During a timeout early in the third quarter, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the rest of the San Antonio Spurs starters headed to the bench.
They never returned.
Humiliated since the opening tip, coach Gregg Popovich decided Game 3 of a first-round series against the Dallas Mavericks was a lost cause.
Instead of hurting the Spurs with hard fouls — like Mavs center Erick Dampier threatened to do — Dallas slapped around San Antonio with tight defense, the return of Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting touch and the energy of their home crowd, producing an 88-67 victory Thursday night and a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.
“It was great,” Nowitzki said. “We all fought for each other.”
Dampier drew the scrutiny of the league office for saying he would pop Parker on his first drive of this game. Dampier never even collided with Parker, although he did swat away a shot during a frenzied first-half defensive performance by the Mavericks.
Dallas limited San Antonio to 30 points by the break, then went ahead, 62-36, with 7:42 left in the third quarter. That’s when Popovich essentially gave up, opting to let his top players rest up for Game 4 on Saturday.
The Spurs’ backups weren’t much better, resulting in their fewest points ever in a playoff game. The numbers were so ugly — things like making only 31.2 percent of their shots, and missing 15 of 17 three-pointers — that Popovich playfully shoved aside the box score at the start of his postgame news conference.