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Old 05-20-06, 07:47 PM
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Meija: Finley spoils big party in Big D

DALLAS -- Michael Finley spoiled the biggest night in Dallas basketball history.

Everyone buzzed about finally breaking through against their nemesis, San Antonio. Friday night was about vanquishing an old rival, about finally graduating to a championship level. Dallas wanted to see it happen at home. Not the Mavericks. Dallas. The city.

In a game that featured a similar finish to the three that came before it in this series, the Mavericks failed to come up with shots down the stretch, getting outscored 11-5 over the final four minutes to fall 91-86. Once again, every direction the ball bounced had tantalizing consequences, carrying the difference between a win and a loss.

If karma had anything to do with it, it serves Dallas right that the night was spoiled by Finley, the former favorite son who has fallen out of favor with the city that once embraced him and now relishes in booing him.

Before the series began, Dirk Nowitzki jokingly made reference to booing Finley, with the sentiment being that it was the Mavs against the world and he's no longer one of us. The fans loved it, but they've heeded Nowitzki's request and taken it to a level where it's flat out disturbing.

Finley was booed during the pregame introductions, booed every time he touched the ball, and booed whenever he came in or out of a game. If the PA announcer said his name, the hazing followed.

"I gave my all for this team for eight years, blood and guts, and gave my all for the community. It's gotten to the point where I don't let my family come to the game because it's no fun, and I don't want them to hear the things that are being said about me. That's disheartening."

Further adding to the venom was the absence of Jason Terry, who was suspended by the NBA for his actions in the waning moments of Wednesday night's Game 5, when he delivered a jab to Finley's lower half as they were piled on the ground in pursuit of a loose ball. You would've thought Terry was a martyr or something the way the Mavericks fans were treating him. Finley, the victim of the shot, was ridiculed via posters lauding the strike or depicting him in a dress.

"It just happens that I'm playing against my former team. It's not a personal vendetta. People are trying to make it out to be an individual thing, but I'm just trying to help my team win," said Finley, who did just that, playing a team-high 45 minutes and scoring 16 points. "All of a sudden I'm a traitor. The Mavs got rid of me. Whiner. I'm the one who got hit."

Finley doesn't want to dwell on what's transpired over the past couple of weeks, but you can tell it hurts him deeply. When the NBA announced it was granting amnesty to teams over the salary cap by allowing them to cut a single player they felt was making too much money, it was known to some in league circles as the "Michael Finley" rule.

Finley was owed a large amount of money over the coming years and due to his advancing age, was the ideal candidate to be cut. He'd still get his money, but the Mavericks would suffer half the luxury-tax hit. It was strictly business, an area which team owner Mark Cuban excels at. There weren't supposed to be any hard feelings.

However, once Finley signed with the one team Mavericks fans couldn't forgive him for joining, the mood changed. He was greeted warmly the first time he returned during the regular season and was choked up by the affection, but after Nowitzki's words and with the animosity between Dallas and San Antonio reaching an all-time high, things are drastically different.

It's sad, because Finley did put his mark on the Dallas community for such a long period, always representing them with honor. He deserves to have his number hanging from the rafters at American Airlines Center when his career ends, but with everything that has transpired, how is that supposed to happen now. The scars are too deep now, for both parties.

Finley has suffered, and now as the enemy, which is what he accepts and relishes being, he's distributing payback. By spoiling the celebration that was sure to follow a Mavericks win, he's left the possibility that Dallas has hosted its final basketball game of the season lingering.

It was Finley who snapped an 82-82 tie with a 3-pointer right in Nowitzki's face with 2:59 remaining. It was Finley who was draped all over Nowitzki with Dallas down three and the clock ticking under 10 seconds, forcing an ill-advised leaning 3-point attempt that failed to draw iron.

That was the ultimate revenge.

"I'm just thrilled for Michael. He's such a class act that no matter what the circumstances, or what's going on in a basketball game, all year long he's been one of our leaders, and gained quick respect from everyone," head coach Gregg Popovich said. "He comes here in a tough situation for him, a place where he was such a leader for so long and plays hard without malice, without showmanship, just comes in and competes with class. I couldn't be prouder of him."

Finley helped build the Mavericks state-of-the-art arena. People once proudly wore his jersey as they cheered him, Nowitzki and Steve Nash during the team's rise to prominence. Countering all the joy he helped once helped bring, he helped deliver the ultimate disappointment in Game 6. Deservedly so. If there are no more games in Dallas this season, you can bet Finley won't look back or bother to care less.

http://www.sportsline.com/nba/story/9450408
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