PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Mavericks lead 3-2.
The San Antonio Spurs barely were able to keep their season alive playing at home. Now they have to do it in Dallas.
Both games there in this series went down to the wire, and the Mavericks won both to move within one victory of knocking off the Spurs. They’ll get a second chance to end the reign of the defending NBA champions and avoid heading back to San Antonio as the teams square off in Game 6 of this semifinal series.
“It’s very important when you are in this situation,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “We’re looking at Game 6 as a Game 7.”
The two games in Dallas were just as close, with the Spurs falling 105-104 in Game 3 and 123-118 in overtime in Game 4 to fall into a 3-1 series deficit.
“This just shows how evenly matched these two teams are,” San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said after Game 5. “It is crazy how a single play can decide the game.”
The Spurs could get an edge from the absence of Terry, who was suspended for this game for punching former teammate Michael Finley while chasing a loose ball in the closing seconds of Game 5.
Jostling with Finley with 3.4 seconds left, Terry wound up on his back and grasped the ball, but Ginobili got a hand on it, too, to force a jump ball. While officials sorted out who had possession, Finley was visibly angry and needed to be restrained by teammates as he appeared to make a fist while saying someone punched him.
Nothing was called at the time. Neither team mentioned it during postgame interviews.
“Unbelievable,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban wrote 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. 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.”
Terry is Dallas’ second-leading scorer this postseason with 17.9 points per game and is averaging a team-high 4.4 assists. He led the Mavs to victory in Game 4 with 32 points and several clutch baskets.
Even with Terry in the lineup Wednesday, Dallas was held below 100 points for the second time in this series. Both games resulted in losses at the AT&T Center, where Game 7 would take place on Monday.
“We have no room for error,” Spurs forward Bruce Bowen said. “We have to go out there and take care of business.”
San Antonio has dropped four of five games as the visitor in this postseason, with the only win coming in a 105-83 series-clinching rout of the Sacramento Kings in Game 6 of the first round.
Tim Duncan will try to guide the Spurs to their second straight win in an elimination game after losing his first five such contests since joining the team in 1997.
Duncan scored a series-high 36 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Game 5.
“I had to be aggressive early,” said Duncan, who scored 28 points in the first half. “I didn’t want to look back with any regret… I just got some shots to go down and my confidence started to go up.”
The superstar forward averaged career lows of 18.6 points and 11.0 rebounds during the regular season and those numbers went down in the first round, but he’s averaged 32.2 points and 11.8 boards in this series.
Nowitzki has been just as important for Dallas. His point production has gone up in every game of the series, including a 31-point, 10-rebound performance on Wednesday.
“We approached this game like a Game 7. We don’t want the momentum to change,” Nowitzki said. “We worked hard in Game 2 and got home court. Now we have to go home and win a big game. Every game in this series we’ve approached like a Game 7. It’s been a heck of a series.”
Dallas is looking to qualify for the conference finals for the second time in four seasons and the third time ever, being eliminated by the eventual NBA champion both times on that stage—San Antonio in 2003 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988.
The Mavs are 38-7 this season at home, including 4-0 in the playoffs. They have won six of their last eight home games against the Spurs.
“Game 6 will be a whole different atmosphere,” Ginobili said. “They know they will have a chance to close out at home. We will have to play better to get a win there. We will need to play good defense and rebound the ball to be able to win there.”
Dallas has outrebounded its opponents in every playoff game and by a total of 60. The team held a 38-30 advantage over San Antonio in Game 5.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mavericks - 4th seed; beat Memphis Grizzlies 4-0, first round. Spurs - 1st seed; beat Sacramento Kings 4-2, first round.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 28.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg; Terry, 4.4 apg. Spurs - Duncan, 24.6 ppg and 10.4 rpg; Parker, 3.8 apg.