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Trail Blazers into semis, Mavs force game 7 Nets, Raptors series even at 3-3

DALLAS, May 3, (AFP): On the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks battled back in the fourth quarter to win Friday, moving within a game of ousting top-seeded San Antonio. Monta Ellis scored 29 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 22 to spark the Mavericks over the Spurs 113-111, leveling their NBA playoff series at three wins each and setting up a seventh-game Sunday at San Antonio. “It’s the ultimate thrill. It’s win or go home,” German star Nowitzki said. “Everything else that happened goes out the window.” In the other West game Friday, Damian Lillard hit the series clinching three-point shot as time expired and the Portland Trail Blazers beat Houston 99-98 to reach the second round of the playoffs.
“It came down to one play and we were able to make one play and win the series,” Lillard said.

The Mavericks, ignited by a 14-2 run deep into the fourth quarter that put them ahead to stay, are trying to become only the sixth bottom seed to oust a top seed in the opening round of the playoffs. “This is what you live for if you play this kind of sport,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s a one-game season for us. We know what this is about and we wanted this opportunity. We’re going to go in there and play our butts off. “We know what’s at stake Sunday. We’ve got to play at a breakneck level of intensity without panic and without losing our poise.” The Spurs, who had the best record in the regular season to earn a home-court edge throughout the playoffs, led 81-76 entering the fourth quarter before the hosts rallied to push San Antonio to the brink as well.

“We’re going back to our home,” said Spurs guard Tony Parker. “Hopefully we can have better energy and play better defense.” Dallas big man DeJuan Blair, who was suspended for game five, had 10 points and 14 rebounds, making a key steal and pulling down a vital rebound in the final seconds. “He was really upset about getting suspended and he wanted to make up for us,” Ellis said of Blair. “He gave us a lot of energy, made some big plays for us. He played a wonderful game.” Blair stole the ball from Parker and grabbed a rebound to set up free throws for Dallas, but Danny Green, who went seven-for-seven from the field, and Australian Patty Mills each sank three-pointers to pull the Spurs within the final margin.

San Antonio received a final chance when Ellis hurled the ball out of bounds at the far end of the court with 1.3 seconds remaining and deflected it out of bounds on an in-bounds attempt to give the Spurs a final shot with 0.4 of a second remaining. But Mills was short on a three-point try after the final buzzer and the Mavericks had the triumph. Brazil’s Tiago Splitter had 19 points for the Spurs while Green finished with 17 and Tim Duncan had 16. Portland advanced to the second round of the postseason for the first time in 14 years by beating the Rockets four games to three. The Rockets appeared to be heading to a victory and a game seven after Chandler Parsons scored on a reverse layup under the basket with 0.9 seconds left in the fourth.

But then Nicolas Batum inbounded the ball to Lillard, whose shot from near the top of the arc over Parsons sailed cleanly through the rim and set off a wild celebration. “I figured it would be tough to get my hands on the ball,” Lillard said. “I raised up and snapped my wrist. I got a good look and I am so excited to win.” The Trail Blazers won their first playoff series since May 16, 2000 when they beat Utah in five games. They had dropped seven consecutive series. Lillard’s dramatic buzzer beater marked the final three of his 25 points. LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds for Portland. Even with Portland’s victory, there will be a record five game sevens in the NBA’s first round of the playoffs.

In New York, Deron Williams scored 23 points and shook off an ankle sprain to lead the Brooklyn Nets over Toronto 97-83 Friday and keep their NBA playoff hopes alive. Williams, who scored 11 points after twisting his left ankle early in the third quarter, added five rebounds and four assists to help the Nets level their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series at 3-3 and force a decisive seventh game Sunday at Toronto. “It’ll be a little more sore when the adrenaline wears off, but it will be ready on Sunday,” Williams said of his ankle.

The Nets led by as many as 26 points in the third and took a 79-59 margin into the fourth quarter, but Brooklyn was mindful of what happened in game five at Toronto, where the Raptors led by 22 entering the final period only to have the Nets move ahead in the late going only to lose.
Toronto made a 14-2 run to pull within 86-76 with 5:02 to play in game six but the Raptors came no closer.
“We did a good job putting them away,” Williams said. “We knew they were going to make a run. They are a great team. It was a tough battle all the way through.
“They were persistent and we got up 20. Sometimes when you get up 20 you get complacent. We had to fight to finish it out.”

The Nets reached a seventh game last year before losing in the first round to Chicago, then traded with Boston for stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in building a roster worth $193 million. Whether that pays off with a deeper playoff run will be decided Sunday against a club whose payroll is about $68 million. Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson scored 17 points while Garnett added 13 points and five rebounds, and Pierce contributed 12 points and six rebounds. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan netted a game-high 28 points while Kyle Lowry, who had 36 points in the Raptors’ game six win, had only 11 points Friday on 4-of-16 shooting. The Raptors seek their first playoff series triumph since 2001 while the Nets try to rally and win a series for the first time in five tries after falling behind 3-2.

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