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Archive for Friday, June 2, 2006

Nowitzki nets 50 for Mavericks

Dallas rolls, 117-101, takes 3-2 lead in Western Conference finals

June 2, 2006

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— Down by seven and feeling as if a tremendous season might be slipping away, Dirk Nowitzki turned to his Dallas Mavericks teammates during a timeout and simply said, "Let's go."

They went all right - all the way to the brink of the NBA Finals.

Nowitzki scored 50 points to carry the Mavericks to a 117-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

"I tried to make something happen," Nowitzki said.

Did he ever.

The 7-footer led Dallas on an immediate 10-0 run following his third-quarter declaration, then personally outscored the Phoenix Suns 22-20 in the final period.

"Pretty special," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.

Nowitzki scored 15 straight Mavericks points during the fourth quarter and finished with 50, setting a club record for a playoff game and matching Kobe Bryant for the most by anyone this postseason. Bryant also did it against Phoenix, but in overtime.

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41), of Germany, takes a shot in the fourth quarter as Phoenix Suns' Tim Thomas (2) defends in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference finals basketball game in Dallas, Thursday, June 1, 2006. Nowitzki scored 50 points in the Mavericks' 117-101 win.

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41), of Germany, takes a shot in the fourth quarter as Phoenix Suns' Tim Thomas (2) defends in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference finals basketball game in Dallas, Thursday, June 1, 2006. Nowitzki scored 50 points in the Mavericks' 117-101 win.

What makes Nowitzki's breakout game even more impressive is that it comes following his worst game in months, a 3-for-13, 11-point effort that woefully showed how much Dallas depends on him. The Mavs lost that game by 20.

Nowitzki admitted after this game that Johnson "let me have it" during a film session Wednesday. It may prove to be the best coaching move by Johnson, who made plenty en route to being named the NBA Coach of the Year. Nowitzki was 14-for-26 from the floor and 17-for-18 from the line.

"Whatever he did yesterday in the film session worked," Nowitzki said, laughing.

The Mavericks also know their work isn't done. Having let down after going up 2-1, they'll head back to Phoenix for Game 6 on Saturday night for the first of two chances to make the Finals for the first time in franchise history.

This is technically the closest Dallas has ever gotten to the championship round. In 1988, they took the Lakers to Game 7 of the conference finals but lost on the road. This time, they can advance on the road - or still have another try at home Monday night.

"Hopefully we got the bad game out of the way and now we can just focus on the goal," said Jerry Stackhouse, who scored 16 points. "We're one game away from doing something this team and franchise has never done before. Hopefully we'll bring all that energy we need."

The Suns have been a resilient team all year, too, having already outlasted four elimination games. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the first round and have gone seven games in both series thus far. So don't expect a 50-point game by a superstar to break their spirit.

"It's tough, but we've been there before," center Boris Diaw said. "It's not something we enjoy, but we seem to play our best when our back is against the wall."

Josh Howard added 23 points and Dallas improved to 24-0 when he cracks 20 points. Jason Terry had 14 points and nine assists. DeSagana Diop, whose strong inside play was rewarded with his first start of the series, had seven points and nine rebounds.

Phoenix's Tim Thomas set a career playoff high with 26, but took - and missed - only one shot in the fourth quarter. MVP Steve Nash scored eight of his 20 points in the final period and finished with 11 assists.

Shawn Marion scored 20 and had 10 rebounds, but had only three points in the fourth quarter. Diaw had 16 points, Leandro Barbosa 14 and Raja Bell - still hampered by a calf injury - made only one shot, a three-pointer, over 29 minutes.

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said before this game he wasn't counting on Nowitzki being off again, joking that he was "crossing my fingers and everything else." Nowitzki showed it would take more than that to stop him by scoring 13 points in the first quarter.

But he slowed in the second quarter and so did the Mavericks. Phoenix rode a Nowitzki-like surge by Thomas to go ahead 77-70 with 3:24 left in the third quarter. Then Nowitzki spoke up in the huddle.

"We need to get some stops," Nowitzki recalled telling his teammates. "I'll shoot the ball, drive the ball, really, whatever we need to do to get the win."

Dallas scored the game's next 10 points, with Nowitzki getting seven and passing to Devin Harris for what turned into a three-point play.

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