Spurs get to play pivotal Game 7 at home

Updated: May 21, 2006, 9:40 PM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- The boos turned into cheers for Michael Finley as soon as he set foot back in San Antonio.

When the Spurs' team plane arrived at home early Saturday, about 1,000 fans were there to congratulate them for rallying from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 in their second-round series against the Dallas Mavericks.

If that many people were so hyped up that they went to the airport at 2 a.m. instead of partying or sleeping, then imagine what the atmosphere will be like in San Antonio on Monday night for the conference-finals-or-bust game that Mavs owner Mark Cuban is hyping as "the Rumble by the Riverwalk."

"This is the benefit of having one of the best records in the league," forward Bruce Bowen said Sunday. "But (winning) is not given to us because we're at home. We have to fight for this."

San Antonio earned the advantage by winning 63 games in the regular season, the most in club history and three more than Dallas.

Last June, the Spurs benefited from being at home for their last Game 7, beating the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals to claim their second title in three years and third in seven.

Starting with the 2001 postseason, home teams have won 13 of 16 Game 7s. That includes Detroit beating Cleveland on Sunday, and Dallas' victories over Houston last year and both Portland and Sacramento in 2003.

The only other Game 7 in Mavs history was back in 1988, when they lost -- on the road -- to the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals.

That remains the closest the franchise has ever gotten to making the finals, although getting past San Antonio would be a huge step for this team's chances. The Mavericks would have home-court advantage in the Western Conference finals, regardless of whether Phoenix or the Los Angeles Clippers win the other series.

But Dallas already has blown two chances two advance. A third would make the Mavericks only the ninth team in league history to squander a 3-1 series lead.

"We've won big games on the road all season and we've won in their building already in the playoffs," leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said.

The Mavericks failed to wrap things up Friday night because their offense wasn't the same without guard Jason Terry, who was suspended for punching Finley in the shorts in Game 5. Dallas fans berated Finley throughout Game 6 -- and Terry can expect the same venom-filled treatment Monday night.

"Don't care about their reaction," Terry said after rejoining teammates for practice Sunday. "But I know we want to keep it real quiet in that arena."

Cuban is certain to take plenty of heat, too, especially after posting a blog entry Saturday that said San Antonio has "zero sense of humor."

"There isn't even a close second. ... They are the rudest and curse the most," he wrote, also noting that his pregnant wife was called "a choice name or two" earlier this series.

While enthusiasm helps fuel a budding rivalry, tight games mean more. And this series has been filled with them; five points or less separated the teams in all but one game.

"We've played each other 10 times this year and it's five and five. So after tomorrow somebody's going to be six and somebody's going to be five," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Whoever loses would probably win the next game, it's that close."

Overall, Dallas has scored 34 more points, grabbed 16 more rebounds and blocked 10 more shots. Divide that by 10 for the per-game average and it's a negligible difference.

Similar balance is all over the stat sheet.

The Spurs have 11 more assists, but committed 11 more turnovers. The Mavs have six more steals, but 20 more fouls. Dallas has made 12 more free throws, but San Antonio has more than made up for it by making 15 more 3s.

"In most series, there are definite things you can take advantage of," Popovich said. "But the margin of taking advantage of those things in this series is very slim."

Having Terry back should help fellow guard Devin Harris find more room to operate. The Spurs shut down the driving lanes in Game 6 and the Mavs never hit enough outside shots to open things up.

"We're going to run it at every opportunity, starting from when we get off the bus," Terry said.

Tim Duncan is coming off his worst game this series, scoring "only" 24 points. An extra day off between games likely will have him refreshed. Tony Parker isn't likely to go 3-for-15 again, either.

"I think the pressure is really equal on both teams," Nowitzki said. "I think it's going to be an awesome game."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press