DALLAS, May 13 (Ticker) -- Dirk Nowitzki put a new twist on what is becoming a Texas-sized rivalry.

Hobbling on a sprained ankle, Nowitzki made a handful of clutch plays in the final minute to lift the Dallas Mavericks to a stirring 104-103 victory over the San Antonio Spurs and a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.

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One of the better playoff games in NBA history was a one-possession affair for the last 8 1/2 minutes. There were three ties and a dozen lead changes in the final six minutes, with the defending champion Spurs refusing to give in and the upstart Mavericks unwilling to back down.

"Down the stretch, I think both teams played great offense," Nowitzki said. "There weren't a lot of stops going on. Everybody was going back and forth. It was a great playoff game to be a part of."

"Great game both ways," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We have to play better basketball to beat these guys."

Nowitzki had 27 points and 15 rebounds to help fourth-seeded Dallas survive a huge game by Tim Duncan, who had 35 points and 12 boards before fouling out on the game's key play.

Top-seeded San Antonio held a 99-98 lead before the 7-foot Nowitzki powered past Tony Parker to the basket. Duncan jumped out to defend, and Nowitzki stepped on Duncan's foot, twisting his right ankle.

"He didn't touch me and I didn't touch him," Duncan said. "He tried to draw contact, I moved out of his way and if he stepped on my foot, he stepped on my foot, but there was zero contact."

Duncan fouled out, and Nowitzki - after a timeout - sank both free throws for a 100-99 edge with 1:05 to go. Nowitzki was 21-of-24 from the line.

With Duncan gone, the Spurs went to Manu Ginobili, who scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. On consecutive possessions, he drove for layups, giving San Antonio a 103-102 lead with 21 seconds to play.

"I was having a pretty good game and was making shots and layups that I usually make," said Ginobilli, who made 7-of-16 shots. "When Tim went out, I think the next option was either Tony or me. Pop trusted me and I just tried to get something done, either drawing fouls or getting to the basket."

"Manu, down the stretch, I thought he did really well," Duncan said. "He got into rhythm and started attacking the basket."

In between Ginobili's hoops, Nowitzki was triple-teamed and found Jerry Stackhouse for a layup. When Stackhouse missed a jumper, Nowitzki grabbed the rebound, drew a foul and drained both shots for a 104-103 lead with 7.9 seconds left.

"I saw Parker on me and I took him one way and wanted to spin in the lane and kind of turn and finish in the lane," Nowitzki said. "I saw like three guys charging over to my side and it was a tough pass over to Stack. The spacing wasn't great but he made a heck of a finish in there."

The Spurs again tried to get the ball to Ginobili, but Devin Harris stuck in his hand to break up a dribble handoff from Robert Horry and the ball bounced off Ginobili, into the backcourt and out of bounds with 2.5 seconds to play, sending the American Airlines Center into a frenzy.

"I saw him coming off," Harris said. "Handing off, he was kind of high. I was able to get a hand on it and kind of knock it away. I did my best without fouling him. I got a little piece of it and it was enough."

San Antonio had one last chance after Stackhouse missed two free throws, but a long pass was deflected and tracked down by Horry, whose desperation shot was not close. The Spurs had made their previous 10 shots.

It was a watershed win for the Mavericks, who host Game 4 on Monday with a chance to take control of a series that has lived up to its hype. The Spurs won the first of their three titles in 1999, Nowitzki's rookie season. This marks the first time in three series that Dallas has a lead on San Antonio.

After the game, Nowitzki was limping pretty badly and had trouble getting down the one step from the podium in the interview room.

"It stiffened up pretty good," he said. "I rolled it pretty nicely. I rolled it once I planted. That's usually where you have all of your weight on your leg. I'm probably going to stay up all night and ice it and ice it some (Sunday)."

Harris scored a career-high 24 points as his quickness again was a factor. Jason Terry added 19 points and Josh Howard 12 for the Mavericks, who appear to be the faster and deeper team but squandered a 13-point lead.

Parker scored 15 points for the Spurs, who again got off to a slow start despite some changes but used their trademark patience and experience to climb back into the contest.

The Mavericks made 39-of-50 free throws while the Spurs sank 22-of-32.

"It was incredibly frustrating because of the type of fouls that were called down the stretch," Duncan said. "They weren't fouls."

Duncan, who had just two 30-point games during the season, has two in this series. He was unstoppable, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he overwhelmed Erick Dampier or burned double-teams with smart passes.

However, he picked up his fifth foul with 4:22 to go, and Nowitzki's two free throws gave Dallas a 91-90 lead. Duncan answered with a three-point play.

A 3-pointer by Brent Barry gave San Antonio a 98-95 lead with 3:08 remaining. Howard made a free throw and Harris made two to tie it for the last time at the 2:25 mark.

Popovich made some big changes, starting Barry for Ginobili and moving Bruce Bowen from Nowitzki onto Howard, who had a big Game Two. When Horry picked up his second foul trying to stay with Nowitzki, he was replaced by rugged Argentine rookie Fabricio Oberto.

None of it mattered much as the Mavericks marched to the line 13 times, making 11 and opening a 27-18 lead after one period. Meanwhile, the Spurs made just 6-of-24 shots.

"We were getting out in transition once again and we did run enough to get early offense and get things rolling early," Terry said.

Just as they did in Game 2, the Spurs sputtered in the second period with Duncan on the bench, falling behind, 43-32, on yet another free throw by Nowitzki. However, they closed the quarter with an 8-0 burst to cut the halftime deficit to 53-48.

It was more of the same in the third quarter. A three-point play by DeSagana Diop gave Dallas a 64-53 lead before San Antonio closed to 73-69 at the end of the period.