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Mavs' Terry suspended one game without pay

DALLAS -- The Mavericks-Spurs series took another wild turn
Thursday, with Dallas guard Jason Terry getting suspended from Game
6 for punching former teammate Michael Finley while chasing a loose
ball in the closing seconds of Game 5.

Terry and Finley jostled with 3.4 seconds left in San Antonio's
98-97 victory on Wednesday night. Terry wound up on his back,
grasping the ball, with Spurs forward Manu Ginobili forcing a jump
ball by getting a hand on it, too.

While officials were sorting things out, Finley was visibly
angry and had to be restrained by teammates. He appeared to be
making a fist and telling his teammates that someone had punched
him.

Nothing was called at the time and neither team mentioned the
incident during postgame interviews, but NBA vice president Stu
Jackson said "clearly, something happened," so it was reviewed
early Thursday.

Jackson said broadcast footage doesn't show the punch, but it
was obvious when viewed from other angles. He also interviewed both
players before handing down his ruling.

"There was no option here," Jackson said. "The rule is very
clear cut. If you throw a punch, whether it connects or not, that
will get you an automatic one-game suspension."

Terry left practice without speaking to reporters before the
punishment was announced. He later missed his local radio show, but
called in and said: "I just want to apologize to the team and the
organization and the fans. This is definitely a sad situation. But,
hey, life goes on. We've got to deal with it."

The Mavericks lead the series 3-2. They have another chance to
advance to the conference finals in Game 6 at home Friday night.

If the Spurs win, Game 7 would be Monday night in San Antonio.

Terry already had been sharing point-guard duties with Devin Harris since Game 2. Dallas' most likely move is adding Jerry Stackhouse to the lineup.

Terry is averaging 17.9 points in the playoffs, second on the
club behind Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 32 points in Game 4 and had 15
in Game 5, missing a potential winning shot in the final seconds.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban called the suspension "unbelievable."

"Michael Finley does a piledriver with his hip to Jason's head
while he is on the ground," Cuban wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "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."

Interviewed on Terry's radio show, Cuban said he "didn't
understand it and not quite so politely, I told the league so." He
added that after watching replays from five angles, he considered
it more of a reaction than a punch.

"If that's a punch, Jason certainly didn't get his money's
worth," Cuban said. "If his hand would've been open to get Fin
off him, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But the fact that
his fist was closed when he reacted to him, they call it a punch."

Asked about the contact preceding the punch, Jackson said:
"Certainly all players have the right to a loose ball. We
recognize when players attempt to get a loose ball, there is going
to be some contact."

Spurs players weren't available for comment Thursday.

San Antonio's victory in Game 5 kept alive its title defense and
extended a series that already is being called a classic.

The series already was highly anticipated because of a flaw in
league rules that forced these teams to meet in the second round
despite the fact they had the two best records in the Western
Conference. It's only the third time two 60-win teams have met this
early in the postseason and the first time it didn't happen without
another 60-win team in the conference.

NBA commissioner David Stern already has announced a plan to fix
the seeding system before next season.

The games have lived up to the hype, with four of them decided
at the end and the home team winning each time. The difference in
the series is that Dallas easily won Game 2 in San Antonio when
Harris surprisingly joined Terry in a backcourt featuring two point
guards.

Plus, the tight finishes have been matched by drama off the
court: Cuban getting fined $200,000 for badmouthing of officials,
the battle of wits between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his
protege-turned-foe Johnson, and the saga of Finley facing the team
that cut him this summer but is paying the majority of his $14.6
million salary.

His San Antonio teammates and coaches have been outraged that
he's been getting booed in Dallas, even though he said he expected
it because he's on the other side now. Nowitzki jokingly encouraged
fans to jeer his good friend for the same reason.

Finley spent the previous nine seasons with the Mavericks,
making the All-Star team twice. He was no longer producing at the
level of his salary and Dallas used the league's one-time amnesty
clause to waive him last summer. He remains the fourth-leading
scorer in franchise history.

Finley and Stackhouse tangled at the end of Game 2, with
Stackhouse getting a technical foul.