DALLAS The Dallas Mavericks were merely looking for a good game on both ends of the court. What they got was the most lopsided Game 7 victory in NBA playoff history.
And take note, Phoenix: They did it despite Dirk Nowitzki still misfiring.
With Jason Terry leading the offense and Josh Howard setting the defensive tone against Tracy McGrady, Dallas took a big lead in the opening minutes and built on it the rest of the way for an impressive 116-76 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
''This series stretched us, we were bending but we didn't break,'' coach Avery Johnson said. ''Defensively, this was the performance I was looking for this whole series. It was right on time.''
Terry scored 21 of his 31 points in the first half, while Howard forced McGrady to miss six of his first seven shots. Although McGrady finished with 27 points, he shot 10-of-26 while trying to force the Rockets back into it.
''I just tried to contain him like I have the whole series,'' Howard said. ''This time, it finally worked.''
Frustrated, McGrady punched the air and came close to hitting an official. Teammate Mike James also let his emotions get the best of him and was tossed in the final minute of the third quarter.
''We cracked in every way,'' Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. ''It was really not befitting how we played and conducted ourselves this year. ... The way it ended does not reflect well on myself or the team, but it does not affect my overall pride. It does show how very, very far we have to go.''
Nowitzki, who has been sick with a cold, finished with a series-low 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Howard had 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and Michael Finley scored 13. Darrell Armstrong's 3-pointer in the closing seconds provided Dallas with its largest postseason margin of victory ever and dealt the Rockets the most lopsided playoff loss in franchise history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the victory margin broke the record of 39 for a Game 7 set when St. Louis lost 85-46 to Philadelphia in the final game of the 1948 league semifinals.
Yao led Houston with 33 points. Other than him and McGrady, the Rockets got just 16 points from the rest of the team. The only bench points were from James (four) and Jon Barry (two); starter Bob Sura didn't score in 25 minutes.
''We came out too flat,'' McGrady said. ''We couldn't defend anybody. They were driving right by us. Guys were knocking down shots. I don't think we were ready for that.''
Dallas led by 15 on a 3-pointer by Terry early in the second quarter, went up 24 before halftime and stretched it to 28 at the end of the third quarter. The only drama left was how many records would fall.
Dallas became just the third team in playoff history to win a seven-game series after losing the first two games at home. The reward is a trip to play the well-rested Suns and their MVP-to-be, Steve Nash, who spent six seasons with the Mavericks until signing with Phoenix as a free agent last summer.
For Houston, the blown series lead was one of many things to lament.
The Rockets acquired McGrady believing that teaming him with Yao Ming would help them win their first playoff series since 1997. Instead, their drought continued and McGrady fell to 0-for-5 in the postseason. The end of their run also means Van Gundy must answer to the NBA over his accusations about officiating that led to a $100,000 fine.
Dallas came into this game seemingly lucky to still be playing. In addition to going down 0-2, the Mavs trailed the Rockets in virtually every meaningful statistical category.
Their first defensive stand featured a block, a near-steal and Howard forcing McGrady to miss a long, ugly shot with the 24-second clock about to expire.
The Mavericks kept it up on defense, forcing the Rockets to miss 11 of their first 13 shots. They also were opportunistic on offense, driving the lane with abandon and drilling their outside shots as if it was pregame warmups. Terry, the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA this postseason, made his first three from behind the arc and Finley started 3-of-4.
When Terry hit a shorter jumper to make it 41-22, Van Gundy called his third crowd-quieting timeout of the game and there was still 8:58 left in the second quarter. Soon after, a steal by Armstrong led to a layup by Stackhouse. In the tunnel between the benches, Don Nelson Dallas' coach until early March stood with a priceless grin.
McGrady's frustration boiled over midway through the second quarter. After missing three layups on one possession, he got so angry he wound up with a technical foul. But because Dallas was on a fast break, the whistle was held until after the next shot another 3 by Terry. He then made the foul shot and the Mavs were up 49-25.
In the third quarter when Yao fouled Howard on a baseline drive and knocked him to the floor, Yao went to help Howard up but McGrady pulled his jersey to prevent him from doing so.
James' fit was even more intense. So upset that Armstrong wasn't called for a foul while blocking a layup, James ran back and fouled the first person he saw. He began ripping the referee and was hit with one technical, then another. He even shoved away the team's trainer when he tried escorting him off the court.
Pacers 97, Celtics 70
BOSTON Jermaine O'Neal broke into a smile when asked about returning to the scene of the ugly brawl that nearly ruined the Indiana Pacers' season.
''It's only right,'' he said. ''It's what I wanted. I wanted to see that team, and I'm pretty sure Detroit is wanting to see us, too.''
He got his wish Saturday night when the Pacers beat the Boston Celtics 97-70 in the deciding game of their first-round series and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pistons. They did it with the slow pace they prefer, keeping alive the 18-year career of Reggie Miller.
The Game 7 rout was so complete that Boston coach Doc Rivers began clearing his bench with 4:32 left. And Larry Bird, the former Celtics great and now the Pacers president of basketball operations, left his seat behind the Indiana bench with 3:31 to go.
''I don't know if the leprechauns took the day off,'' Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. ''All I know is we had No. 33 sitting on our side of the building. I've got to believe that makes a little difference when you're here for a Game 7.''
Now the team that has overcome suspensions, injuries and disharmony moves on to a meeting with its biggest rival beginning Monday night.
It'll be a rematch between teams that took part in a melee that spilled into the stands during an early-season game at The Palace in Auburn Hills, leading to the season-long suspension of Ron Artest.
''Everything we've been through this year was nothing but fuel for us,'' Stephen Jackson said. ''It makes us want to win more and play harder.''
The Celtics played very poorly in a big game, missing easy shots and allowing Indiana to take uncontested ones, and had the second-lowest point total in their playoff history. They also lost three home games for the first time in a seven-game series.
''In Game 7, for us to go out and play the way we did is disappointing,'' Boston's Paul Pierce said. ''No one wants to end the season getting blown out.''
Miller, who plans to end his 18-year career after this season, took just five shots and scored five points. But Miller didn't have to do much with Jackson scoring 24 points, Fred Jones 16 and O'Neal 15.
''I've had a great career, regardless of what happened tonight,'' Miller said. ''These guys need to win it for themselves. I'm just glad I had the chance to play with them.''
The Celtics were led by Antoine Walker with 20 points and Pierce with 19, but both were out of the game with 4:20 left and Indiana ahead 86-62.
''They kept playing and we stopped to take a look'' in the second half, Rivers said. ''We hung our heads way too early in the game.''
Indiana turned a close game into a rout midway through the third quarter with an 11-2 run that made the score 54-43 with 3:46 left.
Indiana was ahead 59-48 before scoring five of the last seven points of the quarter, three by O'Neal, and led 64-50 going into the final period. Any realistic chance for the Celtics disappeared in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Pacers opened with a 12-5 spurt for a 76-55 lead. Backup guard Jones started it with two 3-pointers and ended it with a dunk with 7:36 to play.
''We turned the ball over way too much tonight,'' Walker said.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Pacers took their victory in stride shaking hands with Celtics players while Rivers and Carlisle did the same.
But the Celtics had trouble keeping their composure again, drawing six technical fouls, and Perkins and Justin Reed were ejected in the final minute for a scuffle with Pacers guard Eddie Gill. In Game 3, Walker grabbed referee Tom Washington and was suspended for a game. In Game 6, Pierce was ejected when he elbowed Jamaal Tinsley.
Miller has spent his entire career with the Pacers, has hit the most 3-pointers and is the 12th leading scorer in NBA history. He also was chosen for five All-Star games and led the NBA in free-throw accuracy this season for the fifth time.
But his chances of going out as a champion plummeted on Nov. 19 when several Pacers got into a brawl with fans in Detroit, leading to suspensions that included Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 15.
Then there were the injuries.
Miller missed the first 15 games with a broken left hand, O'Neal sat out 22 straight with a sprained right shoulder before returning for the last three regular-season games and the playoffs, and Tinsley missed 33 straight, including the first four of the playoffs.
The Celtics overcame their own difficulties in the regular season. They were just 27-28 when Walker returned in a trade with Atlanta, rejoining the team he spent seven seasons with before they traded him to Dallas before the 2003-04 season.
They went 18-9 after that and gained homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
Notes: Jackson fell and clutched his left knee with 3.5 seconds left in the first quarter, went to the bench and returned midway through the second quarter. ... New England Patriots in the stands included Deion Branch, David Givens, Daniel Graham and Doug Flutie. ... David Ortiz, David Wells and Keith Foulke also were there after the Boston Red Sox's night game against Seattle was postponed by rain.
... The playoff loss was the Celtics biggest Charlotte beat them 119-89 on May 3, 1993.
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