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Spurs end hard-fought series in emphatic style as Nets advance Mavs, Raptors fall short

SAN ANTONIO, May 5, (AFP): The San Antonio Spurs ended a hard-fought first-round series in emphatic style Sunday, routing the Dallas Mavericks 119-96 to advance in the NBA playoffs. The Spurs, top seeds in the Western Conference, were pushed to a decisive seventh game by the eighth-seeded Mavs, but with their season on the line responded with the runaway win that gave them a four-games-to-three triumph in the first-round series. “I think our best game was tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of his team that had led the league in the regular season with 62 victories. “We played very, very well, and I think it was one our best games of the year.” Tony Parker scored 24 of his 32 points in a first half, when San Antonio connected on a sizzling 68.4 percent of their shots from the field to build a comfortable cushion.

“We have a lot of respect for Dallas, they’re a great team,” Parker said. “They made it very hard on us. The whole series it was a hard fight.” Manu Ginobili finished with 20 points, five assists and six steals and Danny Green added 16 points for the Spurs, who will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday in game one of their second-round series. “I think our movement was good today and I think we’re getting back to playing Spurs basketball,” Parker said. “We’re going to need it against Portland, they’re a very good team.”
The Mavericks were trying to become just the sixth number eight seed to knock off a top seed. But on Sunday they struggled offensively, with Dirk Nowitzki’s 22 points leading the way and Devin Harris contributing 17 points off the bench. Monta Ellis, who had averaged 24 points over the previous five games, contributed only 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Nowitzki opened the scoring with a jump shot, but San Antonio promptly won 18 of the next 23 points and never looked back. Dallas, who trailed 46-68 at halftime, opened the second half with back-to-back three-pointers. The Mavericks cut the lead to 14 late in the third quarter, but San Antonio closed out the period on a 14-5 scoring run. “We got hit by a tidal wave early,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “They had their best game today. They’re the best of the best, and they’ve been great for a long time. They’ve got a great chance, obviously.” The Mavericks haven’t made it out of the first round since beating the Miami Heat for the NBA crown three years ago. The game was the last of a record five game sevens in the opening round of the playoffs.

The total already matches the NBA record for the most seventh games in all rounds in any playoff year. In Toronto, Canada, the Brooklyn Nets survived a frantic final push by Toronto, edging the Raptors 104-103 to reach the second round of the NBA playoffs. The Nets won the best-of-seven Eastern conference series four games to three to earn a shot at two-time defending champions Miami in the second round. But it came down to the final second, when Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce managed to block Raptors guard Kyle Lowry’s potential game-winning jump shot to preserve the one-point margin. “Lowry, we knew he was going to get to the hole,” Pierce said. “There was a scramble for the ball. I saw him go up, I went up for the block.

“Clean block at the end, it was a great playoff series,” Pierce added of the drama-filled seven-game set.
The Nets forced the deciding game seven with a 97-83 victory in Brooklyn on Friday. On Sunday they finished the job, advancing in the post-season for the first time since they beat the Raptors in 2007. The Nets had led by 10 points with less than six minutes remaining and by seven with 2:04 to play. But the Raptors, cheered on by a manic home crowd, cut the deficit to one with 8.8 seconds left on a driving layup by Terrence Ross. Ross then stole Shaun Livingston’s inbounds pass. Heading out of bounds himself, he managed to throw the ball against Pierce’s leg before he came down so that the ball went out off of Pierce to make it Toronto’s ball with 6.2 seconds on the clock.

Lowry was triple-teamed at the top of the key and Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett almost got the ball away from him. Lowry recovered in the lane, but as he rose for a shot Pierce rose too and batted the ball away. “They’re a grind it out team,” Pierce said of Toronto’s furious comeback bid. “They have so many fourth-quarter comebacks.

“I just think we have to do a better job defending,” said Pierce, adding: “This was a great, great series. I’m glad to be a part of it.” Joe Johnson led the Nets with 26 points. Garnett added 12 points and 11 rebounds and Marcus Thornton contributed 17 points off the bench for Brooklyn. Lowry finished with 28 points to lead the Raptors. The game was among a record five game sevens in the opening round of the playoffs. The total already matches the NBA record for the most seventh games in all rounds in any playoff year. LeBron James and the Heat will host the Nets in game one of their series on Tuesday. Brooklyn swept the four regular season meetings against the two-time defending champions, though all were decided by a single point.

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