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Nowitzki sizzles down the stretch as Mavericks snap skid

Mar 17, 2007 - 5:36 AM DALLAS (Ticker) -- After coming up short in the crunch time his last time out, Dirk Nowitzki redeemed himself.

Nowitzki scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 12 rebounds and Josh Howard added 30 and eight as the Dallas Mavericks snapped their first two-game losing streak of the season with a 106-101 victory over the lowly Boston Celtics.

After beginning the season with four straight losses, Dallas (53-11) had won 52 of its next 57 games before dropping consecutive contests to Golden State and Phoenix this week. With the win, the Mavericks now are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Suns (50-14).

"Obviously, the other night (Phoenix) was a little disappointing finish for us," Nowitzki said. "We were up seven with like a minute to go, made tons of mistakes defensively, fouled a 3-point shooter, missed some free throws, so we feel like we should have had that game the other night. We didn't finish the game as we would have liked. To us, that was a big disappointment, but we're going to keep on working."

Nowitzki, who is having his best all-around season, struggled down the stretch in Wednesday's loss to Phoenix. The superstar forward made just 1-of-2 free throws in the final seconds of regulation before former teammate Steve Nash hit the game-tying 3-pointer for the Suns.

Nowitzki also missed a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation and a game-tying shot at the end of the second overtime.

"It was a weird game for me. I couldn't get going," Nowitzki said. "I had a tough, tough time getting over that Phoenix loss, I would say. I haven't slept much these last two nights so I was sleep-walking out there."

On Friday, however, Nowitzki took over down the stretch, making all five of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, including a fadeaway jumper that made it 104-99 with five seconds left and secured the victory.

"(Dirk) really stepped up tonight. He was strong, concentrated, made some really strong moves," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. "He's not going to get some calls, so he has to keep going strong and don't complain about it. For the most part tonight, I told him to leave the refs alone and just play through it. If you don't complain, play your game, play physical, you will get rewarded with the big strong moves."

Overall, Nowitzki was 9-of-18 from the field and 12-of-13 on free throws. Howard shot 11-of-19 and converted all eight of his attempts from the stripe.

"Dirk is an MVP. They lose the other night, and all of a sudden, people are saying, 'Dirk's no longer the MVP,' or 'You can't give it to him anymore,'" Boston Doc Rivers said. "That's (not true). He's had a great year. He's had an unbelievable year. Dirk was wonderful. He had a couple of huge shots."

Paul Pierce scored 29 points and Al Jefferson added 20 and 10 rebounds for the Celtics, who shot 46 percent (36-of-78).

"I wanted to come out here and set the tone," Pierce said. "I knew we were playing a team with the best record, and we have the second-worst record, but I wanted them to know from the beginning that we weren't going to back down. So, I wanted to come out early and set the tone."

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