Blazer rally falls short as Dallas wraps up series

McMillan: 'You're never ready for this moment'
by: CHRISTOpher Onstott Dallas center Tyson Chandler (left) and guard Jason Kidd acknowledge each other after a good play by the Mavericks during Game 6 of their playoff series with Portland.

The Trail Blazers were coming. Behind by 17 points late in the third quarter, they had closed to within one point with still 5:20 remaining.

The sellout Rose Garden throng of 20,494 was a noise machine, and deja vu - as in the Brandon Roy-inspired comeback of Game 4 - was a distinct possibility.

The Dallas Mavericks were having none of it, though.

With Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry leading the way, the Mavericks closed out their first-round playoff series Thursday with a 103-96 victory.

'They made a run in the fourth,' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. 'We've had teams make runs at us all year, but there wasn't going to be a miracle tonight.'

Nowitzki scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Terry came off the bench for 22 points and eight assists. Dallas won the series four games to two to become the first team to break through on the opponent's homecourt in the 10 games the teams have played this season.

The Mavericks advance to a Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Lakers, beginning Monday night at Staples Center.

For the Blazers, it meant elimination in six games in a first-round series for the third straight season.

'The goal was to get back to Dallas (for Game 7),' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'I felt if we could do that we could win that game, but we didn't. So we end the way we ended the last two years.'

Despite sitting out the entire second quarter with lower back stiffness, Gerald Wallace collected a career playoff-high 32 points and 12 rebounds for Portland. Teammate LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points, 10 boards) came up big, too. For the Blazers, who went 49-33 in the regular season, it wasn't enough.

'We had a good year, looking at all the things we overcame,' Aldridge said. 'A lot of injuries, losing our main guy (Brandon Roy), (Marcus) Camby being in and out.

'But ... this wasn't all that we wanted. We wanted to advance to the second round. Everybody played his heart out tonight. Everybody gave it his all. They just made more plays that us.'

After making only 8 of their first 30 shots (.267) and trailing by 12 points early in the second quarter, the Mavericks found their range. They made 31 of their last 48 attempts (.646) to finish the game shooting .500.

Portland made an extended run, trimming a 73-56 Dallas lead late in the third quarter to 86-85 with 5:20 to go. The Mavericks fought off the Blazers and Nowitzki sealed the deal by sinking eight straight free throws over the final 31.2 seconds.

'We just had to keep fighting,' said Nowitzki, who averaged 27.3 points and 7.8 rebounds and was 56 for 63 (.889) at the line in the series. 'It wasn't pretty again. They made a great run, kept making shots, kept making plays ... but we just refused to lose.'

Reiterated Carlisle: 'Nowitzki, (Jason) Kidd and Terry weren't going to let us lose the game, it was as simple as that.'

Wallace, struggling through the first five games of the series, exploded with a monster game Thursday night.

'I didn't want to go home,' he said. 'I wanted to get myself going early, try to get some energy going for my teammates, and let them feed off me. I did a pretty good job of that.'

The 6-7 small forward came out of the gates like a man possessed, scoring Portland's first nine points - on two tip-ins, a 3-pointer and a driving layup - in the game's first 3 1/2 minutes. Soon, the fans were chanting 'Ger-uld Wall-us!'. He finished the first quarter with 13 points and six rebounds, but then missed the entire second period due to the back problem.

Late in the first quarter, 'I did an up-and-under move in the paint and my back just locked,' Wallace said. 'It got tight on me. I stretched it out in the second quarter and was able to finish the game.'

Behind Wallace, Portland jumped in front 19-7 midway through the first quarter and was still on top 27-19 after one period. Early in the second quarter, the Blazers' lead was 31-19 when the Mavericks suddenly turned on the jets, outscoring Portland 33-12 the rest of the half to go into intermission ahead 52-43.

'The way the game started was tough,' Carlisle said. 'Getting down 12 early, that's some real adversity.

'Everybody stuck together. Nobody hung their heads. Everybody kept encouraging each other. We played possession by possession, as the game went on, we gained momentum.'

It would get worse for the hometown quintet, which would fall behind by 17 late in the third quarter. Then came the comeback bid. It fell just short.

'We felt like we could get back in the game, and we actually did,' said Aldridge, who averaged 20.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in the series. 'But they made plays. I mean, hey, they came to play.'

Nowitzki's shooting numbers were spectacular - 11 for 17 from the field, 11 for 11 at the line. Terry made 9 of 16 shots, many of them rally-killers. Kidd drained a big-time 3 in the fourth quarter, and Shawn Marion's jump hook while posting up Roy with the Mavs ahead only 91-87 and 2 1/2 minutes left 'was the biggest play of the game,' Carlisle said.

'This whole series, any time we made a mistake, they made us pay,' McMillan said. 'They made big shot after shot. Last game, it was offensive rebounding.

'Tonight, our guys competed. We got off to a good start. We lost Gerald for that second quarter and lost a little momentum. It took us awhile to get going again. I appreciate and respect the effort our guys gave tonight.'

As the Blazers were rallying in the fourth quarter, the crowd got into it - and how.

'Walking into this place and playing a playoff game is no fun, brother,' said Carlisle, an assistant coach for three years in Portland under P.J. Carlesimo in the mid-1990s. 'This is the loudest place I've ever been, and I've been in a lot of places in 27 years (in the NBA as a player and coach), trust me. For us to be able to hang in and win in this environment is huge for us.'

Added Carlisle: 'We knew it was going to be a brutally hard series, but we also knew it was what we needed. We needed to beat them and do it in a way that was in character with a team that deserved to move on.'

The Blazers were left to wonder how they'd have fared had Wallace not been lost for the second quarter.

'He carried us,' Aldridge said. 'If he would have been there in the second, it could have been different.'

'I felt like I let the team down in the second quarter,' Wallace said. 'It kind of killed the momentum. The guys were feeding off me.'

The Mavericks had kind things to say about the Blazers afterward.

'They gave us all we could handle,' Nowitzki said. 'We knew they were tough, they were well-coached, and they kept making plays. Their fans were unbelievable, always pushing them forward. They're a bunch of guys with a lot of pride, and they kept competing.'

'Look, they're a very dangerous team, extremely well-coached,' Carlisle said. 'I worked for this organization for three years; it's nothing but class. Nate's a great coach, their players are terrific, they're a young team, they're going to keep moving up.

'This was an opportunity for them to become an elite team, by knocking us off. We knew that. That was one of the things that drove our guys.'

So the Blazers' season ends, albeit prematurely to their liking.

'You're never ready for this moment,' McMillan said. 'It's like it creeps up on you, and all of a sudden, tomorrow you're going home.

'We fought through a lot of adversity this season. We had an opportunity to do something special this year.'

What is it the Chicago Cubs' fans say?

There's always next year.

NOTES - Portland, the No. 6 seed in the West, has never won a playoff series when seeded sixth or lower (0-13). ... Wesley Matthews scored 19 points for Portland but was only 5 for 14 from the field. ... Dallas' bench, led by Terry, outscored its Portland counterparts 35-14. ... Roy made 4 of 6 shots and finished the game with nine points, three rebounds and three assists with no turnovers in 29 minutes. ... Portland's Rudy Fernandez was 1 for 3 from the field, finishing the series 4 for 18. ... Nowitzki had 15 points in the game's first 16 minutes.