DALLAS With a chance to finally pull ahead in their first-round playoff series, the Dallas Mavericks refused to let anything stop them.
Not even the boundaries of the court.
The Mavs hustled at both ends of the floor to protect a shrinking lead in the fourth quarter of a 103-100 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night, and in one key instance they got away with Michael Finley making a play from beyond the baseline.
Replays showed that Finley clearly had both feet out of bounds when he jarred a rebound from Houston's Jon Barry with just under a minute left. Officials didn't see that but they did see Barry foul Jerry Stackhouse after he grabbed the loose ball. He made both free throws to help Dallas pad a lead that wasn't secured until Tracy McGrady missed a long jumper at the buzzer.
Maybe it was just the home-court advantage finally paying off, as this was the first time this series that the local fans went home happy. It came at a perfect time for Dallas, which now has two chances to join the 1969 Lakers and '94 Rockets as the only teams to win a seven-game series after dropping the first two at home.
''Until you win the series, you don't have anything,'' Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. ''We haven't accomplished a thing. We have nothing to be excited about.''
The previous game in Dallas ended with McGrady making a long jumper in the closing seconds. This time, he missed two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left the second intentionally but got his own rebound and put up a 3-pointer from the left corner that could've tied it.
Although there might have been a question whether his toe was on the line, it didn't matter when the ball hit the iron and bounced away. McGrady ended up on the ground, practically under some courtside seats, perhaps lamenting another first-round bust. He's never advanced to the second round and now is in jeopardy of blowing a 2-0 lead for the second straight time.
This game was a different kind of disappointment. After blowing fourth-quarter leads of eight and six points the last two games, the Rockets trimmed an 11-point deficit to 102-100 with 7.4 seconds left but couldn't finish the comeback. They've lost three straight after winning nine in a row.
''It's tough,'' said McGrady, who struggled with his shot for the first time this series, shooting 7-of-22 and scoring 25 points, 6.5 less than he'd been averaging. He also had nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.
''It's always something down the stretch,'' he said. ''We do a good job of fighting back and getting ourselves into the ballgame. We just can't get over that hump.''
Game 6 is Thursday night in Houston, and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy may have more on the line than just trying to force a seventh game. He was fined $100,000 earlier Monday for accusing officials of targeting Yao Ming and refusing to tell the league which official was his source.
Commissioner David Stern, who coincidentally attended this game, called the largest fine ever levied against an NBA coach only ''an intermediary step'' and said an investigation will continue once the Rockets finish their playoff run. Stern even implied that Van Gundy could face a lifetime ban.
Van Gundy laughed off the entire case and Yao offered to pay half the fine.
Wizards 106, Bulls 99
WASHINGTON Juan Dixon was so upset with his performance after Game 3 that he approached his coach in the parking garage and appealed for a vote of confidence.
The rest of the Washington Wizards also were upset with the perception they couldn't play defense.
Combine those two, and you get a career-high 35 points from Dixon and a team that took control in the opening minutes by not allowing the Chicago Bulls anywhere near the rim. The Wizards jumped to a 17-3 lead, rattling their opponents early and often in a victory Monday that evened their first-round playoff series 2-2.
''It's like we walked into an ambush,'' Chicago forward Tyson Chandler said.
Dixon made 11 of 15 field goals, popping endless jumpers to help build the lead early and stave off the comeback threat until late. He also made all 10 free throws. He scored 25 points in the first three games combined and was an ugly 1-for-10 in Saturday's Game 3, prompting him to hold up his coach and family for 10 minutes in the MCI Center's underground lot afterward.
''I said, 'Coach, don't lose confidence in me. I'm going to step up and get my act together.' That's pretty much what I said, but I said it, like, 10 times,'' Dixon said. ''I made sure that he heard every word. He had his kids in the car. He said he was ready to go get something to eat. I just wanted to drill that in his head and make sure he heard it.''
On Sunday, Dixon took 750 shots before practice and 300 afterward.
''Juan is one of the toughest players I have been associated with,'' coach Eddie Jordan said. ''He is very sensitive to his profession. He cares about his teammates and about winning. He has won at Maryland and he wanted to be a big part of the playoffs and have an impact and he certainly had an impact tonight.''
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Chicago. The home team is 4-0 in the series, hardly surprising given both teams' youth and postseason inexperience.
''We got down, the crowd got into it and for whatever reason, we didn't have the guts,'' said Kirk Hinrich, who scored 18 points for the Bulls. ''We definitely have to regroup and go back home. We just feel fortunate the series is still tied.''
Dixon was the second straight Wizards hero not a member of the Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison. Etan Thomas was the unexpected threat in Game 3, but Dixon's performance made the home-court advantage even greater because he's already a local star, having led Maryland to the NCAA title in 2002.
''Our bench has realized,'' Jamison said, ''the Big Three can't do it by themselves.''
Spurs 126, Nuggets 115, OT
DENVER Tim Duncan is back, Manu Ginobili is still going and the Denver Nuggets are all but done.
Duncan had his best game of the series, Ginobili provided the spark off the bench for the third straight game and Tony Parker scored 11 of his 29 points in overtime. That helped the San Antonio Spurs move within a game of clinching the series with a 126-115 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.
Duncan shook off foul trouble and poor shooting 5-of-19 in Game 3, scoring 39 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Ginobili shot just 5-of-13, but went 12-of-16 on free throws to finish with 24 points and six assists. Parker finally had success getting into the lane against the Nuggets, hitting 11 of 19 shots and dishing out seven assists.
It all means the Spurs can close out the series in Game 5 Wednesday in San Antonio, where the Spurs have lost three times all season but fell in the series opener to Denver.
Earl Boykins found his shooting touch after three tough games, scoring 32 points, and Carmelo Anthony finally got his stroke against the Spurs with 28. It still wasn't enough for the Nuggets, who need to win three straight to keep from bowing out in the first round for the second straight year.
San Antonio has made the series a grind, slowing Denver's break and turning each game into matchups of halfcourt sets.
Game 4 all but came to a halt, with 73 fouls and 91 free throws a perfect fit for the Spurs' physical style.
It still wasn't easy.
Denver trailed by as many as 12 in the third quarter before clawing its way back in the fourth. Anthony kept the Nuggets in it in the final minutes, following two free throws by Duncan with a drive, and after Ginobili's finger roll, Anthony hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 105.
Parker hit a baseline jumper at the other end to put the Spurs up, then Anthony hit two free throws to tie it again with 14.4 seconds left. San Antonio worked the ball to Ginobili, who held it for 10 seconds before driving. But Greg Buckner blocked his leaner and nearly hit from halfcourt as the buzzer sounded.
San Antonio took control of overtime, hitting its first three shots to go up 113-107. Duncan fouled out with 2:55 left when Anthony fell on a drive, but the Nuggets couldn't get closer than four after that.
The Nuggets have turned Ginobili into the villain of the series at least in Denver calling his game ugly, his headlong approach wild and even taking a cheap shot at him late in Game 3.
The fans followed the team's lead, greeting him with a chorus of boos as he entered the game midway through the first quarter and every time he touched the ball.
Ginobili needed just a few seconds to drop in a 3-pointer on his first shot in the third quarter. Putting his head down and drawing contact the move that has infuriated the Nuggets all series Ginobili had nine points over the final 7 minutes to help the Spurs to an 87-80 lead.
Duncan wasn't bad, either.
He got deep post position all night, setting up a variety of jump hooks and turnarounds. He had 18 points by halftime and hit several key shots in the closing minutes of regulation.
Notes: The University of Denver hockey team, the NCAA's two-time champion, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. ... Denver Broncos WR Rod Smith attended the game.
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