Mavs stay alive as Dirk outduels Melo, Nuggets

DALLAS -- So much for the idea that the Dallas Mavericks would be devastated by the way Game 3 ended. Inspired was more like it.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead, high-arching shot with 1:05 left in a 119-117 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night that prevented the Mavericks from being swept and injected a whole lot more excitement into this second-round series.

"It was an unbelievable game," Nowitzki said. "We were down the whole game, but were able to come back and win and we've been doing that all season long. ... We've got to go back to Denver and let it all hang out again."

Carmelo Anthony scored a career playoff-best 41 points and hit a 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds left from nearly the exact spot as his winning basket in the previous game, only this time it left Denver a point shy of a tie.

Dallas' Jason Terry made a free throw with 1.1 seconds left, then missed another -- intentionally, he said. Anthony got the rebound but couldn't stop the clock and didn't have enough time to even get off a 90-foot heave. The buzzer sounded and confetti fell as the teams left the court, knowing they will meet again Wednesday night in Denver.

"We're still in control of this going back to our home court," Anthony said. "We'll be ready."

The postgame scene was a little calmer than after the end of Game 3, although it may also wind up getting reviewed by the league office because Denver's Kenyon Martin clearly exchanged words with Dallas owner Mark Cuban. Martin wouldn't talk in the locker room, telling reporters to "go someplace else. All you [expletive] are trying to do is cause trouble."

This game had all the intensity of a Game 7, with seven technical fouls and multiple flagrants. There were video reviews and concerns for the safety of Anthony's girlfriend and Martin's mom, all of it started by the wacky Game 3 finish, then stoked by a silly elbow from Anthony early in the second quarter.

Once things started going out of control, they hardly stopped. Denver led by 14, then Dallas got close several times only to fall back by several baskets. The Mavs tied it several times before finally breaking through on Nowitzki's rainbow over Martin.

"They're allowed to be fans, but when it gets personal, it goes over the top," Denver's Chauncey Billups said. "They're drinking before the game started, drinking all game, and it probably got a little out of hand. They're allowed to be fans but sometimes it can get over the top."

Added Nuggets coach George Karl: "I would probably use an uglier word than hostile, but I'm not going to do that right now. I don't think it was very classy. I've been in hostile buildings, but you can do it in a classy way."

Denver was headed to another blowout early when Anthony tangled arms with Dallas' Antoine Wright. It was like an alarm clock for the drowsy crowd of 20,523 -- and for the Mavericks, who all season have been at their best immediately after hitting rock bottom. It was a quality coach Rick Carlisle expected to see Monday night, even if it showed up more than a quarter late.

In the final minute, Dallas was up by two after Mavs forward Josh Howard and Anthony each hit a pair of free throws. Dallas got the ball to Nowitzki and he drew another foul on Martin. K-Mart knew it was his sixth and went straight to the bench and took a seat, watching Nowitzki sink two more free throws with 8.3 seconds left.

Anthony's 3 gave the Nuggets hopes of another miracle finish, but they were out of tricks. Unable to steal the ball from Terry, they fouled him instead.

It was too late. Denver wasn't going to pull off the first four-game sweep in franchise history and Dallas avoided getting swept for the first time in a seven-game series.

The Mavs also lost the season series 0-4, but they knew they were getting closer. The margin went 14 to 12 to one, and, now, to two points in their favor.

"We've been fighting and fighting this whole series," said Howard, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds. "The win finally went our way. ... The end of Game 3 gave us a lot of willpower for this game."

Nowitzki, who also is dealing with off-court troubles involving a girlfriend, was 14-of-25. He made 16 of 17 free throws and grabbed 13 rebounds.

"There are very few guys I have been around in this league that are as strong-willed as him," Carlisle said.

Jason Kidd added 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Billups had 24 points and seven assists, and J.R. Smith had 19 points, including two terrific baskets with the shot clock about to expire in the fourth quarter.

Game notes
Denver's Chris "Birdman" Andersen missed the game with a stomach flu. ... Cuban won't be at Game 5. He'll be keeping a promise to his wife made six months ago and accepting a lifetime award for advertising in Las Vegas. ... This was Nowitzki's fifth 40-point playoff game.