Tiago Splitter couldn’t avoid the first kick in the head because he never saw it coming.

The Spurs center was rolling around on the American Airlines Center court with a former teammate when one of DeJuan Blair’s Nikes knocked him in the noggin, earning the Dallas forward an ejection.

The next kick in the head the Spurs were able to avoid. Just barely.

The Spurs survived Game 4 by what’s left of the skin of their teeth Monday, blowing all of a 20-point lead in the second half before holding on for a 93-89 victory that evened their first-round series with Dallas at two games apiece.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who finished with 23 points. “It’s the NBA. It’s the playoffs. It’s the West. It’s tough.”

The top-seeded Spurs didn’t expect this series to be easy, no matter what the seedings said. But neither could they have expected it to be this difficult, either.

Two days after Vince Carter broke their hearts with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win Game 3, the Spurs had to white-knuckle Game 4 into submission in the final minutes.

Boris Diaw gave the Spurs their final lead on a tiebreaking, top-of-the-arc 3-pointer with 32.9 seconds to go. It came after the No. 8 Mavericks had completed a raucous rally from 20 points down early in the third quarter, threatening to deal the Spurs another emotional stomach punch.

Had Dallas held on, it would have been the largest come-from-behind playoff victory in franchise history, and might have signaled the death knell for the Spurs.

“We’re playing a good team and they played really well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It’s the playoffs. Every team is going to make runs. You’re not going to play great anything for 48 minutes.”

These playoffs have been different, even by wild Western Conference standards. Of the top four seeds in either bracket, only one leads its first-round series — the defending champion Miami Heat, who completed a sweep of Charlotte on Monday.

Tim Duncan (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Tiago Splitter (10 points, 12 rebounds) each notched a double-double for the Spurs on Monday, while Diaw finished with 17 points off the bench.

The Spurs return home for Game 5 on Wednesday back in control of the series. It would be foolish to predict what happens next, especially with Spurs point guard Tony Parker now limping on a twisted left ankle.

“We’re just back to ground zero,” Ginobili said. “(It’s) 0-0, the series is the best-of-three and we’ve got the home court advantage. It doesn’t mean much but at least we got back what was ours.”

Some of what happened Monday was a return to the energy Popovich asked for between Games 3 and 4, when he all but reprised his “I want some nasty” speech from the 2012 Oklahoma City series.