Dallas trailed by seven points with 5:05 left and was getting shredded inside by a new-look Lakers lineup featuring three big men. The Mavs hadn't led since late in the second quarter and a record crowd was turning silent. Then Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer and Stojakovic followed with another, bringing the team and the crowd to life. An 18-6 rally followed, turning around the game and possibly sealing the series.
The Mavericks lead 3-0, and no team in NBA history has ever lost after taking such a lead. Dallas will go for the sweep at home on Sunday.
It's hard to count out a group that includes Kobe Bryant and is coached by Phil Jackson, the winner of a record 11 titles, especially with Los Angeles having won the last two championships and with the added incentive of Jackson headed to retirement.
Yet the Lakers have only themselves to blame. They blew a 16-point lead in the opener, got routed at home the next game and now have this flop at the finish.
The meltdown included a play where Bryant threw a pass to Pau Gasol, but Gasol expected him to shoot and was looking at the rim. The ball hit him in the back, creating a turnover plucked by Dallas. On the Lakers' next possession, Bryant came up short on a long jumper to beat the shot clock, leading to a pair of free throws by Nowitzki that put the Mavericks ahead for the first time since the final minutes of the first half.
Dallas simply played better -- and smarter -- down the stretch. When Los Angeles regained the lead at 89-88, the Mavericks worked the ball to Terry in the corner for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Lamar Odom answered with a flick shot over Stojakovic to tie it at 91 with 1:39 left, but that would be it for the Lakers.
Nowitzki made a tough, left-handed hook shot over two defenders, then ran back up the court snarling and with the lead. Odom missed another flick shot over Stojakovic, with defensive help from Tyson Chandler, and Dallas got an extended possession when Chandler reached between two Lakers to knock a rebound to Terry in the corner. The Lakers resorted to fouls and wild shots to try coming back, an ugly way for a team that's been so good for so long to go out -- or, at least, get really close to starting its summer vacation.
With Ron Artest suspended, Jackson started the 6-foot-10 Odom at small forward. He and Andrew Bynum dominated inside, setting a tone that served Los Angeles well. The Lakers used an 11-2 stretch just before halftime to take a lead at the break that it would hold most of the second half. However, with no reliable threat outside, the Lakers could never pull away.
Bynum had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Odom scored 18 and Bryant scored 17. He had only four points in the final quarter.
Gasol had 12 points and Shannon Brown provided a spark off the bench with 10.
A record Dallas crowd of 21,156 -- most wearing royal-blue giveaway T-shirts that read, "The Time Is Now," with the Mavs logo in place of the basketball atop of the championship trophy -- went through the usual chants of "De-fense!" and "Beat LA!" without much impact through the first three quarters. But with the game on the line, they got to their feet and helped the home team sustain its rally.
The atmosphere and the Mavs were too much for the Lakers, with all their championship pedigree and Jackson's collection of rings.
Since falling behind 2-0 in the series, Jackson tried bringing a sense of calm to his team. So did Bryant, who downplayed the difficulty of winning two road games.
On Friday morning, Bryant told Jackson, "It seems right that this is the kind of way your last season should be, that something like this comes up and has to be another hurdle you have to cross." Yet Jackson replied that it wasn't him crossing it, it was the players, and he was interested in seeing how they responded to the situation and to all the criticism they've faced the last few days.