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Updated: Monday, May 26, 2003 1:37 AM EDT
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SAN ANTONIO SPURS
San Antonio Spurs
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DALLAS MAVERICKS
Dallas Mavericks
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SAN ANTONIO 102, DALLAS 95 --------------------------

DALLAS (Ticker) -- Without Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks tried to go small. But Tony Parker came up big for the San Antonio Spurs.

Parker again fueled a rally with 11 of his 25 points in the third quarter as the Spurs took a huge step toward the NBA Finals with a 102-95 victory over the Mavericks.

The top-seeded Spurs opened a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals and can return to the championship round for the first time since 1999 with a win at home Tuesday.

The third-seeded Mavericks lost the 7-foot Nowitzki, their leading scorer and rebounder, to a sprained left knee in the fourth quarter of Friday's home loss.

To counter his absence, Dallas coach Don Nelson used a handful of lineups that featured mostly small perimeter players and few power players. The strategy worked for the first half as Dallas pushed the tempo, forced San Antonio to adjust and opened a 52-47 lead.

"They didn't give in a bit," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They showed the reasons why they won 60 games and why they are a heck of an opponent."

"We kind of got set back a little bit in the first quarter," Spurs superstar forward Tim Duncan said. "They shot the ball really well, they spread the floor, guys got to the basket, but we got used to it pretty quick."

As he did in Game Three, Parker showed that he can play some small ball, too. Benched early in the game, the 6-2 guard from France fueled a 22-6 run that closed the third quarter, turning a nine-point deficit into a 77-70 lead.

"Nothing special," said Parker, who scored 19 points in the third quarter of Game Three. "I just tried to be aggressive. I had a lot of confidence with my shot."

"Tony is doing what Tony does," teammate Bruce Bowen said. "Now a lot of people are saying, 'Oh, what a great job he's doing.' But in the first month-and-a-half of the season, they weren't saying these things."

Instead of milking Duncan in the fourth quarter, the Spurs relied on a balanced attack. Duncan had 21 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks in another stellar game, but he had some help.

Rookie Manu Ginobili scored 21 points off the bench, providing a spark in the middle two quarters. Stephen Jackson, who was benched early in the game, scored 17 points.

"That's our bench," Parker said. "Our bench is very good. I think that's what makes a championship team. Our bench is very good."

"The Spurs can play any style you want to play," Nelson said. "You want to run, they can run. You want to score 115 points, they can score 115 with you. You want to go half-court, they are right there. You want to zone them, they got that covered. They are very well-coached and very disciplined and know where their bread is buttered."

Steve Nash and Michael Finley scored 25 points and Nick Van Exel added 22 for the Mavericks, who relied heavily on their outside shooting. Dallas fired 31 3-pointers, making 12.

But with Nowitzki and fellow big men Shawn Bradley and Evan Eschmeyer sidelined by knee injuries, the Mavs were beaten on the boards, 49-40, and appeared to run out of gas at the end of the game.

"We said that from the first quarter - continue to play, because they are going to have to scramble, they're going to have to throw different defenses at us, and it's going to wear them out, their shots are going to start getting short," Duncan said. "And I thought they did."

"I thought we handled the fatigue very well," Nelson said. "I think there were some times when our little guys really had to do some running around."

Parker was doing some running around in the third quarter. After Van Exel's running banker gave Dallas a 64-55 lead with 7:18 left, Parker made a 3-pointer to start the pivotal run.

The quicksilver guard made three straight baskets to give San Antonio a 69-66 lead with 2:28 remaining. Duncan added a pair of baskets around a free throw by Van Exel, and Ginobili's flying one-handed tip-in before the horn made it 77-70.

"(Parker) came out and he did his thing again," Van Exel said. "He was aggressive, scoring and finding the basket again. He worked off the pick-and-roll and just created that mismatch. He was able to get his shot up. He was just aggressive."

Jackson opened the final period with a pair of baskets before Nash scored seven points in a 10-1 surge that made it a two-point game with 8 1/2 minutes left. But the Mavs got no closer.

A 3-pointer by Bowen off Parker's penetration was followed by baskets by Duncan and Ginobili, making it 89-80 with 7:17 to play. A 3-pointer by Raef LaFrentz cut the deficit to 91-89 with 3:22 left, but Malik Rose had a pair of inside hoops around a free throw by Duncan, rebuilding the margin to 96-89 with 1:40 to go.

Rose had eight points and eight rebounds as he set a tone of toughness underneath the basket that the Mavs could not match. The 7-foot LaFrentz fouled out in 31 minutes and physical forward Eduardo Najera had just three rebounds in 25 minutes.

"I thought Malik did a great job on the boards for us," Popovich said. "He was huge working in that area."

Nelson moved Van Exel and Walt Williams into the starting lineup, giving Dallas four guards with LaFrentz. The strategy worked as the Mavs grabbed an early eight-point lead and Popovich pulled Parker, Jackson and David Robinson.

Ginobili scored eight points in the first five minutes of the second quarter as the Spurs reclaimed a 34-33 lead.

"In all things, you have to weather the storm," Bowen said. "That's playing on the road or playing at home, because teams in this league are going to make a run."


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