Mavs oust defending champs with overtime win in Game 7

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

SAN ANTONIO -- The Dallas Mavericks had procrastinated long enough against their in-state rivals.

A 3-1 series lead over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, squandered. A 20-point lead in Game 7, dried up.

Then, in overtime, the Mavericks cleared the San Antonio hurdle.

The Mavericks beat the Spurs 119-111 Monday night on the strength of 37 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 27 from Jason Terry, who was suspended for Game 6 for punching former Maverick Michael Finley below the belt the game before.

"We battled against a championship team, a team with a lot of guts," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "Now we haven't won the championship, but how about those Mavs?"

Tim Duncan scored 41 to lead San Antonio.

"It was a special series," Nowitzki said. "We just believed it was our time to win it."

Dallas advanced to the Western Conference finals for second time in four years, but with almost an entirely new team. Nowitzki is the only remaining starter from the team that was eliminated by the Spurs in 2003.

The Mavericks have never made it to the NBA Finals, but they'll go into the next round as the favorites regardless of whether they play the Suns or the Los Angeles Clippers. That series also was headed to a winner-take-all Game 7 Monday night in Phoenix.

The Spurs won a franchise-record 63 games, grabbed the West's top seed and were thinking this would finally be the year they repeated as champions. Instead, they'll have to try again next year to add to the titles they won in 1999, 2003 and 2005.

The Mavericks won 60 games in the regular season to set up the superb meeting in the playoffs.

"This is the best series I've ever played," Duncan said.

The tight games and taught emotions boiled over with Terry punching Finley, and volatile Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitting to the Dallas Morning News before the final that he cursed the Spurs' Bruce Bowen after Game 6.

The Mavericks built their 20-point lead early by spreading the floor and getting to the rim, only to watch San Antonio change the pace and rally with defense and Duncan.

"(The first half) was bad," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half.

"This is a tough loss. We had a chance to make the shot and win the game and the series. It is hard."

The Spurs, who trailed almost the entire game, led 104-101 on Ginobili's 3-pointer with 32 seconds left in regulation. Nowitzki then drove around Bowen, who blocked his potential game-winner in Game 5, for a layup and was fouled by Ginobili at the basket.

The 7-foot German, who finished third in the MVP voting in the regular season, hit the free throw to tie it with 21 seconds remaining.

"He willed it to the basket," Mavericks guard Jerry Stackhouse said. "Everybody did something special in this game. It was great to have (Jason Terry) back in the lineup. He came up big."

The Spurs had a chance to win it in regulation. Ginobili drove the basket with about six seconds left. His shot missed, Duncan grabbed the rebound and Nowitzki got a hand in to block what would have been a point-blank game-winner.

It was a redeeming final few seconds for Nowitzki, who had the ball in his hands in Dallas' three losses with a chance to win or tie it in the final seconds.

"I saw everything slipping away, the great season we had," Nowitzki said. "If there's a drive to the lane, just take it in there."

Dallas opened overtime with baskets by Josh Howard and Stackhouse, and Terry's two free throws pushed the lead to 114-108.

Howard became the third Dallas player to foul out in overtime. But after their furious rally to take the lead, only to watch it disappear in the final seconds of regulation, the Spurs had little left in overtime.

Duncan missed three close shots and DeSagana Diop, in the game late because of Dallas' foul troubles, ripped down a pair of key rebounds on both ends of the court to help preserve the win.

"We put ourselves in a position to win the game," Duncan said. "We fought all the way back and in overtime we didn't have much left in the tank."

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