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Updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2003 2:16 AM EDT
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DALLAS MAVERICKS
Dallas Mavericks
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SAN ANTONIO SPURS
San Antonio Spurs
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DALLAS 113, SAN ANTONIO 110 ---------------------------

SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and the Dallas Mavericks clearly have been working on their free throws.

Nowitzki made all 17 of his free-throw attempts and Finley all 10 of his shots from the line as the Dallas Mavericks rallied from two large deficits for a 113-110 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference finals.

The Mavericks rallied from an 18-point second-quarter deficit but trailed, 101-87, after Kevin Willis nailed a jump hook with 8:05 left in the final period.

But Dallas stormed back, going 20-of-20 from the stripe in the fourth quarter to pull close, then taking its first lead since the first quarter on Finley's hook shot over David Robinson with 14 seconds left.

"In the huddle, coach said he was going to give me a chance to make a play," Finley said. "The big thing in my mind was to just stay aggressive. No matter what I did, I wanted to be aggressive because that's how you make things happen. I knew I had to go strong to the basket and either get fouled or get the baskeet. Fortunately, I was able to get in the lane and get the hoop."

NBA MVP Tim Duncan, who burned the Mavs for 40 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, tossed an airball over Nowitzki and Raef LaFrentz with six seconds left, and Nowitzki calmly nailed two from the line to make it 113-110 with four seconds to play.

After a timeout, the Spurs elected to keep their best 3-point shooter, Bruce Bowen, on the bench because he makes free throws at just 40 percent. In the second quarter, Dallas fouled him repeatedly to send him to the line.

"Nelly (Dallas coach Don Nelson) has done that before," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We fully expected it, if not tonight, then another time. We didn't take Bruce out of the game (in the first half). I think it was important for his confidence. In the second half, they didn't foul him that way."

"The way that we were fouling him in the first half, Pop probably thought we would go back to it," said Mavs guard Nick Van Exel, who scored 14 points and was 7-of-7 from the line.

The ball was inbounded to Duncan, who was fouled with three seconds to play. Needing to make the first free throw and intentionally miss the second, Duncan missed both. Steve Nash grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock.

Nowitzki contributed 38 points and 15 rebounds, Finley scored 26 points and Nash 22 for Dallas, which made its final 49 free throws in a 49-of-50 effort.

"Thank God for free throws," Nelson said. "We're better than anyone in basketball. We're the only team in the league with a free-throw coach, and tonight we needed it. We've taken extra practice the last few days."

"We played very well on the defensive end tonight and did a great job of getting to the line," Nowitzki added. "We are normally a good foul-shooting team but struggle at getting to the line. Fifty is astounding, and we did a great job just making plays and getting them into foul shots."

San Antonio missed 17-of-38 free throws.

"What affected us most was missing free throws," Popovich said. "They shot 50 free throws, and it's not like we didn't shoot any, we shot (48). When you shoot 49-of-50 and 31-of-47, you're giving the game away. We know it's a weakness. When you get to the final four teams, those things rear their head."

Tony Parker scored 18 points for the Spurs, who eliminated the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals.

Game Two is Wednesday at the SBC Center.

Dallas led, 16-15, midway through the first quarter after a 3-pointer by Nowitzki, but the Spurs scored 14 straight points over the next three minutes and took a 36-23 lead into the second quarter. Duncan had 16 points and five rebounds in the opening 12 minutes.

San Antonio took its biggest lead, 43-25, on a pair of free throws by Stephen Jackson with 10:21 left in the second quarter.

"We came out great, with a lot of energy," Duncan said. "We jumped out on them. They had to find a way to kill it and they did by fouling Bruce. That killed our energy."

The Spurs held a 66-57 halftime lead, despite shooting 61 percent (20-of-33) and limiting the Mavs to 43 percent (16-of-37).

"We made major adjustments at halftime," Nelson said. "We couldn't stop Tim, but we found something that worked a little better. In the second half, we kept the pedal to the metal. I didn't get to rest my guys very much, but I said, 'The heck with it.'"

Dallas tied it, 78-78, on two free throws by Finley with 3:34 left in the third period before San Antonio closed the quarter on a 13-5 run.

Undersized Spurs center Malik Rose exited with 4:16 to play after taking an accidental knee to the back of the head from Mavs forward Eduardo Najera. He remained on the court for some three minutes before heading to the locker room with an apparent slight concussion.

"He took a charge and I was open for the rebound," Najera said. "I felt his head hit my thigh. I had a lot of momentum going up and he had a lot coming down. I felt the contact, but I thought it was his back or knee. Later, I saw the replay and saw it was his head."

Dallas won despite shooting just 40 percent (29-of-72) and allowing San Antonio to connect at 49 percent (36-of-74).

"I'm glad we got to the line that many times, but hopefully, we won't have to rely on a percentage that high throughout the series," said Nash, who was 6-of-6 from the line.

"It was a heck of a game," Popovich said. "The bad guys won and the good guys lost. They sure can shoot free throws."


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