Nobody will ever say Patty Mills failed something because of a lack of confidence or effort.
The diminutive Australian point guard ignited the Spurs offense in place of the resting Tony Parker, scoring 26 points and shooting 6-11 from behind the three-point line.
Mills’ never-ending energy was matched by team-mate Kawhi Leonard, a thorn in the side of Dallas all evening, who scored 16 points and pulled down a career-high 16 rebounds.
It was Leonard’s corner three that felt like the dagger in this contest after Jose Calderon had made a pair of quick baskets to threaten what was an overall comfortable Spurs lead.
Leonard hustled all night long and his persistence paid dividends late in the game as he kept several loose balls alive, allowing San Antonio another offensive possession and to run time off the clock.
Patty Mills, starting in place of Tony Parker, was clearly given license to shoot whenever he liked as he took a game high 25 shots in 35 minutes.
Monta Ellis led Dallas with 24 points on a rather inefficient 22 shots with Dirk Nowitzki struggling to impose himself on the Spurs defensively sound frontline. Gregg Popovich chose to start Tiago Splitter on the German, occasionally throwing Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and even Leonard on him in an attempt to stifle the Mavs’ offensive centerpiece.
Danny Green flashed back to the 2013 NBA Finals, hitting five of his nine three-point attempts as San Antonio converted 16 of their 34 attempts (47.1 percent).
The loss could prove crucial for Dallas as their battle for the final two playoff berths in the West comes to a climax. Dallas falls to 48-32, tied in the loss column but two wins better off than the Memphis Grizzlies, who have four games left compared to Dallas’ two.
The big winners tonight were the Phoenix Suns who moved into the seventh seed without bouncing a ball, the Mavericks’ loss putting them percentage points behind the Suns.
Both Phoenix and Memphis plays tomorrow night, the Suns taking on these Spurs while Memphis hosts Philadelphia.
The real intrigue comes with the Mavericks’ final two games – one against Phoenix, the other against Memphis on the final night of the season, meaning the playoffs have essentially begun for Rick Carlisle’s men.
San Antonio all but clinched the best overall record in the NBA with the win, needing just one more win/Oklahoma City Thunder loss to cement themselves as the top team in the league.
Kawhi Leonard: 16 points, 16 rebounds (6 offensive), 5 assists.
Patty Mills: 26 points (6-11 3pt FGS), 6 assists, 2 steals.
Tim Duncan: 20 points (7-12 FGS), 15 rebounds.
Monta Ellis: 24 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists.
Dirk Nowitzki: 19 points (8-14 FGS), 6 rebounds.
—News and Notes—
Tim Duncan landed awkwardly on his right knee early in the first quarter. The veteran big man returned to the game after having the knee checked over in the locker-room.
Vince Carter is now six points behind six-time All-Star and former-Maverick Adrian Dantley for 25th in the NBA’s All-Time scoring list.
The San Antonio Spurs have a 51-1 record this season when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter, including a perfect 24-0 on the road. The win also set a franchise record for road wins in a season (30).