DALLAS (AP) — Shawn Marion took on a new role for the Dallas Mavericks on Monday: Motivator.
With the Mavs facing a 3-1 deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, Marion told his teammates how they can overcome the long odds, speaking from the experience of having been part of the last team that pulled it off.
"They believed they were the better team that year, had a couple of tough losses, stuck together and fought through it," Dirk Nowitzki said of Marion's speech. "That's what you have to do in a situation like that — keep believing in each other, play together and just play a little smarter and a littler harder down the stretch and we can get it done."
History says they can't. Of the 189 teams in a hole this deep, only eight have clawed all the way out.
The Mavs have a few thin vines of hope they can cling to, starting with their connections to the last two teams that did it: Marion's Phoenix Suns in 2006, and the 2003 Detroit Pistons coached by Rick Carlisle, who is now Dallas' coach.
Both those comebacks came in the first round, where this series is. Both teams were the higher seed, too, which means they had Games 5 and 7 at home; the Mavs have that advantage, too, starting Tuesday night.
"This is difficult," Carlisle said. "But this is the ultimate in this game, to have this challenge put in front of you that nobody thinks you can do. ... We've got to drawn strength and keep battling and find a way to win Game 5."
Those rallies make for great touchstones, but the inspiration loses steam when factoring in another key element: the caliber of teams that blew those leads.
The 2003 Magic had Tracy McGrady and not much else. The 2006 Lakers had Kobe Bryant and not much else.
The 2010 Spurs have Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Duncan has been bounced from the first round only once in a series he played — against Dallas, just last year, when Ginobili was out with an injury. Now San Antonio can get revenge against its rivals, and in five games, like the Mavs did to them last year.
"We're excited to be up 3-1 and in control of this series, but we know it's not over," Duncan said. "We understand they're a very good basketball team and they're not going to quit. We got to go in there and try to get that last win. We don't want to turn this series from a big-time control series to a Game 7, gotta-win one."
The Spurs sorta-stole one Sunday night.
Duncan, Ginobili and Parker combined for just 31 points, but San Antonio won anyway, mainly by allowing just 11 points in the third quarter. George Hill picked up the scoring slack with 29 points and Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair limited Nowitzki to 10 shots. Blair also frustrated Nowitzki into a technical foul.
"There's five or six times when DeJuan Blair beats us to loose balls on the floor," Carlisle said. "Right now, those are the defining plays for the last two games."
Actually, highlight shows are more likely to feature Eduardo Najera's hard takedown of Ginobili, who already was playing with thick strips of tape covering his broken nose; Najera was called for a flagrant-two foul and automatically ejected just 43 seconds after he entered the game. That clip would be followed by replays of the flagrant-one fouls on San Antonio takedowns of Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.
It's all proof that this series between Texas rivals has reached the point where the teams are sick of each other.
"I don't think it can get more physical," Nowitzki said. "It's already wrestling out there."
Carlisle said he doesn't expect the league to further punish Najera. He also said guard Jason Terry was limited during Monday's workout because of soreness in the left ankle he twisted Sunday night; he's still likely to play.
Terry was Dallas' second-leading scorer in the regular season, but he's been inconsistent this series, like most of his teammates.
Nowitzki is the only player to score at least 10 points in every game. The 3-point shot Kidd discovered this season has gone missing (7 of 23), while Marion and Caron Butler have struggled at times on both ends of the court. The centers have been such a non-factor that Nowitzki said he wouldn't be surprised if the Mavs try going without one for part of Game 5, noting that desperate teams have to do desperate things.
"We're kind of a strength-in-numbers team," Carlisle said. "We need to strike a certain balance. It's not like there's got to be some guy that's definitely the No. 2 guy. What we need to do is have five or six guys in double figures and play better defensively and get the ball of the board and have a couple fewer turnovers. If we do that, that'll be a winning formula for us."
If not, they'll have a long summer to come up with a new one.