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Old 05-18-06, 02:19 PM
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article: Mavs resolve won't let Spurs win this series

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Mavs' resolve won't let Spurs win this seriesJIM REEVES
In My Opinion
SAN ANTONIO - This is going to sound strange, considering that the Mavs walked off the court without having finished off the Spurs when they had the chance Wednesday night, but you need to relax.

Don't panic.

Don't worry.

Don't sweat it.

This series ends Friday in Dallas.

It won't be easy. It'll almost certainly be an instant replay of each of the last three games.

Tight. Tough. Terrific.

But if you had been sitting where I was at the AT&T Center on Wednesday night, five seats down from the Mavs bench, straining left and right to see around Avery Johnson as he paced up and down the sideline, then you would have seen what I saw.

A Mavs' resolve beyond anything we've ever known before.

So don't let the Spurs' 98-97 victory in Game 5 get you down. If you were watching, you know that on almost any other night, Dirk puts Jason Terry's desperation miss right back in the hole as the buzzer sounds and the Mavs are already advancing to the conference finals.

It will still happen because in the first five games of this series, they have been the better team.

They will be the better team again in Game 6.

Need evidence? Go to your TiVo and watch Game 5 all over again.

It's difficult to imagine the Spurs playing any better than this. They shot over 60 percent for most of the game and finished at 53.6 percent.

Tim Duncan poured in 36 points and Tony Parker 27. The Spurs were able to play the game at their pace.

This was the Spurs at their best. And once again, they couldn't shake the Mavs.

"Two teams that refused to lose," Avery said. "Take your hats off to them. They got one more break than we did and executed a little bit better than what we did down the stretch tonight."

It's called taking care of the basketball and the Mavs forgot to do that in the final seconds or they might be enjoying a celebration hangover this morning.

First Nowitzki, then Terry got careless and allowed the Spurs to force jump balls in the final 6.3 seconds of the game.

Josh Howard grabbed the last one with just 2.4 seconds left and the Mavs ran a bread-and-butter play to Terry at the right baseline. His jumper was just off and Dirk missed a game-winning tip-in he didn't have to rush.

"I was right there for the rebound but I didn't know how much time was left so I tried to bat it up," said Nowitzki, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. "Looking at it now, I probably had time to rebound it and put it in, but you're always a lot smarter afterwards.

"We lost the game. That's basketball."

He said it matter-of-factly and without remorse, like a man who knows that he has the best team and the win will come eventually.

"At the end, Jet got a pretty decent look at the basket and Dirk almost tipped it in, which would have been sweet," Avery said. "We're up 3-2 and go home to protect our home court. We're looking at the next game as Game 7."

That's the way they have to look at it. Obviously, the Mavs want no part of a Game 7 back here at the AT&T Center.

If it comes to that, though, I'm convinced they'll win it back here if they have to do it that way.

It's that mental toughness that Avery has preached all year, that resolve that's been lacking in past Mavs' teams.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich saw it in both the Mavs and the Spurs.

"Neither team could have played much harder," Pop said. "Either team could have won the game, just like Games 3 or 4.

"It was a big win. It's good to give them a little adversity and we get another night and another game. But you don't deserve anything. You just go play.

"At this level, with the teams that are in the playoffs, everyone's got resolve. Both teams are full of character and toughness."

No argument here. But the sense in this series is that a torch is being passed.

There's a reason that Avery simply wrote "run, run, run" on his sideline chalkboard at the end of regulation in Game 4. He knew that his team had the younger, fresher legs.

"I've been in situations like that before in the playoffs and you recollect certain things," Avery said. "You make mental notes over the years and sometimes it works and sometime it doesn't.

"But I didn't think that was a time where we needed a set play, I thought that was a time where we needed to try to get a few baskets in transition."

It's that freshness, those young legs, which will make the ultimate difference in this series.

It was expected that the Spurs would fight back in Game 5. They were home, they'd whined unmercifully about the officiating, their fans were indignant and the refs sent the Spurs to the line 31 times to just 19 for the Mavs. No surprises there.

But every game this series lasts, the Spurs get older, slower and wearier.

The Mavs' support cast does need to do better than it did in Game 5. While Dirk was carrying his team, Terry, Howard, Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris faded into the background. They can't do that again.

But back home in Dallas on Friday night, the Mavs will be at their best.

Their court, their fans, their game.

Get ready to party.
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