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Mavericks Find Touch at the End -- Finally

Nowitzki and Van Exel combine for 57 points to help Dallas defeat Portland, 107-95, in Game 7 after blowing 3-0 lead in the series.

May 05, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — In the end, the Portland Trail Blazers collapsed.

The Dallas Mavericks didn't choke, didn't flinch. To their immense relief, they didn't take their place among such legendary failures as the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters and the 1992 Houston Oilers.

By virtue of a 107-95 victory Sunday over the Trail Blazers in front of 20,281 in the American Airlines Center, they averted becoming the first team in NBA history to fritter away a playoff series after leading, three games to none.

Before the Trail Blazers did it, only two other NBA teams had taken a seven-game series to the limit after falling behind, 3-0: the New York Knicks against the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the Denver Nuggets against the Utah Jazz in 1994.

And like the Knicks and Nuggets before them, the Trail Blazers fell short, the Mavericks outscoring them, 14-2, over the last 2 minutes 52 seconds to advance to the Western Conference semifinals against the Sacramento Kings.

The Mavericks, after blowing a halftime lead in Game 4, squandering a nine-point advantage in the last six minutes of Game 5 and falling flat in a 22-point loss Friday night at Portland in Game 6, finally showed off a finishing kick.

Led by All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki and reserve point guard Nick Van Exel, who combined for 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, they made 76.5% of their shots in the fourth quarter and outscored the Trail Blazers, 36-22.

Nowitzki finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds, Van Exel scored 26 points in 31 minutes and Steve Nash contributed 21 points and seven assists.

Together, the trio rescued the Mavericks from athletic infamy.

"Once we got in yesterday," Van Exel said of the Mavericks' Saturday return from Portland, "I went home, locked my doors and pulled down my blinds. I didn't want to be seen in Dallas. That was the feeling I had. I don't think people wanted to look at us. Up, 3-0, lose three in a row, backs against the wall.

"It's an embarrassing feeling and I couldn't wait to get back to the gym to get all that over with and get back out on the court. And, luckily, we got the win."

Coach Don Nelson gave an assist to Trail Blazer forward Ruben Patterson, who said after Game 6 that the Mavericks looked "a little scared."

"Ruben Patterson is dumber than a rock," Nelson said. "We put what he said on the board, which helped us, I thought.... You can quote me on that. Thank you, Ruben, for being dumber than a rock and helping us."

Even with the added motivation supplied by Patterson, the Mavericks were only even with the Trail Blazers, 93-93, after Scottie Pippen made a three-point shot from the left corner with 3:13 to play.

But the Trail Blazers, who had lost 10 consecutive playoff games before winning Game 4 in this series, didn't make another shot.

At the other end, Nowitzki made a 19-foot jumper to put the Mavericks ahead, 95-93, a short follow to make the score 97-93 and a 25-foot three-pointer off a pass from Nash to stretch the lead to 100-94 with 1:21 remaining.

He was only finishing what Van Exel had started. The former Laker scored nine of the Mavericks' first 11 points in the fourth quarter, then made a long three-point basket with 3:38 left after Nowitzki had failed to pop out to set a screen.

"If Van Exel didn't play the game he played," Trail Blazer guard Damon Stoudamire said, "we'd be talking about us winning this game."

And that would have been historic.

"We never thought about setting a record or anything," Nowitzki said. "We just wanted to win the game. Our mind-set was, it's a one-game series now and we worked hard the whole season to get the home-court advantage. I think we used that advantage very nicely."

Said Nelson: "It's just hard to beat a good team four [consecutive] times. We couldn't do it to them and thank goodness we had this one at home and we rose to the occasion."

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