Brand helps Clippers even series

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – Elton Brand and the Clippers became the second team from Los Angeles to take the Phoenix Suns to the limit in these playoffs.

Unlike the Lakers, the Clippers will take some momentum into Game 7. Brand had 30 points and 12 rebounds, Corey Maggette came off the bench to score 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers beat the Suns 118-106 Thursday night to even the Western Conference semifinal series at three games apiece.

The Suns seemed a step slower than usual at times, understandable since they’ve played every other day since April 26 – a total of 12 games in 22 days.

They’ll get some time off now, since Game 7 isn’t until Monday night in Phoenix, where the second-seeded Suns beat the sixth-seeded Clippers in two of the three previous playoff meetings, including a 125-118 double-overtime triumph in Game 5.

The teams have alternated victories in the series, with the Suns winning Games 1, 3 and 5 and the Clippers winning Games 2, 4 and 6.

The home team has a 76-17 advantage in NBA playoff Game 7s, including Phoenix’s 121-90 victory over the Lakers on May 6. But the Clippers played the Suns tough in all three playoff games in Phoenix, winning one and coming close in the other two.

The Suns are trying to reach the Western Conference finals for the second straight season and the eighth time overall. They lost to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in five games last spring.

The Clippers have won two playoff series in their history, and never made it past the second round.

Quinton Ross, starting in place of Maggette, added a career-high 18 points, Chris Kaman had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Sam Cassell added 15 points and eight assists for the Clippers, who shot 61.5 percent and outrebounded the Suns 48-28.

Shawn Marion had 34 points and nine rebounds to lead the Suns, who shot 44 percent. Leonardo Barbosa added 25 points, Steve Nash had 17 points and 11 assists, Boris Diaw had 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Raja Bell scored 13.

Dallas’ Terry suspended

The Mavericks-Spurs series took another wild turn Thursday, with Dallas guard Jason Terry getting suspended from Game 6 for punching former teammate Michael Finley while chasing a loose ball in the closing seconds of Game 5.

Terry and Finley jostled with 3.4 seconds left in San Antonio’s 98-97 victory on Wednesday night. Terry wound up on his back, grasping the ball, with Spurs forward Manu Ginobili forcing a jump ball by getting a hand on it, too.

Nothing was called at the time and neither team mentioned the incident during postgame interviews.

NBA vice president Stu Jackson said “clearly, something happened,” so it was reviewed early Thursday.

Jackson said broadcast footage doesn’t show the punch, but it was obvious when viewed from other angles. He also interviewed both players before handing down his ruling.

“There was no option here,” Jackson said. “The rule is very clear cut. If you throw a punch, whether it connects or not, that will get you an automatic one-game suspension.”

Terry left practice without speaking to reporters before the punishment was announced. He later missed his local radio show, but called in and said: “I just want to apologize to the team and the organization and the fans. This is definitely a sad situation. But, hey, life goes on. We’ve got to deal with it.”

The Mavericks lead the series 3-2. They have another chance to advance to the conference finals in Game 6 at home Friday night.

If the Spurs win, Game 7 would be Monday night in San Antonio.

Terry already had been sharing point-guard duties with Devin Harris since Game 2. Jerry Stackhouse likely will fill the vacancy in the starting lineup.

Terry is averaging 17.9 points in the playoffs, second on the club behind Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 32 points in Game 4 and had 15 in Game 5, missing a potential winning shot in the final seconds.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban called the suspension “unbelievable” in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

“Michael Finley does a pile driver with his hip to Jason’s head while he is on the ground,” Cuban wrote. “Jason is on his back with Ginobili laying on top of him. No question he tried to get Finley off of him and he should be fined for that. But to suspend him is questionable.”

Interviewed on Terry’s radio show, Cuban said he “didn’t understand it and not quite so politely, I told the league so.” He added that after watching replays from five angles, he considered it more of a reaction than a punch.

“If that’s a punch, Jason certainly didn’t get his money’s worth,” Cuban said. “If his hand would’ve been open to get Fin off him, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the fact that his fist was closed when he reacted to him, they call it a punch.”

Asked about the contact preceding the punch, Jackson said: “Certainly all players have the right to a loose ball. We recognize when players attempt to get a loose ball, there is going to be some contact.”

Spurs players weren’t available for comment Thursday.

San Antonio’s victory in Game 5 kept alive its title defense and extended a series that already is being called a classic.

The series already was highly anticipated because of a flaw in league rules that forced these teams to meet in the second round despite the fact they had the two best records in the Western Conference. It’s only the third time two 60-win teams have met this early in the postseason and the first time it didn’t happen without another 60-win team in the conference.

NBA commissioner David Stern already has announced a plan to fix the seeding system before next season.

The games have lived up to the hype, with four of them decided at the end and the home team winning each time. The difference in the series is that Dallas easily won Game 2 in San Antonio when Harris surprisingly joined Terry in a backcourt featuring two point guards.

Plus, the tight finishes have been matched by drama off the court: Cuban getting fined $200,000 for badmouthing of officials, the battle of wits between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his protege-turned-foe Johnson, and the saga of Finley facing the team that cut him this summer but is paying the majority of his $14.6 million salary.

His San Antonio teammates and coaches have been outraged that he’s been getting booed in Dallas, even though he said he expected it because he’s on the other side now. Nowitzki jokingly encouraged fans to jeer his good friend for the same reason.

Finley spent the previous nine seasons with the Mavericks, making the All-Star team twice. He was no longer producing at the level of his salary and Dallas used the league’s one-time amnesty clause to waive him last summer. He remains the fourth-leading scorer in franchise history.

Finley and Stackhouse tangled at the end of Game 2, with Stackhouse getting a technical foul.

AP-ES-05-18-06 2058EDT

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