PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Mavericks lead 3-2.
Dallas hopes to remain perfect on the road in this series and finish off the Rockets when the teams meet in Game 6 at the Toyota Center.
Although they entered the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams, the Mavericks found themselves in a deep hole after losing the first two games of this series at home.
Only two teams in NBA history have come back to win a seven-game series after dropping the first two games at home—the 1969 Lakers and the 1994 Rockets. Both reached the NBA Finals, with Houston winning the championship.
One more victory makes Dallas the third team to join that select group.
“A lot of things happen for a reason. I think that was somewhat a blessing in disguise,” Dallas’ Michael Finley said. “Hopefully we can look back on it as the series go on and continue to use that as a stepping stone.”
While they are one win away from a second-round matchup with former point guard Steve Nash and top-seeded Phoenix, the Mavericks are doing their best to remain humble.
“We have a loose team but a focused team,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “They have a healthy sense of fear. They know you can’t relax for one second. They know that if you do, they’re going to get embarrassed.”
Winning three straight has given the Mavericks reason to be confident heading into Game 6, but they could easily have been eliminated already. Since losing the series opener by 12 points, each of the last four games have been decided by four points or fewer.
Although his team would be home for a potential Game 7, Mavericks point guard Jason Terry would much rather wrap up the series Thursday.
“Game 6 is a must-win for us,” he said. “We have to match their intensity and come out and play each possession like it’s our last.”
Houston and Dallas both have superstar players in Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki that have played very well in this series, but the biggest difference is the Rockets have a hard time winning unless McGrady is at his best. The Mavericks, meanwhile, have enough firepower besides Nowitzki to win when he’s not at the top of his game.
Dallas reserves have outscored Houston’s 100-77 in the last three games.
McGrady scored 25 points in Houston’s 103-100 loss in Game 5, but shot only 7-for-22, by far his worst shooting performance of the series. He missed two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left—the second intentionally—but got his own rebound and missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that could’ve tied it.
McGrady, who has never advanced past the first round, is on the verge of his team blowing a two-game lead for the second straight time. It happened when he played for Orlando against Detroit in 2003.
“I’ve been in this situation every time I’ve been in the playoffs,” McGrady said. “I’m optimistic about it. We have to play hard, lay everything out on the line.”
Rockets forward Scott Padgett was asked what his team needs to do to force Game 7, which would be Saturday in Dallas.
“Do the things we have control over,” he said. “Execute the offense. Run the plays. If we get a good shot and it doesn’t go in, we have no control over that. But run the plays that we’re supposed to run. On defense, if we’re supposed to trap on a pick-and-roll, trap. If we’re supposed to switch, switch. Do all the things. Do the game plan as it’s supposed to be done.”
While McGrady struggled with his shot in Game 5, Yao Ming rebounded from two straight sub-par games with 30 points on 10-of-13 shooting and eight rebounds. Had McGrady and Yao not missed a combined eight free throws in the fourth quarter, the Rockets might be the team one win away from advancing to the second round.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mavericks - 4th seed. Rockets - 5th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 23.2 ppg and 7.0 rpg; Terry, 4.6 apg. Rockets - McGrady, 30.2 ppg and 6.6 apg; Yao, 7.8 rpg.