DALLAS (AP) - Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saw his team getting sloppy on defense again, so he called a timeout to let his guys know how disgusted he was.
The game was 42 seconds old. They were down 2-0.
And they wouldn't trail again.
Fueled by three days of rest - and three days of Popovich griping about their defense following a 30-point loss to Miami - San Antonio's usual trio of stars powered the way to a 97-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.
Tony Parker scored 33 points, Manu Ginobili had 25 and Tim Duncan added 22 as the Spurs rebounded from the blowout against the Heat and another lopsided loss to the Lakers in their other, most recent game against an upper-eschelon team.
San Antonio never trailed after Popovich's quick T.O., but it was far from easy.
The Spurs let an 18-point lead in the second quarter turn into a tie midway through the third. They pulled away again, only to go through a 6:31 stretch without scoring that allowed the Mavs to get within a basket. Defensive pressure and a 3-pointer banked in by Parker helped fuel one more rally, icing the victory and avoiding more of Popovich's wrath.
``When you have Pop in your ear for three days, it can be a long three days,' Parker said. ``In the film sessions we talked about not playing physical, not playing with intensity or playing good defense. Tonight we wanted to make sure we stayed in front of people and made sure their shots were hard.'
What went wrong on that first play, when Dirk Nowitzki broke free for an open 19-footer?
``We were supposed to switch and we didn't switch,' Parker said. ``So he was on fire from the get-go.'
Nowitzki scored 23 points, but San Antonio's tenacious defense prevented him from getting much help. He was the only Dallas starter to score in double figures.
Shawn Marion scored 13 points in 14 first-half minutes, but didn't play the second half because of an injured right wrist. The Mavericks missed his energy, scoring and defense during their comeback bid, going instead with a three-guard lineup. They actually opened the game that way, too, but probably wouldn't have finished with that lineup had he been healthy. X-rays showed nothing broken, and he's considered day-to-day.
A bigger problem for Dallas is that this makes five losses in eight games - with all the losses to potential playoff foes.
``The rhythm obviously isn't there right now,' said guard Jason Terry, who scored 19 points after missing his first six shots.
The Spurs didn't need much more than their three stars.
Parker and Ginobili set the tone early, powering spurts of 10-0 and 9-0 in the first quarter, and Duncan was his old, dominant self in the third quarter. After the Mavs tied it at 60, he scored six points during a 9-0 run that kept San Antonio in control.
``We all three played pretty well,' Ginobili said. ``It felt great. We needed to step up and have a good game. ... We had a solid defensive game, and we didn't take crazy shots. Defense was a big key today.'
San Antonio also didn't get much from everyone else. The other guys combined to score just 17 points, eight from Gary Neal.
The reliance on Parker, Ginobili and Duncan caused some problems late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, when San Antonio missed 13 straight shots. While Neal had the drought-buster, it was set up by a backcourt steal by Ginobili.
``When we're not making shots, we have to rely on our defense,' Duncan said. ``We had great energy, great awareness. There was a lot better focus all around.'
The Mavs - who overcame an 18-point deficit in their previous game, at Golden State - were so lackadaisical at first that Marion and Tyson Chandler each dropped the ball out of bounds in the backcourt with no one around on consecutive trips down the court. They didn't start clicking until they were down 40-22. After forcing a 24-second violation, they started pushing the action and got within 50-45 at halftime.
Nowitzki tied it with a jumper over Duncan. Fans went crazy, but the excitement was short-lived. San Antonio managed to weather its long, late drought, mostly because the Mavs went through a shooting skid of their own.
``The guys battled in the second half like crazy,' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. ``We just couldn't get there.'
Notes: San Antonio took the season series 3-1 over its in-state and division rival. ... Neither team scored the first 3:29 of the fourth quarter. ... Why are the Spurs so good? Little things, like making inbounds passes tough. Kidd barely got one off in a spot when Dallas had just 2 seconds on the shot clock, and Ginobili deflected another from 6-foot-11 center Ian Mahinmi. ... Nowitzki went 3 of 3 from the line, giving him 56 consecutive makes, extending what's already the longest streak in the NBA this season.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved