DALLAS - Guard Monta Ellis would not let the Dallas Mavericks' season end. An electrifying second half that included 12 points in a come-from-behind fourth quarter bought the Mavs new life and moved the top-seeded and reigning Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination.
"At halftime I talked to him [Ellis] a little bit and just told him to stay in attack mode, just keep his attacking energy up," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "The second half didn't start great, but then when he came back in, he made huge plays. He made a huge 3, attacked the rim, had one or two three-point plays. Then defensively, he's all around the ball. I loved the way he bounced back in the second half."
The Spurs led 81-76 after three quarters and seemed to be on their way to putting the series on ice until DALLAS switched the momentum with a 16-4 run to lead 102-94 with 2:55 left in the game. San Antonio committed five of their 14 turnovers in the fourth quarter
"We turned it over," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said when asked what went wrong in the final quarter. "I thought we bailed them out with some poor shots and we turned it over at the same time. Bail-out shots are basically turnovers also and they capitalized on them."
Trailing 108-105 with less than 30 seconds to go, Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who had an otherwise brilliant fourth quarter with 13 of his 22 points, had his interior pass stolen by former Spurs center DeJuan Blair.
Blair hit one of two free throws to make it a four-point DALLAS lead and then grabbed his 14th rebound on Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard's missed jumper. Spurs guards Danny Green and Patty Mills both hit 3-pointers, the last with seven seconds left, to keep their faint hope alive at 113-111.
The Spurs got the ball back with 1.3 seconds left under the DALLAS basket after Ellis inexplicably chucked it out of bounds while fleeing Spurs defenders attempting to foul him. The inbounds pass was deflected out near the Spurs bench and Mills' desperation heave from the top of the arc didn't draw iron.
Blair returned to the lineup after being suspended for game 5, and he haunted San Antonio with a hustling 10 points, 14 rebounds and four steals. DALLAS forward Dirk Nowitzki started the game 4-for-4 and finished with 22 points on 11-for-20 shooting. Ellis was 11-for-22 from the floor.
"It ain't over yet," Blair said of the series. "Winning on their court would be the best revenge, so we just got to bring it next game. Everybody played great and we sustained the energy down the line. We kept our head and hit some big free throws at the end."
San Antonio is in jeopardy of exiting the first round as the No. 1 seed for a second time in four seasons. This one would be particularly tough to swallow after last year's heartbreaking loss in the finals to the Miami Heat and having a league-best 62 regular-season wins this season. Popovich took home the league's Coach of the Year award.
But it will all be for naught if they can't put away the feisty Mavs in Sunday's showdown.
"It's a tough matchup, they're good, they can score, they brought all the aggressiveness today," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who was limited to six points after averaging 19 in the first five games. "And still we were up five with a few minutes to go and we let it go. So of course it is disappointing, but it is what it is. We have to go fight and go get it in game 7."
The Spurs trailed by as many as 11 points early on, but six points from 38-year-old Spurs forward Tim Duncan in the opening three minutes of the second half quickly erased the Mavs' six-point halftime lead and put the Spurs in front 63-62, their first lead since 10-9. San Antonio completed an 11-point swing in the period and took an 81-76 lead into the final quarter.
"Great series so far," said Duncan. "Thought we made too many mistakes tonight. Giving up 37 points in the fourth quarter is too much for us. Defensively we have to be more solid than that. Give them credit. We're going to refocus here and go home for game 7 and see what we can do."
DALLAS got off to the fast start it hoped for after its sluggish beginning to game 5 in San Antonio. The Mavs led by eight after the first quarter and held off a Spurs charge in the second quarter behind a strong rebounding effort that netted 12 second-chance points for a 58-52 halftime advantage.
NOTES: Spurs F Tim Duncan passed Shaquille O'Neal for fifth place on the NBA list for career playoff games with his 217th (he's third among active players). Oklahoma City G Derek Fisher ranks first among active players and second overall with 244 and Lakers G Kobe Bryant is second among active players and fourth overall with 220. ... Mavericks reserve C DeJuan Blair returned to the active roster after serving a one-game suspension in game 5 for kicking Spurs C Tiago Splitter in the face during the fourth quarter of game 4. ... The Mavs entered game 6 with a 15-17 record in elimination games and 0-7 all time in best-of-seven playoff series when they trail 3-2. ... Spurs G Danny Green's series high in the first five games was six points. He scored 12 in the first quarter of game 6.