Nowitzki eventually got a grip on his emotions, and the Dallas
forward just took out his frustrations on the Rockets instead.
A rejuvenated Nowitzki emerged from his two-game slump with 28
points to rescue the Mavericks, who played with the desperation of
a team facing elimination in a 106-102 victory over the Rockets on
"When my confidence is up, I'm a different player," Nowitzki
said. "In the first two games, I never really found my rhythm. I'm
glad that we finally got the shots we needed down the stretch."
Dallas has a chance to even the Western Conference series in
Game 4 Saturday night. Game 5 is in Dallas on Monday night.
Trailing 88-80 early in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks seemed
on their way to a 3-0 series deficit -- a hole no NBA team has ever
But Finley hit a jumper, Nowitzki dunked on a fast break, Finley
buried another 3 and Jason Terry made a couple of free throws to
retake the lead midway through the quarter.
The Mavs also got some help down the stretch from Houston. Tracy
McGrady missed two free throws, Houston misfired on seven straight
shots and the Rockets showed an uncharacteristic lack of poise --
especially for the league's oldest team.
"We had trouble staying poised and we panicked a little bit,"
McGrady said. "We didn't do anything to prevent them from making
Josh Howard, a second-year forward who's been clutch for the
Mavs in the postseason, completed a three-point play and scored on
a short jumper to finish off the run, putting Dallas ahead 100-88.
"Obviously we know the Rockets are still in control of this
series," said Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, who won his first
playoff game from the bench. "We feel we're still in a huge hole
and we have to play well on Saturday."
McGrady had another big game for the Rockets, finishing with 28
points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Bob Sura added 21
points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Yao Ming, who scored 33 points
on 13-of-14 shooting in Game 2, was held to 15 points and 10
rebounds while battling foul trouble for much of the game.
After thoroughly outplaying Nowitzki in Dallas, the Houston
crowd of 18,199 serenaded McGrady with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
during breaks in the action. McGrady, trying to get past the first
round for the first time in his eight-year career, responded with
another impressive all-around effort despite Dallas' varied
attempts to slow him down.
Playing with childhood idol Magic Johnson watching from a
sideline seat, McGrady almost flawlessly ran the Rockets'
catch-and-shoot offense. McGrady's drive-and-dish for David
Wesley's 3 gave Houston only its second lead of the game, 60-58, in
the third quarter and the Rockets seemed to only be getting
Sura flew in for an offensive rebound and tapped the ball back
out to Scott Padgett for another 3. McGrady followed with a
twisting, pumping layup in front of Nowitzki, Sura hit a running
jumper in the lane and Wesley capped the spurt with another
3-pointer from the corner to put Houston up 70-60.
"It seemed like we were relaxed in the fourth quarter," Yao
said, "like the game was already in our hands."
Not so fast.
A frustrated Nowitzki yelled at Daniels for a turnover. Johnson
berated Stackhouse for blowing a defensive assignment that led to
an easy layup. Both of them jawed with officials throughout the
Then, a strange thing happened: the Mavericks started chipping
away and the Rockets came undone.
"We all knew if we don't do it know ... it's probably over,"
Nowitzki said. "We all responded the right way."
Nowitzki finally got the best of McGrady, hitting jumpers
despite double teams, making all 10 of his free throws and
providing an emotional boost for a team on the ropes. In short, he
played like a superstar.
McGrady, meanwhile, went more than 13 minutes without scoring
during the Mavs' game-turning spurt.
^Notes:@ Dallas forward Keith Van Horn left in the second quarter
with an ankle sprain. ... Sura set playoff career highs across the
board: points, rebounds and assists. ... Astros pitcher Roger
Clemens and his wife, Debbie, watched from courtside seats. The
seven-time Cy Young Award winner was wearing a replica McGrady
jersey. ... During a timeout in the first quarter, Mavericks owner
Mark Cuban ran onto the court to support a Dallas jersey-wearing
fan who was a victim of a gag by the Rockets' mascot, Clutch.