After absorbing the low blow that got Mavericks guard Jason Terry suspended, Finley ignored the taunts from the Dallas fans who used to adore him and scored 16 points, helping the Spurs to a 91-86 victory Friday night that forces a Game 7 in a series that certainly deserves to end that way.
Finley scored 10 points in the third quarter to help San Antonio hang close, then made the go-ahead basket on a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:45 left—and Dallas’ 7-foot star Dirk Nowitzki running at him.
Finley then defended Nowitzki on a missed 3-pointer that could’ve tied it with 6.9 seconds left. The off-balanced shot landed well short. Tony Parker got the rebound, was fouled and hit both shots, sealing the Spurs’ second straight salvation of their title defense.
Now they get another chance at home Monday night.
Finley spent the nine previous seasons in Dallas, playing a big role in taking the club from lottery mainstays to perennial contenders. He was released last summer under the NBA’s one-time amnesty clause and is still getting paid $14.6 million from the Mavericks.
“It’s a strange situation for me, but this was a great game,” Finley said.
San Antonio got 30 points from Manu Ginobili and 24 from Tim Duncan, who was in foul trouble throughout. Parker failed to capitalize on Terry’s absence, shooting only 3-of-15 for eight points. A saving grace for the Spurs was making all 15 of their second-half free throws, something they rarely do.
But other than Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 26 points, 21 rebounds and five assists, the Mavericks struggled.
“We really had a chance at winning this game and playing well, but we just couldn’t get it in the basket,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. “We’ll get back to practice Sunday, strap it up and get ready to go back to San Antonio.”
The Spurs could become only the ninth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit—and the second this season. Phoenix did it in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Six of the other winners were at home for Game 7, just like San Antonio will be.
“We’re at home so everybody thinks we’re going to win, but it’s not automatic,” Ginobili said.
This series shouldn’t end with anything less than a winner-take-all clash. With enough drama and intensity of a great NBA Finals, five of the six games have been decided at the end. The five-point margin matched the second-biggest of the series.
“You just flip a coin and whichever way it lands that’s the team that’ll probably win that night,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Having blown their second straight chance of reaching the conference finals, the Mavs’ only solace is that they’ll get back Terry, their second-leading scorer.
“We love the challenge,” Johnson said. “We don’t have any fear.”
Terry was suspended for punching Finley between his legs during a loose-ball scramble in the closing seconds of Game 5. He joined the team at an afternoon shootaround, but had to watch the game at home.
Dallas controlled the game for three quarters. San Antonio’s biggest lead to that point was 2-0. Every time the Spurs went ahead, the Mavericks regained the lead on their next possession.
But Dallas was sloppy at the start of the fourth quarter. San Antonio was, too, but not as bad, and took its biggest lead yet at 74-71 on a three-point play by Duncan.
The Mavericks got three straight baskets to go ahead 81-80 with 3:37 left, forcing the Spurs to call a timeout with an arena-record of 20,986 going bonkers. Parker answered with his first basket since the first quarter.
Dallas seemed to catch a break when Duncan got his fifth foul immediately after. But Harris made only one of two free throws and Finley answered with his 3.
San Antonio essentially dared Harris to shoot in the fourth quarter. He took eight of Dallas’ last 22 shots and made only two.
Terry wasn’t forgotten. Fans in the entire front row around the court all wore his blue road jersey, the equipment manager wore one of his sweatbands and there were dozens of signs of support—as well as crude ones about Finley. Among the printable ones: “Public Enemy No. 4,” referencing his jersey number.
This was the second time this postseason the Spurs have faced a team missing a key player. Sacramento’s Ron Artest was suspended from Game 2 in the first round and the Kings took San Antonio to overtime.
Popovich said before the game that he was wary again because “more weird things have happened when this guy or that guy didn’t play.”
Nowitzki, Howard and Stackhouse scored all 25 of Dallas’ first-quarter points. The Spurs never let the Mavs get too far ahead, though, and went up 28-27 early in the third.
Dallas answered with an 11-3 run and led 47-41 at halftime. It was nearly more as Marquis Daniels stole a pass and made a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was released a fraction of a second too late.
Nowitzki’s rebounds were a season high and a franchise record in a playoff game. … Before the series, Mavs owner Mark Cuban invited Finley’s family to watch the series in his family’s luxury suite. “I like Mike,” said Cuban, adding that he’d consider re-signing Finley when he becomes a free agent after the 2007-08 season. “But, you know, entertainment is part of the game. Booing him doesn’t make him a bad guy.”