The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Sacramento Kings 112-99 in Game 7 of the conference semifinal series Saturday night, with Dirk Nowitzki scoring 30 points, 19 rebounds and a super-timely 3-pointer -- one of 11 by the Mavericks.
It was the type of breakout game everyone had been waiting for from Nowitzki, whose struggles in this series were so pronounced that
But that's exactly what he was, with strong supporting roles from Nick Van Exel, Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Raja Bell and even Shawn Bradley as the Mavericks advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1988.
The all-Texas showdown with the San Antonio Spurs begins Monday night, with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals.
Van Exel, the Mavs' most consistent offensive producer during the high-octane series, had 23 points and four 3-pointers. Finley added 18, Nash had 18 points and 13 assists and Bell chipped in 12 points.
Bradley did his part during the first three quarters, giving the Mavericks an interior defensive presence that caused the Kings all sorts of problems trying to run their inside-outside game on offense. It's a tactic that usually worked when Sacramento had Chris Webber available, but he went down with a knee injury in Game 2 to irrevocably change the dynamic of this series.
As the Mavericks left the court, Finley lifted Nowitzki and carried him off -- a fitting reward for a player who carried the Mavericks with 12-for-20 shooting.
Mike Bibby scored 25 and Jim Jackson 24 for the Kings, whose season ended in a disappointing Game 7 loss for the second straight year.
Unlike last season when they had only themselves to blame for their Game 7 loss to the Lakers in the Western finals, this time they were simply outplayed for all but a few brief stretches of the 48 minutes.
ESPN will broadcast Dallas at San Antonio (Game 1) live at 9:30am tomorrow.