The Dallas Mavericks decided they were going to treat Game 6 of their first-round playoff series against the Trail Blazers as if it were Game 7.
"We talked about it before, we talked about it again during the game, how we had to keep fighting," said Dirk Nowitzki, who had 33 points and 11 rebounds as the Mavs held off Portland 103-96 on Thursday night to advance to a second-round matchup with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Nowitzki said it was too soon to say whether the six-game victory over the Blazers was enough to wipe away the struggles that the Mavericks have had in the playoffs for the past several years.
Dallas has been knocked for lacking toughness. Before this season, the Mavs had won just a single playoff series since reaching the NBA finals for the first and only time in 2006. They'd been bounced from the first round in three of the previous four years.
"We're such a confident team," guard Jason Terry said. "We have so many veteran guys, starting at the top with Jason Kidd on down to Dirk, that we believe. Especially in close ballgames, we've been winning them all season long. So we're confident."
The Blazers led by as many as 12 points early after Gerald Wallace went on a tear with 13 first-quarter points. But Wallace left the game for much of the second quarter with a sore back and Portland surrendered the lead.
Wallace would return to finish with 32 points and 12 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points and 10 rebounds.
"I think with all the adversity we faced, it was a good year," Aldridge said about the often-injured Trail Blazers. "But for us personally, this wasn't what we wanted. We wanted to advance and we wanted to go to the second round."
Wallace's fast-break dunk narrowed it to 86-85 with 5:24 to go, but Kidd answered with a 3-pointer and Terry added a step-back jumper to keep the Mavericks out front 91-85 with 4:04 left.
After Wallace made a pair of free throws, Aldridge missed two for Portland and Shawn Marion's hook made it 93-87 for Dallas.
Terry added a jumper to put the Mavs ahead 95-89 with 1:42 to go and time ran out on Portland's comeback.
"It's definitely big for our confidence to win a road game in the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "We haven't done it for a while so we definitely needed one. In this league, if you have a chance to close out a team, you always want to go for it.
"We talked about it before the game, that this was kind of our Game 7. We didn't want to play again on Saturday."
Dallas hadn't won at the Rose Garden this season.
Led by Wallace, the Blazers jumped out to 19-7 lead, capping the quarter with a dunk from rookie Chris Johnson to make it 27-19.
But the Blazers went cold when Wallace headed to the locker room with lower back tightness, and the Mavericks went on a 16-4 run to tie it at 35 after J.J. Barea's layup.
Dallas extended the lead to 47-41 on Nowitzki's dunk with 1:10 left, and the Mavs closed the half ahead 52-43 after Terry's 3-pointer.
Nowitzki finished the first half with 19 points.
Marion's dunk made it 56-45 for Dallas early in the second half and the Rose Garden crowd was uncharacteristically silenced.
Portland pulled within 77-71 early in the final quarter on Rudy Fernandez's 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Aldridge.
"I think everybody played their hearts out tonight," Aldridge said. "I though everybody gave it their all, we put it on the line. They just made more plays than us."
Third-seeded Dallas took control of the series with a 93-82 victory at American Airlines Center on Monday night in Game 5.
Sixth-seeded Portland had evened the series at two games apiece when Brandon Roy led his team on a stunning comeback for an 84-82 Game 4 victory on Saturday. The three-time All-Star who had been troubled by his knees all season and was playing off the bench, finished with 24 points, with 18 of those coming in the fourth quarter to lift the Blazers from a 23-point deficit.
There would not be another comeback for the Blazers.
"We played possession by possession, and as the game went on we gained momentum," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "That was important. They made a run in the fourth, but we've had teams make runs at us all year, and there wasn't going to be a miracle tonight."
Portland has never been able to win a playoff series after falling behind 3-2. They've been bounced from the first round for three straight seasons.
Notes: The Mavericks activated reserve guard Rodrigue Beaubois, who had not appeared in the playoff because of a sprained left foot. He did not play. ... Johnson was the defensive player of the year in the NBA D-League. ... The Blazers have never won a playoff series seeded sixth or lower.