- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

SAN ANTONIO — First there was foul trouble for Dirk Nowitzki, and then he got hit with a technical foul. Next came serious foul trouble for Nowitzki, which was followed by the ejection of Don Nelson.

More technical fouls and ejections quickly followed in a game that seemed to be all but over by the time the tempestuous first half ended.

Dallas did manage to make a late push, but Tim Duncan’s 32 points and the Spurs’ early 24-for-24 free-throw shooting were too much to overcome last night as San Antonio defeated the Mavericks 119-106 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

“We definitely lost our composure, but we knew coming in how it would be,” Mavericks guard Nick Van Exel said. “Our focus was to keep fighting though it and play through it as best we could, but tonight it just got the best of us.”

The Spurs evened the series with Game 3 set for tomorrow night at Dallas. Perhaps that will be the night that a low-key officiating crew is assigned to the game.

Following a Game 1 that featured 72 personal fouls and 98 free throws, notoriously hot tempered referee Joey Crawford called four technical fouls in the first 10:11.

Two of the techs came in rapid succession during a timeout when Nelson tried to engage Crawford in a staredown. Assistant coach Del Harris was tossed by Crawford late in the second quarter after he walked onto the court.

“Don [Nelson] walked up to half court. I never told him to sit down because that’s not my job to tell him to sit down. I told him to go coach his team, and he said, ‘No, I’m not going to.’ So I hit him with one,” Crawford told a pool reporter. “I said, ‘Go coach your team.’ He said, ‘I’m staying right here.’ So, bang, I threw him.

“Del Harris was different,” Crawford said. “Del Harris came to my partner [Ted Bernhardt] at a timeout and said that he was going to get ejected, and to eject him on one [technical], which isn’t unusual. This has happened in the history of the NBA where a coach has walked up to a referee and said, ‘Eject me.’ So we eject him.”

The Spurs went to the line 28 times in the first half and made 26, with Malik Rose going 13-for-14 while shooting a majority of the technicals.

The second half consisted of little more than waiting to see if any more individual technical fouls would be called — none were — and whether the Mavericks could make a comeback with assistant coach Donn Nelson Jr. running the team. They got within eight, but no closer.

Rose finished with 25 points, Tony Parker had 19 and Stephen Jackson 17. San Antonio made 37 of 45 free throws.

“It is tough being in a situation where you’re up so much and are trying to play the clock out, basically,” Duncan said. “We talked about trying to win the game instead of sustain the lead.”

Michael Finley led the Mavericks with 29 points and Nowitzki had 23.

Things started going poorly for Dallas midway through the first quarter — and they quickly got much worse.

Nowitzki was called for his second foul with 7:39 remaining in the period for slapping at the ball as Duncan shot. Nowitzki turned to Crawford to complain, and Crawford immediately gave him a technical.

Jackson made the ensuing foul shot to give the Spurs an 11-7 lead, and Nelson took a risk by leaving Nowitzki in the game with two fouls.

With 4:49 left in the first, Bernhardt whistled Nowitzki for his third personal — a questionable call as Nowitzki defended Rose under the basket. That forced Nelson to remove Nowitzki from the game, and Nelson was gone himself with 2:46 left in the quarter.

“Nothing that Nellie does surprises me,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s clever and creative, but he was real creative tonight.”

A layup by Duncan with 1:31 left in the first completed a 17-2 run and gave the Spurs a 33-16 lead, and Jackson had a fast-break layup with 6:53 left in the second quarter to complete an 18-3 run that gave the Spurs a 55-29 edge.

San Antonio led 69-44 at the break, and Dallas got within 17 in the third before Nowitzki picked up his fourth and fifth fouls — the latter of which was a questionable call by Crawford on which Nowitzki supposedly fouled Rose on a breakaway. It led to a three-point play that gave the Spurs an 87-67 lead.

A 17-6 run ending with a three-point play by Van Exel made it 105-97 with 4:58 left, but Duncan hit a 15-footer and blocked a jumper by Nowitzki, leading to a breakaway layup by Parker that upped the lead to 12 with 3:51 left — ending the Mavericks’ final threat.

“We took tonight on the chin, but in no way, shape or form do we feel depressed or down,” Nelson Jr. said. “We’ll take this as a challenge and learn from it and try to get one at home.”

Notes — Crawford also called a technical foul on Van Exel late in the first quarter for rolling the ball to him after the Dallas guard was called for a charging foul. Referee Dick Bavetta broke Crawford’s string of consecutive technical fouls at four when he called one on Bruce Bowen for pushing Raef LaFrentz after the two were getting untangled.

late in the first quarter. Bernhardt whistled Spurs center Kevin Willis for a technical foul late in the second quarter. … Dallas forward Eduardo Najera was held out because of a thigh bruise. … Shawn Bradley started for Dallas in place of LaFrentz. … The team that has won Game 1 in the Western Conference finals has won the series 16 consecutive times.

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