SAN ANTONIO -- Manu Ginobili stepped off the podium and bumped into Dirk Nowitzki. They shook hands. Nowitzki gave his longtime foe a congratulatory slap on the back and Ginobili disappeared down the hallway.
He was off to celebrate a playoff series win. Just like old times for the Spurs.
"We're thrilled that we beat them," Ginobili said. "We're really proud of it."
Nowitzki then sat down for a playoff ritual of his own -- dissecting yet another first-round failure by the Mavericks.
Ginobili scored 26 points and San Antonio survived blowing a 22-point lead to finish off the Mavericks 97-87 in Game 6 on Thursday night, getting payback after Dallas eliminated the Spurs a year ago in the opening round.
The seventh-seeded Spurs will play the sixth-seeded Suns in the Western Conference semifinals starting Monday night in Phoenix.
The Mavs, meanwhile, slump away into another too-early summer.
Dallas lost in the first round for the third time in four years. The Mavs head into an interesting off-season for a team that's won 50 games for 10 straight seasons, but has only one trip to the NBA finals to show for it.
"Going into the playoffs as a No. 2 seed, it is all we could have wanted," Nowitzki said. "We just happened to see a tough No. 7 seed that got rolling at the right time."
Said Mavs guard Jason Terry, "As of right now this season is a failure."
Nowitzki nearly carried the Mavs to an unbelievable comeback, getting 25 of his 33 points in a remarkable second half. But George Hill, the hero for the Spurs in Game 4, scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to keep the series from going back to Dallas.
The Spurs continue their roll after coming off their worst regular season in the Tim Duncan era, which perhaps makes this series all the more impressive.
It will technically go down as an upset. San Antonio is only the fifth No. 7 seed to win a first-round series, and the first since the opening round became a best-of-7 in 2003. It hadn't been done since New York beat Miami in 1998.
But with a healthy Big Three and a championship pedigree, the Spurs could hardly be called underdogs.
And with no clear favourite in the West, they might be as good a finals pick as any.
"The only reason (the Spurs) we're the 7 seed is because they've been hurt all year," Mavs centre Brenden Haywood said. "This could have been the Western Conference finals. The teams are that good. This isn't like a monumental upset or anything. You all are talking like this is the NCAA tournament and the 15 seed just beat the 2."
As for the Mavs, it was yet another early playoff disappointment.
It comes three years after the Mavs came into the post-season as the No. 1 seed, only to be knocked out by No. 8 Golden State. The Mavs were the NBA's best road team in the regular season, but went 0-3 in San Antonio and couldn't pull themselves out of a 3-1 deficit.
This one is especially tough for team owner Mark Cuban, who plunked down an extra US$30 million for a deal at the trade deadline that brought Caron Butler from Washington.
Cuban, who needled San Antonio earlier in the series by saying he hated the Spurs, congratulated them afterward and said he'd root for his Texas rivals the rest of the way.
He followed that up with a cryptic comment.
"I'm not proud of the NBA. I'm not proud of my inability over the last 10 years to have an impact like I want to have," Cuban said. "So I kind of feel like I owe fans an apology. But that's just the way this business goes."
Cuban declined to elaborate.
Butler scored 25 points and rookie Rodrigue Beaubois had 16. But aside from them and Nowitzki, no other Dallas player scored more than six points.
Among the questions facing the Mavs is Nowitzki, who could choose to become a free agent this summer. He's steadily said he won't, but after the game, Nowitzki was noncommittal about his future.
"I haven't really thought about my future," he said. "I guess I have some time now to think about my future and think about my options."
He and the Mavs will have a long time to sulk over this one.
Plagued by slow starts in this series, Dallas got off to its worst yet when it mattered most. The Mavs trailed 22-8 after the first quarter, hitting just four of their first 18 shots. By halftime it was 47-34, a franchise playoff low for Dallas.
Nowitzki, who had four fouls in the first half, shrugged off the foul trouble and put Dallas ahead 57-56 with a three-pointer midway through the third quarter. But Ginobili immediately fired back with a three-pointer, and Dallas never led again.
"I think we took a lot of their energy, a lot of their effort getting back into it after being so far down," said Duncan, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. "Hopefully we used that against them and closed the game out."
NOTES: Spurs rookie F DeJuan Blair ran his car off the interstate on the way to the game when he hit a guard rail, swerving into a ditch and deploying the air bag. He wasn't injured, and a Spurs staffer picked him up and took him to the arena. "It's questionable for the next game," Blair joked about his car. ... The dismal first quarter for the Mavs was just one point better than their franchise playoff low.