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Finley fizzles in Dallas return as Spurs suffer first loss

DALLAS (AP) -- When Michael Finley stepped onto the Dallas Mavericks' court wearing the silver and black of the San Antonio Spurs, the home fans stood and cheered -- even team owner Mark Cuban, coach Avery Johnson and assistant coach Del Harris.

Then Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris really gave the locals something to celebrate.

Nowitzki scored 34 points and combined with Harris to spark a 16-2 run that broke open a tie game, leading the Mavericks past former teammate Finley and the Spurs 103-84 on Saturday night.

The Mavs' home opener was their first game in Dallas without Finley on the roster since December 1996. He was cut this summer in a cost-saving move but a scheduling fluke put him in the building anyway.

Now a reserve, he entered midway through the first quarter and received a long, loud ovation, with official Jess Kersey helping stretch the applause by chatting with Finley before handing him the ball for an inbounds pass. Finley badly missed his first shot about a minute later and finished 1-of-6 with only two points in 27 minutes.

"It felt funny the whole game," he said. "It was an awkward feeling and I put too much pressure on myself to have a perfect game. I'm glad it's out of the way."

Although nothing about his 8½ stellar years in Dallas was mentioned when Finley was introduced, the sellout crowd didn't need any prompting to honor the player whose arrival began their turnaround after years of being a bottom-feeder. He was a two-time
All-Star for the Mavs and a co-captain and left as the No. 4 scorer and top 3-point shooter in franchise history.

"I though it was great for Mike," Cuban said of the ovation. "He's an icon here. He gave his heart and soul."

With Finley and Steve Nash both gone, Nowitzki is all that's left of the Big Three that helped Dallas return to prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The way Nowitzki played Saturday night showed why the Mavs are happy to take their chances with him and a supporting cast.

The 7-foot German stayed mostly in his comfort zone, 15-plus feet from the basket, yet still dominated, such as scoring 11 straight points in the second quarter. He finished 12-of-20 -- including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers -- and had eight rebounds, all while facing a rotation of defenders.

Bruce Bowen started against him before Tim Duncan took over. Finley had a few cracks, as did 7-footer Rasho Nesterovic and third-string point guard Beno Udrih, yet none could slow him very much.

"They always play me with a smaller defender and I was able to get away a little bit tonight and rise up for my jump shot," Nowitzki said. "All I need is just a little bit of space and I was able to create that tonight."

Harris was 8-for-8 from the field and scored 20 of his career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a long 3-pointer seconds before the final buzzer. His energy helped Dallas take control for good.

"We tried to push it in transition and I got some layups early in the fourth quarter," said Harris, the fifth pick of last year's draft. "We finished the game well enough to hold them off down the stretch."

Josh Howard added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Mavericks.

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 24 points and Duncan scored 18, but only three in the second half. Manu Ginobili scored 13 and Nick Van Exel, another former Mavs player, had 11, all in the first half.

"I think a lot of things fell into place for them tonight," Duncan said. "[Harris] got rolling and Dirk was unbelievable. I thought that we contested him pretty well. He took some tough looks and he just kept knocking them out."

Dallas began to pull away in the third quarter, with Nowitzki scoring over Duncan and then hitting a 3-pointer for a 62-51 lead midway through the period. But the Mavericks missed their next six shots and San Antonio took advantage with an 11-0 run that included Finley's only basket, a layup.

Then came a big dunk by Keith Van Horn and Dallas was back in control.

Nowitzki nailed another 3, Harris scooped in a layup around Duncan and Nowitzki hit a jumper to give Dallas a 71-64 lead at the end of the quarter. The Mavs scored the first seven points of the fourth and the Spurs, who played at home the previous night, hardly
threatened again.

Game notes
Howard had four steals in the second quarter, three coming on consecutive possessions. ... At halftime, Duncan had 15 points and the rest of San Antonio's starters had 14.... Doug Christie,
Finley's replacement in Dallas' starting lineup, made 2-of-3 shots. He was 1-for-10 over his first two games.