DALLAS - Somebody should have asked Michael Jordan. He knew. Throw it to Steve Kerr.
No, Kerr isn't retired.
But the Dallas Mavericks are for this season ... because of Kerr.
The player who hit the shot that clinched the Chicago Bulls' 1996-97 NBA championship came off the bench for a desperate, sagging San Antonio team facing a seventh game in the Western Conference finals last night, and he hit four three-pointers to rally the Spurs to a come-from-behind, 90-78 victory.
Kerr had played only 13 minutes in the playoffs before this game.
The Spurs won the series, 4-2, and will face the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals starting Wednesday in San Antonio.
It will be the first time two original ABA teams have met in the NBA Finals.
It will feature two-time Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan against Jason Kidd, the Nets' MVP candidate whom the Spurs have talked about acquiring in free agency after this season.
It will be the Nets' second straight Finals appearance. The Spurs will be going for their second NBA title.
But that is then. Last night, the big news was the demise of the Mavericks, who sent a shiver into the Spurs. Playing without injured star forward Dirk Nowitzki since late in Game 3, Dallas appeared on the verge of forcing Game 7 with a 15-point third-quarter lead before the Spurs regrouped.
Duncan had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs. Malik Rose added 12 points and Manu Ginobili had 11. Nick Van Exel's 19 led the Mavs.
"We were playing so well for so long and the bottom just dropped out," Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "We couldn't get a shot to go in. We went cold at the wrong time."
The Spurs, considered fragile by many after giving up five double-digit leads in the playoffs and losing some of those games, stormed back with a 23-0 fourth-quarter run in a 34-9 period highlighted by three Kerr threes.
"We got really stale," Mavs guard Raja Bell said. "The momentum swung really quick. It's kind of crazy. I guess what goes around, comes around."
"It was kind of amazing," said Dallas' Raef LaFrentz, who had his best game of the series with 12 points and 12 rebounds. "They blitzed us kind of like we blitzed them last game."
This was a series with exaggerated bluffing, at least according to the coaches. The Spurs' Gregg Popovich, who worked under Nelson in Golden State, has doubted every game that Nowitzki would sit out despite a knee injury suffered in Game 3.
Nelson, for his part, said he believed the Spurs when they said earlier in the series that Stephen Jackson was ill. And then word came early yesterday that Spurs point guard Tony Parker was sick as the result of a late room-service meal Wednesday night and might not play.
"Pop doesn't trust me," Nelson said. "But now he's done that twice and I fell for it."
Parker did come out to start the game, sparking images of Michael Jordan fighting off a dose of bad room-service pizza in the 1997 Finals. But Parker wasn't moving with his typical quickness and was scoreless in the first half, missing all four of his shots.
San Antonio went with backup Speedy Claxton, who was inconsistent before Kerr replaced him in the third quarter, when the team began its comeback. Although Duncan scored 10 points in the first quarter and took 10 shots after attempting 15 in Game 5, the Mavs harassed the other Spurs shooters into 5-for-14 shooting for the quarter and a 22-22 tie.
"People will never give us credit for our defense," said Mavs point guard Steve Nash. "We're not a great defensive team. But we're not a horrible defensive team, either, like everyone makes us out to be."
When the game ended, fans didn't boo. A franchise-record crowd of 20,812 stood in applause. Nash was the last player to leave the court and he slowly made a 360-degree turn, applauding back.
Sam Smith is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.