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Old 05-14-06, 12:40 AM
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MySA: Nowitzki helps give Dallas 2-1 series lead over Spurs

Advantage, Mavericks: Nowitzki helps give Dallas 2-1 series lead over Spurs
Web Posted: 05/14/2006 12:27 AM CDT
Johnny Ludden
Express-News Staff Writer

DALLAS — Robert Horry plucked the ball out of the air, turned and flung it toward the rim, the Spurs' hopes hanging on one final, desperate shot just as Dallas' did five days earlier.

Neither Horry nor his teammates needed to watch. Just as Jerry Stackhouse's 3-pointer on Sunday fell short of the rim, Horry's shot glanced harmlessly off the side of the backboard.

Their comeback incomplete, Dallas' 104-103 victory secure, the Spurs walked off the floor Saturday night and into a place they never ventured in three championship seasons. Despite 35 points from Tim Duncan, despite a spirited rally that brought them back from a 13-point deficit, they left American Airlines Center trailing 2-1 in their Western Conference semifinals series.

"Usually we're up after these three games, but it is what it is," Duncan said. "We're going to have to come out here (on Monday), know the importance of this next game and really get this next game.

"It is a must-win for us, but we've got to find a way to get it done, get it back to San Antonio and regain home court."

The Spurs were in position to accomplish that goal Saturday. Dominated for almost the entire first half, they rallied with Duncan leading them, overtaking the Mavericks midway through the fourth quarter then trading the lead with them over the final five furious minutes.

Manu Ginobili, who scored 24 points and seemed to recapture his magic after Brent Barry replaced him in the starting lineup, gave the Spurs a 99-98 edge with 1:25 left. Having made all 10 of his foul shots to that point, he missed his next one.

Dirk Nowitzki then drove into the lane, stepped on Duncan's right foot and stumbled into the Spurs forward. Duncan was whistled for his sixth foul — sending him to the bench for the rest of the game — and Nowitzki collapsed under the basket.

"He might have fallen, but I didn't touch him," Duncan said. "He tried to draw contact. I moved out of his way. If he stepped on my foot, he stepped on my foot, but there was zero contact."

Nowitzki, who sprained his right ankle but expects to play Monday, collected himself during a timeout then limped to the foul line and made both free throws to put Dallas back in front with 1:05 left. The teams exchanged the lead two more times before Ginobili drove right and rolled in a shot over Josh Howard with 21.4 seconds left.

Stackhouse missed a free-throw line jumper, but Nowitzki grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 7.9 seconds left. His two free throws were the last of Nowitzki's 27 points, all but six of which came at the foul line.

"We just couldn't get a stop," Ginobili said. "Without that, we are not us."

Eighteen of the Mavericks' 31 points in the fourth quarter came at the foul line. Dallas made 39 of 50 free throws for the game. Duncan didn't appreciate having to watch the final minute from the bench.

It was "incredibly frustrating because of the type of fouls that were called down the stretch," he said. "I didn't think they were fouls. You sit with that, and such a short clock."

The Spurs called timeout, set up their play then had to burn their final timeout. Barry inbounded to Horry, who tried to give Ginobili a dribble handoff, but Devin Harris deflected the ball off Ginobili's leg and it skidded into the backcourt for a turnover.

"It was an unfortunate play," Ginobili said.

Moving Ginobili to the bench wasn't the only change Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made. To keep Howard from repeating the 27-point performance he had in Game 2, Popovich switched Bruce Bowen onto him and began the game with Horry guarding Nowitzki.

When Horry got into foul trouble, Popovich also used Fabricio Oberto, who had played only six minutes in the first two games, to defend Nowitzki. Oberto delivered a respectable performance and Ginobili, like most of the Spurs, began to emerge from his funk in the second half.

"Some good some bad, just like any other game," Popovich said, when asked whether the adjustments gave him what he had hoped. "Give and take. We'll have to switch it around a little bit, depending on what's going on out on the court."

The Spurs left the game feeling that they had finally cracked Dallas' defense, even if it wasn't for long enough. They missed 18 of 24 shots in the first quarter, but shot 76.5 percent in the final quarter, repeatedly getting to the rim.

The Spurs opened their offense by repeatedly feeding the ball to Duncan and playing off him.

"They had to make a decision: let him play one-on-one or double team," Ginobili said. "We attacked very well, better than we did in Game 2.

"With all that, we were one possession away from winning the game. We played pretty well and we all believe we can improve."

The Spurs still had one chance to win after Stackhouse curiously intentionally missed his second free throw by banging it off the backboard. With two seconds left and without a timeout, Barry threw a long inbounds pass that Howard deflected, but Horry still corralled. He turned and shot, but his desperate heave never had a chance.

"We hope they don't have much more than they gave tonight, because they gave us a lot," Stackhouse said. "We thought we had some separation from them, and they kept coming and coming."

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