DALLAS (AP)—Tony Parker was exhausted, having done everything the San Antonio Spurs wanted him to by aggressively taking the ball to the basket.
When Parker wasn’t scoring, Tim Duncan was while bouncing back from the worst playoff game in his long career.
That still wasn’t enough to save the Spurs from the brink of an unusual early playoff elimination against the Dallas Mavericks.
Josh Howard scored 28 points, seven in an early second-half spurt that put Dallas ahead to stay in a 99-90 victory Saturday. The Mavs gained a 3-1 lead in their first-round Western Conference series, putting them on the verge of ousting a Spurs team that has little beyond Parker and Duncan.
“It’s obvious that that’s what we need to do. Those guys have to have the ball as much as possible,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Sure, we hope that other people step up and make shots and make plays. It didn’t happen enough.”
For the Mavericks, it did—even without big nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.
“They have a lot more weapons than us,” Parker said.
Without an incredible comeback, beginning Game 5 in San Antonio on Tuesday night, the Spurs will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000. They have been in every postseason since and won three NBA titles.
“A 3-1 lead is great to have, but it’s no guarantee,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
“They’re not going anywhere,” Jason Kidd said. “We have to understand that. … It’s not easy to put a team away, especially a team that has won championships.”
Parker had 31 of his 43 points by halftime, matching George Gervin’s franchise playoff record for points in a half. That came after he was held to 12 points in Game 3, when the Spurs lost 88-67 in their lowest-scoring playoff game ever.
“Pop wanted me to be very aggressive after what happened in Game 3 because we couldn’t score,” Parker said. “I was trying to be very aggressive, and attacking.”
He got started with two baskets in the first minute of the game, quickly looking like he did during a 38-poing performance in Game 2 when he was constantly driving for scores in a victory that evened the series.
And Duncan, after being held to four points and two rebounds in Game 3, finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Between Bruce Bowen’s 21-footer with 5 minutes left in the first quarter and his 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter, Parker and Duncan had the only field goals made by the Spurs.
“Our offense was designed to let Tony go. Tim was the next option after that and everyone else falls in line,” Roger Mason said.
After Parker and Duncan helped push the Spurs to a 55-51 halftime lead, Howard hit a 3-pointer to open the second half. By the time Howard made another three minutes later, after Kidd hit one, Dallas led 64-58.
“This was huge. We’re one game away from clinching,” Howard said. “But they’ve done it before. We’ve got to be ready.”
When San Antonio got the ball back, Parker had another drive and the ball was swiped away by Dirk Nowitzki. Then Duncan was blocked by Ryan Hollins.
Kidd scored 17 points while Nowitzki was held to 12 points with 13 rebounds. Terry, who received the NBA’s sixth man award Friday, had 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
“Win is the only outcome you’re looking for,” Terry said. “They’ve made a point that they’re not going to let me and Dirk beat them. We’ve got guys around us stepping up. … Josh Howard is the key to this whole thing. If he continues to have big games, then we like our chances.”
After Dallas had stretched its lead to 83-71 early in the fourth quarter, Parker had a driving layup on a give-and-go with Duncan. George Hill hit a 3-pointer for the Spurs before Parker made three consecutive baskets: a layup on another pass from Duncan and two jumpers from at least 20 feet that got the Spurs within 87-82 with 7 1/2 minutes left.
It was still a five-point game when Parker had a breakaway after Nowitzki’s turnover and was fouled by Kidd going for the layup with 3:47 left. But a tiring Parker missed both free throws.
“I was trying to go hard every play,” Parker said. “I got a little tired at the end.”
That came just seconds after Hollins had a putback slam over Duncan on Kidd’s missed 3-pointer. Hollins was then called for a technical foul for taunting Duncan.
Parker, who made 18 of 29 field goals, had 13 points in the first quarter— one more than in all of Game 3. That included consecutive jumpers during a 10-0 run before Dallas responded with a 16-4 quarter-ending spurt.
San Antonio made only one of its first seven shots to start the second before Parker made a 3-pointer as the whistle blew. The call was going to be defensive infraction by the Mavs, so officials counted the basket.
Parker added another pair of 3s and his 11-foot turnaround jumper with 2:15 left made it 50-49, and put the Spurs until after halftime.