 draft. But they traded the pick to Phoenix instead, trying to clear a little extra cap space to make a run at free agent Jason Kidd, and the Mavericks selected Howard, who was a unanimous choice as ACC Player of the Year, with the next pick.
Now, Howard is exactly the type of player the Spurs are missing -- an athletic inside presence who can play above the rim, keep offensive possessions alive and initiate fast breaks. The Mavs are now 21-0 this season when he scores at least 20 points.
"I stayed aggressive all game. I didn't take a back seat, just seen an opportunity and took it," Howard said. "I get all my points on breaks, and playing defense -- it's me just playing hard."
Playing hard was something the Spurs failed to do well enough in the second half to forge any kind of a serious rally, and the third and fourth quarters were devoid of excitement -- unless the sound of some angry fans among the 18,979 in attendance chanting in unison at Javie qualified.
"That [the officiating] had nothing to do with it," Popovich said. "Everything tonight had to do with the way the Mavs played."
"Everyone together, say it: The Mavs played great and deserve credit," Popovich said. "There are no excuses and no way around it, and if I didn't think they played well I'd say it. But they kicked ass."
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Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Mavs guard Devin Harris couldn't get this one by Tim Duncan, but he did step into the starting lineup and scored 20 points.
It took the Cavaliers a game and a half to finally find a glitch in the Pistons' engine.
It was too late to save Game 2 Tuesday and maybe too late to save the series, but it is an issue the Pistons will need to address because it was out for all to see. The Pistons won, 97-91, and took a 2-0 lead but not without getting handled in the second half by the Cavs and needing a few big plays in the final minutes to hang on.
Indeed the Pistons have a dynamic offense with numerous options, but they are also very reliant on the jump shot. When they take them in rhythm and off offensive sets, it can be devastating. When they come from laziness, it can be debilitating.
After shooting 51 percent in Game 1 and making 15-of-22 3-pointers, the Pistons shot 53 percent and made 6-of-11 treys in the first half of Game 2 to build their lead to 21 points. But in the second the Cavs' learning curve finally caught up and they made some defensive adjustments sure to be seen again.
Cavs coach Mike Brown, who swallowed his pride in the first half and twice implored his defenders to hack putrid foul shooter Ben Wallace to try to stop the bleeding, had the Cavs mostly playing zone down the stretch. They also often trapped the ball when it went into the post, slowing everything down. The Pistons' response was to take jumpers at the end of the shot clock.
Detroit shot just 31 percent in the second half and had just five assists. There were almost no post options and few penetrations. In fact, the Pistons scored just 16 points in the paint all game and eight of those came on offensive rebound putbacks.
The Pistons' defense in the clutch and Richard Hamilton's willingness to drive -- he made just one basket in the game but got to the line 18 times -- saved the day.
"We have to be a little more disciplined than that," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, who had 15 points. "We settled for too many jumpers."
Meanwhile LeBron James scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half and 14 in the fourth quarter.
James also had four assists in the fourth as he repeatedly caught the Pistons' defense in transition off defensive rebounds. It left the Cavs a ray or two of hope. "Hope is not the word, we have to make sure we're a confident ball team," Brown said. "We've got to win Game 3, it is simple as that."
-- Brian Windhorst at Auburn Hills, Mich.
In the battle of My Man Can't Guard Me Either, New Jersey took the upper hand in Game 1 by blistering the Heat for 64 points in the first half. The Nets were so hot that at one point early in the second quarter, the Heat were shooting 53 percent and still trailed by 22.
In a twist from the four regular-season Heat-Nets games, it wasn't Vince Carter doing most of the damage. He got his points, finishing with 27, but the difference in this one was all the help he got from Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd. Kidd's night was something the Heat just have to shrug off -- he hit a lot of jumpers off the dribble he usually misses, and his 3-pointers came when the Heat were helping against Carter and Jefferson.
LeBron James (30 points) led a late charge, but Cleveland lost 97-91 and trails Detroit, 2-0.
Pistons Hold On
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images
Tim Duncan reacts to a foul call during his team's loss to Dallas. The Spurs forward finished with 28 points and four fouls.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
When I was on the sideline in Boston and Philadelphia, there were two statistics in particular that were of utmost importance. We called them "hustle" stats. They were a constant indicator of the effort our team was putting forth in the game we were playing. They were stats that we talked to our players about during every timeout, and these particular numbers never, ever lied.
There is a joke that says a camera only takes what it sees -- if you are ugly, you come out ugly. Well, if your team is deficient in these "hustle" stats, you are playing ugly basketball and you probably are going to lose.
The statistics are: deflections and challenged shots.
There is no better indicator of the importance of these stats than in the last possession of Game 1 between the Mavs and the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki got the ball and Bruce Bowen literally got under his chin. Bowen was all over him flicking at the ball so hard he made Nowitzki pick up the dribble. As soon as the ball got above Nowitzki's head so he could make a cross-court pass, Bowen tried to get a piece of the pass.
The Mavericks bounced back from a bitter, two-point defeat in Sunday's opener of their Western Conference semifinal series vs. San Antonio by routing the Spurs, 113-91.
The last NBA team to rebound from a one- or two-point loss in Game 1 of a playoff series by winning Game 2 to the tune of a margin of 20-or-more points was Michael Jordan's Bulls, against the Lakers, in the 1991 Finals -- the first of the Bulls' six championships. In that series, the Lakers won Game 1 in Chicago, 93-91, but the Bulls won Game 2, 107-86, and went on to win the series in five games.
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I wish Bruce Bowen received Defensive Player of the Year. I love Big Ben, but he has won it enough, his place in history is set. His other Defensive Player of the Year seasons were better, as was the year Artest beat him for it. But mostly, Bowen deserves some reminder of his mark on the game. In 20 years, we'll look back, and remember all the other Spurs, but we'll forget what he was, what he did, the elbows, the holds, and how he made every scorer miserable. Those rings would not be on those Spurs had he not been there grabbing, fighting, and pestering for them.
Bowen's "good defense" is an illusion. The refs allow him to body up his opponents without nary a whistle. It's ridiculous. On the last posession of Game 1, Bruce body bumped Dirk the entire time he had the ball. I don't care how much bigger Dirk is, that'll still knock him off balance. That shouldn't pass for "good defense"
Best advice for Kobe. DON'T READ OR LISTEN TO THE MEDIA ANY MORE! They will criticize you no matter what and ruin the chemistry. Don't give any interviews or any comments either. They are poisonous toward you to the point that they clearly seem to control how you play. Not the coach. Just play your next season media free. You will thank me when you have another three rings when you are done playing.
The MVP vote proves that racist dummies from the media should not be voting on athletic awards. They know little, they hate a lot and they completely tarnish the NBA MVP award with the most ridiculous results in history. Shame on these cowards. They should be stripped of the right to vote on sporting events. Only former athletes should be allowed to vote on their profession. Do athletes vote for Pulitzer Prize winners? It's just as stupid having columnists with grudges voting on sports.
After seeing the voting, you can see why Nash won the MVP. Either you were in the group who thought importance to team was the criteria and voted for Nash. Or you were in the majority and thought best overall player should win but that vote was split four ways.