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Fast Breaks: Spurs-Mavs, Game 3

SAN ANTONIO -- Their Big Three drove the Spurs to a bloodied 94-90 win Friday over Dallas to stake the No. 7 seed to a surprising 2-1 lead in the series.

A broken nose.Manu Ginobili was elbowed during a Dirk Nowitzki drive early in the third quarter. When he went to the locker room for treatment, he had four points on 1-for-5 shooting; after returning with a bandage across the bridge of his fractured nose, Ginobili would go 3-for-5 for 11 points in the fourth quarter while repeatedly driving the ball inside at the risk of another painful blow to the face. Ginobili's offensive push helped the Spurs recover from a 17-0 Mavericks run that had given Dallas a 68-59 lead late in the third quarter; within five minutes San Antonio was charging back to reclaim a 72-70 advantage in the fourth. "We gave up the lead too quickly,'' said Nowitzki, citing a pair of conventional three-point plays by Ginobili as the difference-makers.

"This is a guy who beats up bats,'' said RichardJefferson of Ginobili, who every so often would return to the bench like a boxer between rounds to replace a nostril plug and clean up the blood. He embodied the heart of an old but stubborn team that appeared out of contention for much of this season, but is now can seize a 3-1 lead with a third straight win Sunday. "I had no doubts,'' said Tim Duncan of Ginobili's return. "He has a very strong nose on him. I thought it would take him a second and he'd be right back.''

Nowitzki "held'' to 35 points. Through three quarters, he had 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting but, in the fourth, Nowitzki managed only four attempts and six points as Antonio McDyess and his helping teammates tightened their defense. "It's amazing, the physicality he's playing with,'' said Duncan of McDyess. Added coach Gregg Popovich: "I thought everybody was very active, the team defense was good. You're not going to keep Dirk from scoring, but we made it tough on him.''

"Down the stretch we had too many empty possessions,'' said Nowitzki. "They started doubling me and we didn't get too much out of the weak side.''

Caron Butler and Shawn Marion benched. They combined for nine points on 12 shots in 31 minutes overall, with Marion limited to five minutes in the second half and Butler (two points and three turnovers) not playing at all after halftime. Coach Rick Carlisle stayed with backup guard Jose Barea (14 points and four assists) for the entire second half and used a three-guard lineup for most of that time. "I was going with a group that was going good,'' said Carlisle. "We needed penetration.''

No doubt Carlisle was frustrated by the Mavs' poor opening quarter for the second straight game. Dallas missed seven of its opening nine shots to go with five turnovers as the Spurs claimed a 14-6 lead. "If we battle like we did for the last three quarters, I like our chances Sunday,'' said Nowitzki. "We'd love to get a better start.''

Duncan early and Tony Parker late. Duncan (25 points) had 23 through three quarters before giving way to Ginobili and Parker (23 points), who had nine in the fourth on 4-for-4 shooting over the final 2:34, including three straight jumpers of at least 17 feet to turn a 1-point deficit into an 86-81 Spurs lead. Altogether the Big Three combined for 63 points. "We are playing the best basketball of the year so far,'' said Duncan. "It's frustrating all season to go through all of the ups and downs, but all in all you want to be playing your best at the right of the year.''

No threes. The Mavs were frustrated to lose on a night when the Spurs were held to 0-for-7 from the three-point line. "We want to take away how they spread the floor,'' said Nowitzki, "and we want to run them off the spots they like for shooting three-pointers.'' Popovich was looking forward to working on the Spurs' zone offense after the Mavs switched defenses to launch their 17-0 run. "We totally stopped playing,'' said Popovich. "It's as if there was a rule that said if they play zone, you don't have to be aggressive anymore.''

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