Nowitzki, Mavs put defending champ Spurs in hole

DALLAS (AP) -- Tim Duncan got the San Antonio Spurs in position
to pull out a victory.

Manu Ginobili nearly took them the rest of the way -- until he
fumbled a handoff from Robert Horry in the closing seconds.

The ball rolled across midcourt, then out of bounds, and the
Spurs couldn't make anything out of a wild last-gasp chance,
letting Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks cling to a thrilling
104-103 victory Saturday night and a 2-1 lead in their second-round

"I don't know what happened," Ginobili said of the squandered
chance. "Someone tipped the pass from Robert. It was an
unfortunate play."

It happened so fast that Mavs coach Avery Johnson credited Josh
Howard for getting his fingers on it, but Howard credited Jason
Terry and Devin Harris.

Harris took the credit, making him the star for a second
straight game. He was a surprise starter in Game 2, when he scored
20 points and energized Dallas to a 22-point victory.

"I was able to get a hand in without fouling and got a little
piece of the ball," said Harris, who scored 24 points on 7-of-14

Nowitzki scored 21 of his 27 points from the foul line,
including a go-ahead pair with 7.9 seconds left, and had 15

Nowitzki played the final 1:05 with a badly twisted ankle
suffered on the play when Duncan fouled out with a season-high 35
points and 12 rebounds.

"(Nowitzki) came back out there and gutted it out," Johnson
said. "He knew we needed this game."

As great as Duncan was -- for the third straight game this series
-- he and the Spurs are going to have to be better.

They go into Game 4 on Monday night trying to shake a strange
fact: Since Duncan arrived, San Antonio has never won a series it
trailed after three games. The last time the Spurs were behind this
deep in the playoffs was the last one they lost, against the Los
Angeles Lakers in the second round two years ago.

"We're going to have to come out and know the importance of
this (next) game," Duncan said. "It is a must-win for us."

The fourth quarter provided the back-and-forth heavyweight bout
expected from teams that won 63 and 60 games this season. For the
first time in the series, and at the most crucial point thus far,
both were at their best at the same time.

San Antonio, which trailed by 13 in the second quarter, went
back ahead in the final six minutes. The lead went back and forth
after that, with Dallas keeping pace by making 18 of 19 free
throws, until Stackhouse went to the line with 2 seconds left
following Ginobili's bobble.

He missed the first, then intentionally missed the second. His
attempt to hit the rim and hope time ran out in the scramble for
the rebound backfired when he thudded the ball off the backboard.
Horry caught it and San Antonio called timeout.

"I tried to hit back rim and would up not hitting anything,"
Stackhouse said. "I just overshot it."

Brent Barry heaved the ball from in front of the Mavs bench to
the lane, but Howard was there to disrupt it.

After being run over in Game 2, the Spurs came back from a
three-day break with a new starting lineup and a reshuffled
defense. Barry got the nod over Ginobili and defensive ace Bruce
Bowen was covering Howard, leaving Horry to guard Nowitzki.

Ginobili, who came in fighting injuries, a creaky jumper and an
admitted lack of confidence, scored 24 points, four shy of his
total over the first two games. He made 10 of 11 free throws, but
San Antonio missed 10 for the game.

Ginobili scored 10 points in the final quarter, many on dazzling
drives. That included San Antonio's last two baskets; the final one
-- which put the Spurs up 103-102 -- was a left-hander from the right

Ginobili said he didn't mind losing his starting spot. He came
off the bench eight times last postseason.

"I'm trying to contribute, bring energy from the bench,
anything to help the team win," he said.

Tony Parker seemed to have his legs back after a three-day
layoff, scoring most of his 15 points on drives to the basket.

Michael Finley scored six points in 27 minutes and was booed
loudly in his playoff return to Dallas, despite being the
fourth-leading scorer in Mavericks history.

Nowitzki made a season-low three field goals, but took only nine
shots, his second fewest all season. Almost every time he got free,
he got fouled, putting up 24 free throws. Both his makes and
attempts were franchise playoff highs.

Seeing him on the ground with his twisted ankle was a
frightening sight for Mavs fans. In Game 3 of the Dallas-San
Antonio conference finals in 2003, Nowitzki hurt a knee and didn't
return the rest of the series, which the Spurs won in six games.

Nowitzki said he expects to play Game 4.

Terry had 19 points and four assists. Stackhouse, who missed a
potential winning 3-pointer at the end of Game 1, scored 10 the
hard way. He made his first three, missed five straight, then made
his last two.

Counting his two missed foul shots at the end, Dallas went
39-of-50 from the line.

Playing at home for the first time in 18 days, Terry got the
energy pumping by running to the far baseline and asking for
cheers. It certainly got him going as he scooted between two
flat-footed Spurs to snag the opening tipoff and turned it into a

In the early going, Harris was fouled twice, blowing by Parker
and making a layup on the first one, and Howard withstood a
double-team from Bowen and Duncan to get to the line. San Antonio
got five quick fouls trying to keep up with the younger, more
athletic Mavs.

Game notes
San Antonio missed 13 of its first 17 shots, but finished
making 48 percent. ... Mavs F Keith Van Horn returned to practice
this week for the first time since breaking his right hand March
31. "Medically he's cleared, but he's not there yet," Johnson