Mavs' big three stars step up to fill trade void

DALLAS (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash
showed why the Dallas Mavericks wouldn't consider trading them.

With the Dallas roster depleted by a trade earlier in the day, Nowitzki had 33 points and 23 rebounds and Finley and Nash both hit key 3-pointers to lead a comeback as the Mavericks beat the Boston Celtics 98-92.

"Tonight it showed that with the core guys, it always comes back to us," Finley said. "It's up to us to continue to be consistent and continue to lead."

The Mavericks had only eight players in uniform after a trade with Denver in which they acquired Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz and two others, but they were able to overcome a 14-point third-quarter deficit because of their three stars.

Finley's 3-pointer with two minutes left pulled the Mavericks to
90-89. After Nowitzki grabbed a Boston miss, Finley hit a long
jumper to put Dallas ahead to stay.

Nash's 3-pointer with 39 seconds left, his first field goal of
the second half, provided the needed margin.

"We didn't take them lightly. They still have three All-Stars on the floor, so you can never take them lightly," Boston's Antoine Walker said. "We let one slip away from us."

Boston led 74-60 after Tony Battie made a free throw with 3:30 left in the third quarter. But the Mavericks cut the gap to 78-71 by the end of the quarter on a 3-pointer by Finley, a two-time All-Star before this season.

Nowitzki and Nash both played in the All-Star game earlier this

Earlier Thursday, the Mavericks dealt starter Juwan Howard and
reserves Tim Hardaway and Donnell Harvey to the Denver Nuggets in a
seven-player deal for Van Exel, LaFrentz, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and
Avery Johnson.

Van Exel, LaFrentz and Johnson were in owner Mark Cuban's suite by the second half and got a loud ovation when they were shown on the giant television screens above the court.

Cuban said coach Don Nelson sat down with his three stars before completing the trade to get their blessing. "They were excited," Cuban said.

Finley finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, while Nash had 16 points. The 23 rebounds by Nowitzki were a career high, as were his eight assists.

"We just had to step it up, and that's what we did," Nowitzki said. "I tried to be more aggressive on the offensive end, and go after the ball."

Paul Pierce and Battie led Boston with 17 points. Antoine Walker
had 16 points and Erick Strickland 15.

The Mavericks finally tied the game at 84 on Wang Zhizhi's
3-pointer with 6:58 left. Kenny Anderson responded with a basket to
put the Celtics back ahead, and after a Dallas turnover, Strickland
drove for a layup.

Dallas trailed 60-48 at halftime before scoring the first eight
points of the second half. Nowitzki opened the scoring with a
jumper and made a strong move on the baseline for a basket, making
it 60-56.

But the Celtics scored nine straight points, including a 3-pointer and another basket by Walker en route to their largest lead.

It was the second year in a row that the Mavericks made a big
trade just before the deadline and played with a depleted bench
against the Celtics. Dallas beat Boston 98-91 with just nine
players in uniform last February.

Game notes
Tony Delk, obtained in a trade from Phoenix on Wednesday,
wasn't with the Celtics. Rodney Rogers, another part of the deal,
was in the arena but didn't play. ... After six straight road
games, the Mavericks played eight of nine at home. ... After
scoring 30 points in each of the first two quarters, the Celtics
had just 32 points after halftime.

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