SAN ANTONIO _ Before Game 5, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was talking about the reality of a best-of-seven playoff series.
"The best team wins,'' he said. "It used to (not always) be that way with three-game series and five games. But in a seven-game series, the best team wins. I'm a firm believer in that.''
The Mavericks left no doubt about that.
With Dirk Nowitzki dominating for the first time in the series, the Mavericks rode a strong collective effort to a 106-93 victory Tuesday night at AT&T Center, winning their first-round series 4-1 over the Spurs.
The Mavericks advance to the conference semifinals for the first time in three years. They will play the winner of the Denver-New Orleans series, which the Nuggets lead 3-1.
The Mavericks had more players playing well throughout this series than the Spurs did. That was the bottom line. With Manu Ginobili out for the Spurs and the Mavericks getting contributions from Josh Howard, J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd and Erick Dampier as well as Nowitzki, the Spurs simply did not have enough weapons.
That much was obvious in the clincher.
The Mavericks had ridden Nowitzki (30 points, nine rebounds) and all his helpers to a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter. They knew the Spurs would make a strong push down the stretch, but it never really came.
Jason Terry canned a couple of 3-pointers, then Dirk took the baton and sank a pair of mid-range jumpers. All the while the Mavericks kept the lead in double figures, as if they were a bulldog holding onto a pants leg.
On several occasions, the Spurs got within 10, but each time the Mavericks responded with a score. When Terry hit a jumper and two free throws, the lead was 98-86 with under 2:30 to go and the Spurs knew they were beaten.
It was a vintage performance for the Mavericks. The Mavericks did everything right in the early going _ and yet they were only up by four points at halftime.
Nowitzki was rolling early, the beneficiary of a tweak in the Spurs' defense that allowed Nowitzki to work one-on-one much of the time. He responded with 11 points in the first quarter, his highest quarter total of the series. It was no coincidence that that's what the Mavericks' lead was _ 31-20.
The Mavericks kept the heat on through most of the second quarter and were up 47-37 with just over three minutes left in the half. Rookie George Hill poured in a 3-pointer among his five points in the last three minutes and the Spurs mustered a rally that pulled them within 52-48 at the break.
The Mavericks had put together a solid first half and didn't have much of a cushion to show for it.
Nowitzki had 15 first-half points and Tony Parker only had 12 as the Spurs went to different options offensively. The table was set for the Spurs to become the aggressors in the third quarter, but the Mavericks refused to let it happen. They played like the more desperate team, bumping the lead back out to 72-59 as Nowitzki and Josh Howard did most of the damage. By the end of the third, the lead was 82-67 and the Mavericks were ready to put their foot on the Spurs' collective neck.