SAN ANTONIO The Dallas Mavericks missed their first free throw and made their final 49. Yep, 49 in a row.
That superb free throw shooting along with a few defensive gimmicks from Don Nelson's book of tricks was how the Mavericks pulled off a stunning comeback and defeated the San Antonio Spurs 113-110 Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
''I didn't know we shot that well, but I don't expect us to miss,'' Nelson said. ''It was an incredible basketball game.
''We didn't have a great game, but we found a way to win.''
The Mavericks closed the game with a 24-9 run after falling behind by as many as 18 points and trailing for nearly the entire game.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 38 points, going 17-for-17 from the line, and Michael Finley was 10-for-10 at the stripe while scoring 26. Nick Van Exel was 7-for-7 at the line for 14 points, and Steve Nash was 6-for-6 and scored 22.
''The big thing for us is we got to the line 50 times,'' Nowitzki said. ''Usually we average 10 or 11 per game and get outshot by about 20.''
NBA playoff history includes 10 games in which a team made all of its free throws, with the best of the bunch a 28-for-28 performance by Phoenix in 1989.
That makes what Dallas did even more impressive, given that they were 0-for-1 from the line after Eduardo Najera missed the first one with 2:25 left in the first quarter.
That was the same first quarter in which this game looked totally different from the way it ended. Tim Duncan was nearly unstoppable, Dallas was frustrated, and it looked as though the Spurs might turn it into a runaway.
The three-hour, one-minute game certainly didn't turn out that way.
After Dallas fell behind 101-87 with 8 1/2 minutes left, the Mavs made their comeback. Finley ended it by driving around his defender and scoring on a floater over Duncan for a 111-110 lead with 14 seconds left.
Duncan shot an airball from in close while being double-teamed, and Nowitzki made two free throws with 4 seconds left for a three-point lead.
The Mavericks wouldn't allow the Spurs to attempt a tying 3-pointer, choosing instead to foul Duncan immediately after he caught the inbounds pass.
Duncan missed both free throws a fitting ending on a night when he missed seven of 19 foul shots and the Spurs missed 17 of 48.
''It came down to free throw shooting and being aggressive,'' Duncan said. ''They're a high-octane team, and the whistle was blowing left and right.''
The referees called a total of 72 fouls 36 on each team.
Duncan tied his career playoff-high with 40 points and had 15 rebounds, while Tony Parker had 18 points.
Bruce Bowen the object of Nelson's Hack-a-Bruce strategy added 13 points for the Spurs, who were outscored 30-19 in the fourth quarter.
Duncan scored six of San Antonio's first eight points of the fourth quarter, and Speedy Claxton had the defensive play of the night when he lived up to his nickname, chased down Nowitzki on a breakaway, deflected the ball away and saved it to a teammate while falling out of bounds. Kevin Willis had a follow shot on the Spurs' next possession to give San Antonio a 14-point lead, 101-87.
But it wasn't over.
A 7-0 run made it a seven-point game, and Duncan picked up his fifth foul while battling Nowitzki for a rebound with 5:47 left.
Nowitzki made those foul shots, Van Exel made three after being fouled on a 3-pointer, and all of a sudden it was 101-99. San Antonio held a small lead for the next five minutes, but it was only 110-109 when the clock ticked inside the final minute.
A missed drive by Parker gave Dallas a chance to go ahead, but Van Exel missed on a drive and Raef LaFrentz missed a tip. With Nowitzki covering Duncan on the inside, the Spurs kept the ball on the perimeter and Parker missed a 20-footer with Finley's hand in his face.
Finley put the Mavs ahead for good on the next possession.
The Mavericks couldn't do anything to stop Duncan early, trying to defend him with LaFrentz, then Shawn Bradley, then Nowitzki. After Duncan finished the first quarter with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists, the Mavericks switched into a zone and finally had some success.
The referees called 26 fouls in a second quarter that took 44 minutes to complete, and the Mavericks who had trailed by as many as 18 were able to pull as close as seven with 1:58 left.
A big part of that comeback was Nelson's strategy to have one of his reserves intentionally foul Bowen, a 38 percent foul shooter during the postseason. The Mavericks did it five times within seven possessions, with Bowen making only half of his 10 attempts.
''We knew they were going to do it, but we didn't take him out. He was 5-of-10, but he did hit his last three,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Duncan reached 30 points on a tip-in with 7:15 left in the third to give San Antonio a 74-63 lead, but Dallas went back to a zone, dared Parker to take 3-pointers and caught up in a manner of minutes. Two free throws by Finley tied it at 78-78 with 3:34 left in the third.
Duncan didn't score again in the quarter, but San Antonio closed it with a 13-5 run to take a 91-83 lead into the fourth.
Notes: Spurs F Malik Rose was kneed in the back of the head by Najera late in the fourth quarter. A stretcher was brought onto the court, but he walked off under his own power. ... The last team to shoot 100 percent from the foul line in a playoff game was Philadelphia against Toronto in 2001. ... The record for fouls in a game is 106 by Syracuse and Boston in a four-overtime game in 1953. ... San Antonio's 36-point first quarter was its highest scoring quarter of the postseason, as was the Spurs 66-point first half.
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