Spurs' Finley must put friendship aside for now
By GERRY FRALEY / The Dallas Morning News
Composed as always, Michael Finley showed little emotion after San Antonio finished off Sacramento. He has been here before. For the fifth time in the last six seasons, Finley's team has reached the second round of the NBA playoffs. This story line is much different.
In the previous four occasions, Finley played for the Mavericks. Now, the Mavericks are an obstacle.
Dumped by the Mavericks last summer, Finley signed on with the Spurs. His current and past employers meet in a second-round series that opens today at San Antonio.
Those who know Finley best understand how much this means to him.
None labels it revenge. Finley has too much respect for his former team to dabble in that.
Call it the natural response of a competitive person after being shunned.
"Of course he's getting excited, but he's never going to show it," Spurs guard Nick Van Exel said after the series-clinching 105-83 win at Sacramento on Friday night. "He'll be cool. But who wouldn't get excited playing against the team that let you go?"
Finley, who helped turn the Mavericks from a laughingstock to a power in 8 1/2 seasons with the club, said he settled those issues during the regular-season reunion games. The key words there are "regular season."
It is possible to be gentlemanly and deferential during the regular season. That does not apply in the playoffs, when the stakes change.
Even long-standing friendships, such as the relationship Finley has with Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, must be put aside. They can talk and hang out at some other time.
The lovefest stops today.
"For me, it's all about business," said Finley, who had 10 points in Friday's win against Sacramento. "There won't be any kissing and hugging during the games."
Finley's role has changed as much as the uniform.
The Mavericks counted on him to play a major postseason role. There were good moments, such as the 33-point performance Finley had against Utah in 2001 to give the Mavericks their first playoff-series win since 1988.
It did not end well. In his last 18 playoff games with the Mavericks, Finley averaged 13.1 points with a 41.4 shooting percentage. He became a focal point for disappointments.
The Spurs use Finley off the bench for offense and long-range shooting. He scored in double figures in five of the six games of the Sacramento series and was a tick above his regular-season average with 10.3 points per game.
Finley had a career-low 41.2 shooting percentage in the regular season, but he did make 10-of-25 3-pointers in the Sacramento series. Finley will keep firing against the Mavericks. The Spurs like the long ball.
Before Saturday night's Phoenix-Los Angeles Lakers meeting, the Spurs had the best 3-point percentage in the playoffs at 43.2. San Antonio made eight of its last 13 3-point attempts against Sacramento.
Finley wholeheartedly accepts the specialized role.
"These guys are very professional," Finley said. "They've been to places a lot of teams want to go. I'm just riding their coattails. They're showing me the ropes."
The next step is to get past the second round. The Mavericks did that only once in the Finley era and lost to San Antonio in the 2003 conference finals.
The Spurs are competition-hardened. They have won the league title three times in the last seven seasons, going 65-36 in playoff games during that span.
That is why Finley picked San Antonio after the Mavs cast him aside. He wanted the team that gave him the best chance at a championship. He puts aside the notion that four wins over the Mavericks put him halfway to that goal.
"I can't think like that," Finley said. "This has been about jelling with a team and getting better."
And getting a ring. The Mavericks stand in Michael Finley's way.
It is what it is -- Bruce Bowen
When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks.-- Bill Walton
verrry verrry similar to brent barry facing his former team in 2nd round last year....hopefully finley won't disappear like barry did last year
"Shaq's got a book out now? What is it: a coloring book?" - David Robinson
I'm rooting for Michael to make a big difference in this series. I really admire his professionalism. The guy is a great fit on the Spurs, class all the way.
Pop: I haven't talked to Tim in about 6 or 7 years. If I did, he wouldn't listen to me anyway. It says that he's mean and rude!”
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