In a stunning triumph of youth over experience, the Mavericks erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and eliminated the Jazz from the playoffs with an 84-83 victory in Game Five of their Western Conference first-round series.
Michael Finley scored 33 points, Steve Nash fueled the comeback and Calvin Booth came out of nowhere to be the hero for Dallas, which completed an historic comeback from an 0-2 deficit to win their first playoff series in 13 years.
The Mavs entered the series with 200 games of playoff experience on their roster, nowhere near the 746 boasted by the Jazz, who also had a huge advantage in toughness and used it in taking the first two games.
But Dallas learned as it lost and kept coming at Utah with its athleticism and long-range shooting. And in the end, it was the Mavs that kept their cool while the Jazz appeared rattled.
"They're a tough team and they made shots," Jazz guard John Stockton said. "Some of the shots that Finley made were incredible -- shot clock running down, guys jumping at him, two, three guys on him."
"I'm just proud to be a part of this team because we stuck together and that was the forte of this team's success -- the chemistry that has been able to pull us through a lot of games this year when things weren't going well for us," Nash said. "I mean, shooting ability is one thing but it's another thing to just believe you can win, to believe you can stick together to make those shots. I have always enjoyed this team much more than I have enjoyed the game and I think that is why this has been so much fun for me."
Booth, a second-year center and a throw-in in the Juwan Howard trade, took a pass from the double-teamed Finley and hit a layup -- his only basket of the game -- with 9.6 seconds to go, giving Dallas its first lead since 3-2.
"It doesn't matter to me how many points I scored," Booth said. "I just know I got the two that mattered most."
The Mavs held their breath as Bryon Russell missed a 3-pointer, Stockton tracked down the rebound and Karl Malone missed a 20-footer as the horn sounded, bringing a deathly silence to the 19,911 in the Delta Center.
"It's a pretty bitter pill to swallow when you know that we have people on the floor that should be intelligent enough to make plays and then do the fundamental things," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
Dallas became the sixth team to win a five-game series by taking the last three games. Twice the victim has been Utah, which also blew a 2-0 lead to Golden State in 1987.
In their 18th straight playoff appearance, the Jazz were ousted in the opening round for the first time since 1995. It was another empty postseason for Stockton, 39, and Malone, 37, two of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players who clearly are nearing the end. Stockton had trouble staying with the younger Nash and Malone was hampered by a sore back.
"I'm not going to make any excuses," Malone said. "When I put the uniform on, I'm ready to play."
"They just kept fighting and battling and gave themselves a chance to win it and it was enough to win," Stockton said.
Forced to a Game Five in the first round for the fourth straight year, the Jazz appeared in control when Russell's jumper opened a 75-61 lead with 10:50 to play. But they scored just eight more points, seven by Malone.
"They got the loose balls and made the plays on the offensive end," Sloan said. "We quit playing."
Nash and Finley made 3-pointers in a 12-0 surge that pulled the Mavs within 75-73 with 7:20 to go. Nash missed his first seven shots but made 3-of-4 from the arc in the final period.
Malone had inside hoops on consecutive trips but Nash answered with 3-pointers each time, giving Dallas a 79-79 tie. Malone again scored inside and added a free throw on the next trip for an 82-79 edge, but Finley made a long jumper with 2:33 to play.
"If you look over our season, we've been in those situations before and we've come back and once we cut it down to one or two, I knew for sure we were going to win the game," Finley said. "Juwan said in the huddle, 'We came this far back; let's not give this game away like we did in Game One,' so we just kept trucking and trucking and found a way to win."
Donyell Marshall and Howard traded free throws, setting up the frenetic finish. Foul-plagued Dirk Nowitzki, who admitted to being nervous, got behind a hobbled Malone but missed a layup. Utah's Danny Manning missed an 18-footer but Finley, who made 13-of-24 shots, rushed an ill-advised 27-footer with under one minute to play.
Malone missed a jumper, setting up Booth's basket. Forced into extended minutes by foul trouble, he played the entire fourth quarter and had three points, five rebounds and two blocks.
"I just wanted to contribute," Booth said. "My role is more of a defensive presence on this team and I was looking for the rebounds. I was fortuante to get my hands on the ball a few times or kept things alive for us that put us in positon to win the game."
Howard scored 19 points and Nowitzki added 18, making 3-of-11 shots but 10-of-10 free throws. Dallas shot under 40 percent (27-of-68) but made 8-of-18 from the arc.
Malone totaled 24 points and 10 rebounds but made just 9-of-28 shots. Russell scored 15 points and Stockton added just four with 11 assists as Utah shot 39 percent (31-of-79).
"It was my decision to come back in the game. Coach left that decision up to me," Malone said. "I took the most shots and I missed the most shots, so I'm going to take the blame."
The Mavs led for just 29 seconds.
For the first three quarters, the Jazz dealt with Malone's back trouble better than the Mavs dealt with Nowitzki's foul trouble.
Malone wrenched his back in the opening minute and departed. He returned at the 7:31 mark but left less than three minutes later with his second foul.
Utah led 20-16 after one period and Malone returned to score 12 points in the second quarter. Nowitzki took a seat with his third foul with 9:45 left and the Jazz used a 14-2 run featuring two 3-pointers by Russell to open a 42-29 lead with 2:01 to go.
Stockton's layup opened the second half and gave the Jazz their largest lead at 50-33.
Finley scored 13 points in the third quarter and the Mavs were within 63-55 when Nowitzki drew his fifth foul with 1:56 left. Again Utah surged, rebuilding its lead to 71-57 entering the final period.