Mavericks 106, Rockets 102

HOUSTON (AP)—Down by eight points and with Houston seemingly cruising to a third straight playoff win, Dirk Nowitzki had some harsh words for Marquis Daniels for bungling a pass.

Nowitzki eventually got a grip on his emotions, and the Dallas forward just took out his frustrations on the Rockets instead.

A rejuvenated Nowitzki emerged from his two-game slump with 28 points to rescue the Mavericks, who played with the desperation of a team facing elimination in a 106-102 victory over the Rockets on Thursday night.

Michael Finley had 20, Jerry Stackhouse added 18 and the Mavericks went on a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter that deflated the Rockets in Game 3. The loss ended Houston’s nine-game winning streak.

“When my confidence is up, I’m a different player,” Nowitzki said. “In the first two games, I never really found my rhythm. I’m glad that we finally got the shots we needed down the stretch.”

Dallas has a chance to even the Western Conference series in Game 4 Saturday night. Game 5 is in Dallas on Monday night.

Trailing 88-80 early in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks seemed on their way to a 3-0 series deficit—a hole no NBA team has ever rallied from.

But Finley hit a jumper, Nowitzki dunked on a fast break, Finley buried another 3 and Jason Terry made a couple of free throws to retake the lead midway through the quarter.

The Mavs also got some help down the stretch from Houston. Tracy McGrady missed two free throws, Houston misfired on seven straight shots and the Rockets showed an uncharacteristic lack of poise—especially for the league’s oldest team.

“We had trouble staying poised and we panicked a little bit,” McGrady said. “We didn’t do anything to prevent them from making that run.”

Josh Howard, a second-year forward who’s been clutch for the Mavs in the postseason, completed a three-point play and scored on a short jumper to finish off the run, putting Dallas ahead 100-88.

“Obviously we know the Rockets are still in control of this series,” said Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who won his first playoff game from the bench. “We feel we’re still in a huge hole and we have to play well on Saturday.”

McGrady had another big game for the Rockets, finishing with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Bob Sura added 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Yao Ming, who scored 33 points on 13-of-14 shooting in Game 2, was held to 15 points and 10 rebounds while battling foul trouble for much of the game.

After thoroughly outplaying Nowitzki in Dallas, the Houston crowd of 18,199 serenaded McGrady with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” during breaks in the action. McGrady, trying to get past the first round for the first time in his eight-year career, responded with another impressive all-around effort despite Dallas’ varied attempts to slow him down.

Playing with childhood idol Magic Johnson watching from a sideline seat, McGrady almost flawlessly ran the Rockets’ catch-and-shoot offense. McGrady’s drive-and-dish for David Wesley’s 3 gave Houston only its second lead of the game, 60-58, in the third quarter and the Rockets seemed to only be getting started.

Sura flew in for an offensive rebound and tapped the ball back out to Scott Padgett for another 3. McGrady followed with a twisting, pumping layup in front of Nowitzki, Sura hit a running jumper in the lane and Wesley capped the spurt with another 3-pointer from the corner to put Houston up 70-60.

“It seemed like we were relaxed in the fourth quarter,” Yao said, “like the game was already in our hands.”

Not so fast.

A frustrated Nowitzki yelled at Daniels for a turnover. Johnson berated Stackhouse for blowing a defensive assignment that led to an easy layup. Both of them jawed with officials throughout the game.

Then, a strange thing happened: the Mavericks started chipping away and the Rockets came undone.

“We all knew if we don’t do it know … it’s probably over,” Nowitzki said. “We all responded the right way.”

Nowitzki finally got the best of McGrady, hitting jumpers despite double teams, making all 10 of his free throws and providing an emotional boost for a team on the ropes. In short, he played like a superstar.

McGrady, meanwhile, went more than 13 minutes without scoring during the Mavs’ game-turning spurt.


Dallas forward Keith Van Horn left in the second quarter with an ankle sprain. … Sura set playoff career highs across the board: points, rebounds and assists. … Astros pitcher Roger Clemens and his wife, Debbie, watched from courtside seats. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner was wearing a replica McGrady jersey. … During a timeout in the first quarter, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ran onto the court to support a Dallas jersey-wearing fan who was a victim of a gag by the Rockets’ mascot, Clutch.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
D. Nowitzki D. Nowitzki
9-16,  28 Pts
6 Rebs, 3 Assists
T. McGrady T. McGrady
10-23,  28 Pts
9 Rebs, 6 Assists

Team Stat Leaders