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Spurs rally past Mavericks in resumption of rivalry

Nov 3, 2006 - 4:17 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- Game Eight goes to the San Antonio Spurs.

In the resumption of a raging rivalry, the Spurs finally made the crucial plays on both ends as they rallied for a 97-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in the season opener for both teams.

Tony Parker scored 19 points for the Spurs, who gained a small measure of revenge for last season's excruciating postseason loss to the Mavericks that ended their championship reign. They also sent an early message in the battle for supremacy in the Southwest Division and Western Conference.

"Obviously, we both wanted to win really bad," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "After the great series we had last year, it's obviously a special game."

In the conference semifinals, the teams played seven thrilling, emotional games, with five decided by no more than two points or in overtime. The Spurs appeared on the verge of a remarkable 3-1 comeback before Dirk Nowitzki converted a three-point play to force Game Seven to overtime, where the Mavericks made all the big plays.

It was one of the best playoff series in league history, and the teams picked up right where they left off with chippy play and another close contest.

"It was a hard-fought game. I thought both teams played pretty well," Spurs superstar Tim Duncan said. "I don't think either one of us is going to claim we played a great game, but we found a way to fight and tough it out."

The Spurs trailed, 75-72, but took the lead as the Mavericks missed their first seven shots of the final period. A basket by Parker gave San Antonio an 80-75 bulge with 8:27 to play.

Dallas closed to 85-84 on two free throws and a floater by Josh Howard, who scored 20 points. Bruce Bowen responded with a 3-pointer from the right side with 2:18 left.

"You work on those things, so that if you are in that situation, you can knock down a shot," Bowen said.

Nowitzki made a fadeaway, and the Mavericks had a couple of chances to tie. But Nowitzki missed an open jumper and Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer before Duncan followed in a miss for a 90-86 lead with 50 seconds remaining.

After Nowitzki missed a lane jumper, Ginobili made a free throw and deflected the ball off Jerry Stackhouse and out of bounds. Parker made 4-of-6 free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it.

"Bruce made some big shots for us," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "It just takes one and, as anybody who's been involved in winning games, whether it's regular season or playoffs, knows lots of times it just comes down to who's making some some shots in that fourth quarter. Down the stretch we happened to hit a few."

Ginobili scored 16 points, Bowen added 13 and free agent signee Francisco Elson 12 as the Spurs compensated for a sub-par game by Duncan. The two-time MVP managed 13 points on just 5-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds.

Nowitzki had 21 points and 11 rebounds but made just one basket in the fourth quarter. Terry scored 14 points and offseason acquisition Austin Croshere added 12.

"It's big. It's a huge rivalry. It's no secret now," Terry said. "You know when the Mavs face the Spurs, it's going to be a good ballgame. Tonight was no different. We just came out on the losing end."

The Mavericks fell into some old habits, settling for jumpers instead of attacking the basket the way they did in last season's playoff series. Dallas shot 43 percent (32-of-88) and made 10-of-16 free throws.

"Tonight this game was definitely a tale of two halves," Spurs coach Avery Johnson said. "We were running and playing our pace the first half and our defense was alright. The second half, they seemed to have more energy. We had a not-so-good fourth quarter and we looked like the Mavericks from the past."

Last season marked the first time the Mavericks toppled the Spurs and gave some teeth to the rivalry. It didn't take long for hostilities to resume.

With 3:36 left in the second quarter, Bowen, playing his customary tight defense, knocked down Howard, who got up and slammed a forearm into Bowen, drawing a flagrant foul.

"He got me under the chin. Both of his hands were on me," Bowen said. "It's part of the game. You deal with it and move on."

"It was at the same end of the court. It was a push down and then he was standing over me," Howard said. "I've got to protect myself. I'm not going to let anybody run over me, especially when I know I didn't do anything."

The Mavericks held a slim lead throughout most of the first three quarters. They built it to 58-48 on a 3-pointer by Nowitzki early in the second half, but the Spurs got back in it with a 12-2 run.

A 3-pointer by Bowen capped the surge and gave San Antonio a 60-60 tie. Howard again retaliated, this time with a 3-pointer.

Referee Jess Kersey took a shot to the face in the second quarter that drew blood and damaged a tooth. He left the game and did not return, and the remainder of the contest was worked by two referees.

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