HOUSTON (AP)—Jason Terry might never pass enough to earn favorable comparisons to Dallas’ previous point guard. That’s OK with the Mavericks, as long as Terry keeps scoring the way he did in Game 4.
With Dirk Nowitzki in another slump and Houston’s Tracy McGrady suddenly struggling after scoring virtually at will, Terry took over in the fourth quarter to rescue the Mavericks from the bleakest of deficits.
The unheralded point guard scored a season-high 32 points, including a 3-pointer with 26.9 seconds left, and Michael Finley added 18, rallying the Mavericks from another late deficit in a 97-93 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t consider ‘Jet’ a classic point guard,” said Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who was exactly that during his 16-year NBA career. “But he gets the job done.”
The victory evened the best-of-seven, first-round series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Monday night in Dallas.
The Mavericks might want to petition the NBA to hold the game elsewhere, because home-court advantage has been a disadvantage in this series. The road team has won all the games in this matchup.
“Hopefully, home will be a safe haven at some point in this series,” Mavericks guard Jerry Stackhouse said. “I think the pressure has been on us and now that the series is even, the pressure should be about the same.”
While 14 teams in NBA history have come back from 0-2 deficits—most recently last season when the Lakers beat San Antonio—only two teams have done it in a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home. The 1994 Rockets did it against Phoenix, and the 1969 Lakers against the San Francisco Warriors.
Dallas rallied from two games down against Utah in the first round in 2001, but both losses came on the road. These Mavericks came to Houston knowing they could win on the road, having won a franchise-best 29 games away from home.
The Mavericks had looked dazed by the intensity of the postseason in the first two games of the series. Other than Nowitzki and Finley, they lacked playoff experience, and were led by a rookie coach in Johnson, who took over for Don Nelson in the final month of the season.
The Rockets, meanwhile, had the league’s oldest team and a star in McGrady, who was hoping to making it past the first round for the first time in his eight-year career.
It showed—McGrady averaged 31 points in the first two games and Houston stole the first two games in Dallas.
Then, the Mavericks traveled to Houston, where the Rockets twice squandered leads in the fourth quarter to lose all the momentum they earned away from home.
“It’s very disappointing, the way we finished these last two games,” Rockets guard David Wesley said. “It’s two blown opportunities.”
McGrady led the Rockets with 36 points on 13-of-26 shooting, but came up short down the stretch in Game 4. He had only two points in the fourth quarter, missing all but one of his last five shots.
He played a huge role in Houston’s late collapse, firing up a couple of terrible shots in the last minute and failing to hold on to a rebound under Dallas’ basket with the Rockets down by two points with 11.4 seconds left.
“I just think that right now, everybody wants it so bad we’re just not staying poised,” McGrady said. “Right now, those guys want it more than us.”
The Mavericks were led by Terry, a six-year veteran whose first playoff experience came with Dallas. He was often derided for not being what former Dallas player Steve Nash (now an MVP candidate with Phoenix) is: a pass-first, pass-second and shoot later point guard.
But Dallas needed his scoring ability with Nowitzki resuming his series-long struggles following a 28-point performance in Game 3. He finished 18 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“We had to take some pressure off of Dirk,” Terry said. “I was just being aggressive. I wanted to persevere.”
Terry was nearly unstoppable, scoring eight points during a 15-2 spurt midway through the third quarter that gave the Mavericks a 77-72 lead and briefly silenced the raucous crowd of 18,211.
McGrady quickly had the fans of their feet again, making a pair of free throws, hitting a 3 from the corner as he fell out of bounds and forcing Stackhouse into a turnover to end the quarter.
McGrady then made his only basket of the fourth midway through the period, pushing Houston to an 88-82 lead and seemingly deflating the Mavs’ chances.
But Terry hit a 3, Erick Dampier put back his own miss and Finley made a couple of jumpers to put Dallas up 91-88.
Terry delivered his final blow on the next possession, losing his grip on the ball as he tried to drive around McGrady. The ball squirted high in the air and Nowitzki tapped it back out to Terry, who calmly knocked down a 25-footer to give the Mavericks a four-point lead.
“I knew it was good as soon as it left my hands,” Terry said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid on the playground. This is what the NBA is all about.”
It’s only the fifth time in NBA playoff history that the road team has won the first four games. … Terry tied a Mavericks playoff record with six 3-pointers. Nick Van Exel also did it against Sacramento in 2003. … The Rockets made the first lineup change of the series, starting Scott Padgett at power forward instead of Ryan Bowen. They combined for seven points and four rebounds in seven minutes. … Rockets center Yao Ming scored 20 points and had five blocks despite being limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble. … Dampier, Yao’s counterpart, fouled out and scored only two points.