DALLAS (AP)—The Dallas Mavericks were merely looking for a good game on both ends of the court. What they got was the most lopsided Game 7 victory in NBA playoff history.
And take note, Phoenix: They did it despite Dirk Nowitzki still misfiring.
With Jason Terry leading the offense and Josh Howard setting the defensive tone against Tracy McGrady, Dallas took a big lead in the opening minutes and built on it the rest of the way for an impressive 116-76 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
“This series stretched us, we were bending but we didn’t break,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Defensively, this was the performance I was looking for this whole series. It was right on time.”
Terry scored 21 of his 31 points in the first half, while Howard forced McGrady to miss six of his first seven shots. Although McGrady finished with 27 points, he shot 10-of-26 while trying to force the Rockets back into it.
“I just tried to contain him like I have the whole series,” Howard said. “This time, it finally worked.”
Frustrated, McGrady punched the air and came close to hitting an official. Teammate Mike James also let his emotions get the best of him and was tossed in the final minute of the third quarter.
“We cracked in every way,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “It was really not befitting how we played and conducted ourselves this year. … The way it ended does not reflect well on myself or the team, but it does not affect my overall pride. It does show how very, very far we have to go.”
Nowitzki, who has been sick with a cold, finished with a series-low 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Howard had 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and Michael Finley scored 13. Darrell Armstrong’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds provided Dallas with its largest postseason margin of victory ever and dealt the Rockets the most lopsided playoff loss in franchise history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the victory margin broke the record of 39 for a Game 7 set when St. Louis lost 85-46 to Philadelphia in the final game of the 1948 league semifinals.
Yao led Houston with 33 points. Other than him and McGrady, the Rockets got just 16 points from the rest of the team. The only bench points were from James (four) and Jon Barry (two); starter Bob Sura didn’t score in 25 minutes.
“We came out too flat,” McGrady said. “We couldn’t defend anybody. They were driving right by us. Guys were knocking down shots. I don’t think we were ready for that.”
Dallas led by 15 on a 3-pointer by Terry early in the second quarter, went up 24 before halftime and stretched it to 28 at the end of the third quarter. The only drama left was how many records would fall.
Dallas became just the third team in playoff history to win a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home. The reward is a trip to play the well-rested Suns and their MVP-to-be, Steve Nash, who spent six seasons with the Mavericks until signing with Phoenix as a free agent last summer.
For Houston, the blown series lead was one of many things to lament.
The Rockets acquired McGrady believing that teaming him with Yao Ming would help them win their first playoff series since 1997. Instead, their drought continued and McGrady fell to 0-for-5 in the postseason. The end of their run also means Van Gundy must answer to the NBA over his accusations about officiating that led to a $100,000 fine.
Dallas came into this game seemingly lucky to still be playing. In addition to going down 0-2, the Mavs trailed the Rockets in virtually every meaningful statistical category.
Their first defensive stand featured a block, a near-steal and Howard forcing McGrady to miss a long, ugly shot with the 24-second clock about to expire.
The Mavericks kept it up on defense, forcing the Rockets to miss 11 of their first 13 shots. They also were opportunistic on offense, driving the lane with abandon and drilling their outside shots as if it was pregame warmups. Terry, the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA this postseason, made his first three from behind the arc and Finley started 3-of-4.
When Terry hit a shorter jumper to make it 41-22, Van Gundy called his third crowd-quieting timeout of the game—and there was still 8:58 left in the second quarter. Soon after, a steal by Armstrong led to a layup by Stackhouse. In the tunnel between the benches, Don Nelson—Dallas’ coach until early March — stood with a priceless grin.
McGrady’s frustration boiled over midway through the second quarter. After missing three layups on one possession, he got so angry he wound up with a technical foul. But because Dallas was on a fast break, the whistle was held until after the next shot—another 3 by Terry. He then made the foul shot and the Mavs were up 49-25.
In the third quarter when Yao fouled Howard on a baseline drive and knocked him to the floor, Yao went to help Howard up but McGrady pulled his jersey to prevent him from doing so.
James’ fit was even more intense. So upset that Armstrong wasn’t called for a foul while blocking a layup, James ran back and fouled the first person he saw. He began ripping the referee and was hit with one technical, then another. He even shoved away the team’s trainer when he tried escorting him off the court.
Houston never led. The only tie was 4-4. … Two formally dressed teenagers seated near the baseline held up signs that read, “We Skipped Sr. Prom … to see our Mavs WIN!” … The Rockets dropped to 5-2 in Game 7s and 2-2 when they’re on the road. … The 1969 Lakers and ’94 Rockets were the other teams to win a seven-game series after losing the first two at home.