Mavericks 104, Spurs 103


DALLAS (AP) – This time, it was the San Antonio Spurs who couldn’t make the play at the end. Just like that, their title defense could be in trouble.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 21 of his 27 points from the foul line, including a go-ahead pair with 7.9 seconds left, and the Mavs withstood two last-gasp chances after that to beat the Spurs 104-103 on Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series.

The fourth quarter provided the back-and-forth heavyweight bout expected from teams that won 63 and 60 games this season. For the first time in the series, and at the most crucial point thus far, both were at their best at the same time.

Until the very end, when San Antonio’s Robert Horry botched a handoff to Manu Ginobili, caroming the ball out of bounds across midcourt. Dallas’ Jerry Stackhouse went to the line with 2 seconds left, missed the first, then intentionally missed the second, hoping it would clang off the rim and time would run out.

But he missed the rim, giving the ball to San Antonio out of bounds for one last chance.

Brent Barry heaved the ball from in front of the Mavs bench to the lane, but Josh Howard was there to disrupt it, setting off a wild celebration. DeSagana Diop pulled his shirt almost over his head, then hugged a bouncing Devin Harris, who again was a spark plug in his second straight start.

After losing Game 2 by 22 points, the Spurs shook up their starting lineup and changed their defense. It didn’t help as they fell behind by 13 in the second quarter. Riding Tim Duncan, who scored a season-high 35 points but fouled out with 1:05 left, San Antonio took its first lead of the second half with 5:43 left.

Now the Spurs go into Game 4 on Monday night forced to do the one thing they haven’t done in the Duncan era – rally.

Since Duncan arrived, San Antonio has never won a series it trailed after three games. The last time the Spurs were behind this deep in the playoffs was the last one they lost, against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round two years ago.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich started Brent Barry over Ginobili, a move he had made for eight games last postseason. Perhaps more surprising was his decision to put defensive ace Bruce Bowen on Josh Howard, leaving Horry to guard Nowitzki.

Ginobili scored 24 points, four shy of his total over the first two games. He had 10 in the final quarter.

AP-ES-05-13-06 2327EDT