Bragging rights on line in Mavs-Spurs series
DALLAS -- Dallas and San Antonio already were playing a memorable series. Then Jason Terry's fist landed below Michael Finley's belt.
Now, we might be witnessing the start of the NBA's newest rivalry.
Controversy and bad blood were about the only things missing from this two-week run of great games between great teams that happen to be in-state rivals.
Well, there was one more thing, but that was taken care of in Game 6, with Terry suspended and Finley making the key plays down the stretch of a 91-86 victory by the Spurs.
The final ingredient: Game 7, Monday night in San Antonio.
"We need intense, bloodthirsty, Red Sox-Yankees rivalries in this league," said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has riled up both sides.
"People who work side by side say, 'Oh, I hate (your team). Let's go get a beer and we'll scream about it at the bar.' ... This type of series leads to those things."
Respect runs deep between the clubs, with Dallas coach Avery Johnson having honed his vision of how the game should be played during his many years playing for San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
And the Spurs are still the big kids on the block, having won two of the last three championships and three of seven, while the Mavericks have never even made the Finals.
But after splitting their four regular-season meetings, the teams have split six more in the postseason.
The final margin of each playoff game: 2 points, 22, 1, 5, 1, 5. All but Game 2 were decided in the final minute, with Game 4 going to overtime.
"I'm sure each team feels they've given away games at the end," Popovich said.
On Friday night, Dallas led for most of the first three quarters, then Finley hit a 3-pointer with 2:45 left to break a tie at 82 and defended Dirk Nowitzki on a missed 3-pointer that could've tied it with about six seconds left.
The Spurs avoided elimination for a second straight time and again blocked the Mavs from advancing to the conference finals. It also put San Antonio one win from becoming the ninth team to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
"I've been in the playoffs for six years now and this is the closest series I've been in," Nowitzki said. "One bounce here, one bounce there decides the games. It's been a pleasure to play in this series."
The series really has had everything.
• Great players doing great things?
Three-time NBA Finals MVP Tim Duncan is having one of his best series, averaging 30.8 points and 11.2 rebounds. In Game 5, he tied an NBA postseason record by making 12 straight shots.
Bruce Bowen swarmed Nowitzki in the opener, showing why he's made the league's All-Defensive team for sixth straight years. In the closing seconds of Game 5, Bowen tied up Nowitzki from behind, preventing the big German from getting off a potential winning basket.
Nowitzki has still managed to keep up a streak of 20-point games that dates to February, even going for 31 in Game 5. He set a franchise playoff record with 22 rebounds in Game 6, when he also led the club in points and assists.
• Strategic moves and countermoves?
Both teams opened this series with the lineups they used to end the previous round. Since then, every game has featured a team using a new starting lineup, including several combinations never tried in the regular season.
San Antonio's last two wins have exposed 100 points as the statistical dividing line between the teams. The Spurs are 3-0 when keeping the Mavs below it, 0-3 when the Mavs break it.
Their matchup in this round is controversial. It exposed a flaw in the NBA seeding system that commissioner David Stern already has proposed to fix before next season.
Johnson made things easy for talk radio shows when he said San Antonio was playing "bear-hug defense" in the opener. Then Cuban was fined $200,000 for griping about officials.
The Terry-Finley drama trumps all those, with the replay of it being shown so often -- usually in slow motion and with spot-shadowing -- that Cuban referred to it as "the Zapruder film."
• How about folks who just don't like each other?
Mavs fans were booing Finley from the start of the series. It could've been described as a bizarre show of affection for one of the greatest players in franchise history now wearing enemy colors.
There was an added edge to their jeers Friday night.
"Every action film has a villain," Cuban said. "Booing him doesn't mean he's a bad guy. ... When they see him walking down the street, I hope they shake his hand. There's a big difference."
Terry, of course, better brace for a rude welcome Monday night.
Cuban, too, after saying before Game 6 that the Mavericks were going to kick the Spurs back to the "muddy-watered thing they call a Riverwalk."
Asked after the game if he had any restaurant recommendations for Cuban in San Antonio, Duncan coldly said: "I have nothing to say to Mark Cuban. Not a thing."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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