DALLAS – Nico Laprovittola’s “backup” played a nice game Wednesday night in Dallas. Before Wednesday, Laprovittola had played only 83 minutes this season. In nine games, he did not play at all.
With Tony Parker getting a night off to rest, the surprise starting point guard “didn’t do anything amazing, but he was solid,” as Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich put it after the game.
His “backup” Patty Mills however, was amazing. After a bad stretch in the third period endangered the Spurs’ perfect road record, Mills took control of the game, scored 15 fourth-quarter points, made six of seven shots from the field, including three of three from 3-point range, and the Spurs escaped Dallas with a 94-87 victory. That improved San Antonio’s road record to 11-0, the third best regular season start in NBA history.
Parker did not play, but he made the trip to Dallas while Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol stayed in San Antonio. The three “banged up” players rested in anticipation of Friday’s home game against Washington and the following three-game, four-night road trip to Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Chicago that begins Monday.
Instead of Mills, Popovich inserted Laprovittola, the 26-year-old rookie from Argentina, into the starting lineup. Laprovittola played 19 minutes, hit three of six shots, scored seven points and had only one turnover – a steadfast performance from a player who was in Lithuania this time one year ago.
“He’s done it before,” Popovich said. “He’s played all over the world. He’s not that impressed. He’s a seasoned vet actually. He’s not a rookie. You can tell. He didn’t do anything amazing but he was solid and that’s what you hope for.”
Fourth-year center Dewayne Dedmon started for Gasol, who had played in every game until Wednesday. Dedman was active on the boards, leading the Spurs with 10 rebounds while scoring six points and blocking three shots.
“(Dedmon was) the star of the show for all four quarters with the basic, solid, disciplined basketball he played on the boards and blocking shots,” Popovich said. “That allowed us to stay in it.”
The Spurs seemed out of it in the third quarter. With 10:26 left in the period, they held a 47-45 lead, but didn’t score in their next 12 possessions. The Mavericks responded with a 15-0 run to take a 13-point lead at 62-49 late in the third quarter.
In the fourth, however, Mills took over with help from Kawhi Leonard, who had struggled most of the night. In the first three periods, Leonard was three of 11 with 12 points. But he scored nine points in the fourth and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:23 left in the game to give the Spurs a lead at 80-79.
In the last 3:04 of the game, Mills hit two 3-pointers and a 20-foot jumper, easing the Spurs’ way to a victory. Mills led the Spurs with 23 points, Leonard had 21.
“Just trying to get the flow of the offense going,” Mills said. “We struggled the majority of the game getting open shots, or shooting open shots. But we knew it was all going to come down to defense. We knew stops would create our flow a little better. I thought we did that down the stretch.”
The Mavericks made only seven of 18 shots in the fourth quarter while the Spurs were 12-of-19 and outscored Dallas 33-21.
“Any good team is going to continue to fight regardless of the situation and how many they’re down,” Danny Green said. “You keep pounding the rock until you get a crack in it. We had a couple of shots go down and cut it to single digits. Then we took the lead and that helped our momentum and confidence.”
Like the Spurs, the Mavericks were also short-handed with Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea out with injuries. Nowitzki has played only five games this season. At 3-14, the Mavs have the worst record in the league.
A loss in Dallas would have been as perplexing as the way the Spurs have played at home, where they are only 4-4. But Patty, Nico, and Dewayne covered for Tony, Manu, and Pau, keeping the Spurs perfect on the road.