DALLAS -- Monday's game started out like the Dallas Mavericks were going to run the San Antonio Spurs completely out of American Airlines Center.
The Mavs converted 5-of-11 shots and held the Spurs to 1-of-10 shooting in building a 12-2 lead and getitng the crowd all fired up less than six minutes into the game. The AAC was rocking, and the Mavs had a ton of momentum which they hoped would carry them to another improbable victory over the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.
But then it all came crashing down as the Mavs couldn't find the basket with a GPS system, and the Spurs rallied to square the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with a pulsating 93-89 victory.
"At the beginning of the game we had great energy,'' said Monta Ellis, who poured in a team-high 20 points. "They made their run, got us down, and playing against a great team like that you've got to use a lot of energy to come back, and we did that and it went from tit for tat.''
Ellis had a chance to tie the game. But with the Mavs down 91-89, he missed a driving layup in a crowd with 3.9 seconds to go.
A pair of free throws by Manu Ginobili sealed it with 1.7 seconds left and helped the Spurs regain home court advantage in this series.
"They kept playing,'' forward Dirk Nowitzki. "They are a smart team, they are persistent.
"We had some tough shots, they forced us into some stuff that we didn't want.''
The Spurs used some excellent defense and shot-making to mount a 58-38 lead with 9:18 remaining in the third period. But the Mavs rallied and eventually led 81-80 with 4:50 left behind the spirited play of DeJuan Blair.
But Blair was ejected a short time later for what the referees described as a "hostile act.'' In other words, Blair kicked center Tiago Splitter in the head with the Mavs up 83-82 and 3:08 to go.
Blair was also issued a foul and a technical on the play.
Ginobili made the technical free throw, Splitter buried a pair of free throws and the stunned Mavs suddenly found themselves down 85-83.
Blair claimed his innonence afterwards, saying: "No, it was clearly a reaction to the call. Actually I didn't know because I was facing down there, so they are going to judge off of what they do.
"It's real disapointing because with me in the game our momentum was going great, and when that happened and that got me out of there it was a big deal.''
A big deal the Mavs ultimately couldn't overcome.
"It was a great comeback we had in the second half,'' Nowitzki said. "We just weren't smart enough down the stretch.
"It was a tough one.''
-- Dwain Price
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