In the opener of a second-round series against the San Antonio
Spurs on Sunday, Johnson took the calculated risk of letting his
former teammate go against his centers with only limited help.
Duncan, a three-time Finals MVP who teamed with Johnson for the
Spurs' 1999 championship, made the strategy backfire by scoring 20
of his 31 points in the first half, giving his worn-out teammates
the lift they needed to pull out an 87-85 victory Sunday.
"Timmy was awesome," teammate Tony Parker said. "When he
plays like that, it makes it easy for everybody."
The Spurs were playing just 36 hours after closing out their
first-round series in Sacramento, while the Mavs had been off since
Both teams, however, had been bracing for this meeting most of
the season because of a flaw in the NBA's seeding system that
forced them to meet in the second round, regardless of the fact
they both hit 60 wins.
Neither team needed much time to prepare for the other, anyway,
considering all the ties between them -- from Johnson's time in San
Antonio and his close relationship with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
to San Antonio reserve Michael Finley having spent the last nine
years on the Mavericks.
But at game's end, when the difference should've benefited
Dallas the most, it was San Antonio that persevered -- thanks mostly
to Bruce Bowen.
Bowen hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:15 left that ended up
being the winner. His biggest contribution, though, was pestering
Dirk Nowitzki into a forgettable game with what Johnson called
Nowitzki was 8-of-20 for 20 points after averaging 31.3 in the
first round. It was a bit of redemption for Bowen after not living
up to his first-team All-Defense reputation against Sacramento's
Bonzi Wells in the first round.
"You don't want people talking bad about you," Bowen said.
"You get a little upset and your pride gets hurt a little bit."
Bowen came up big on the game's final possession, which began
with 13.9 seconds left.
Nowitzki got the ball on the right side, but Bowen was all over
him. When Nowitzki tried going right, Duncan headed his way. So
Nowitzki threw a crosscourt pass to Jerry Stackhouse.
Manu Ginobili nearly intercepted it, but Stackhouse recovered.
He could've driven for a tying shot, but instead stepped back into
the left corner and put up a well-covered 3 that came up way short.
"Somehow, if I had a little more on it, then maybe we'd have a
different feeling right now," said Stackhouse, who led Dallas with
24 points. "We came in here with the right attitude, right energy,
but we let them take the game."
Johnson worried that the long layoff might get some of his
players to lose their focus. Perhaps all the down time got him to
overthink his strategy against Duncan -- one that's likely to change
in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Duncan hasn't been his Big Fundamental self lately. His scoring
was down this season and again in the first round. He's also been
slowed by a foot injury.
Parker said he wasn't surprised that Dallas didn't aggressively
"A lot of people have been doing that lately because they
thought he can't score any more," Parker said. "That's a big
DeSagana Diop was the first to go at Duncan alone. He got two
fouls, then was replaced by Erick Dampier. He got two fouls, then
was replaced by D.J. Mbenga. Yes, he also got two fouls -- all
before the first quarter ended.
Despite the barrage, Duncan was only 3-of-5 for 10 points. Then
he scored 10 of San Antonio's first 12 in the second quarter,
giving him 20 of their first 38 points.
"He was pretty aggressive," Johnson said.
Most importantly, Duncan's start made the Spurs tied in a game
they otherwise might've already gotten away from them. He was the
only player who didn't seem bothered by the quick turnaround, or
the noon start.
Duncan said he felt good even though he woke up at 6 a.m.
"Not by design," he added. Considering how he played, he joked
that "that might be the routine" from now on.
Duncan made 12 of 24 shots, grabbed 13 rebounds and tied Parker
for the team's assist lead with four. Parker scored 19 and Ginobili
Nowitzki was only 1-of-4 in the fourth quarter. He scored only
two points in the final period and Dallas scored only 13. The
Mavericks missed their final six shots.
"There wasn't any rust," said Nowitzki, who put himself
through two workouts a day to remain sharp. "We played well enough
to win the game, but didn't."
Dallas was hurt by nine missed free throws. The Mavs missed only
16 in four games against the Grizzlies.
Nowitzki finished third in MVP voting for the second
straight year. Duncan was eighth, Parker ninth. ... Both teams went
10 deep in the first half. ... When Bowen went to the foul line
early in the second quarter, it was his first attempt in 188
minutes this postseason. ... San Antonio great David Robinson
showed his support for the Spurs by wearing a Ginobili jersey. ...
The Spurs are in the second round for the sixth straight year.