That’s not really the way the Mavs play anymore.
Game 2 on Friday night was a lot more like it.
Dallas limited Phoenix to a season-low 17 points in the first quarter, then made stops on six of seven possessions during a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter that put the Mavs ahead for good.
“I thought defensively we took a little bit more of a challenge,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “In the first game, it was like they were playing against themselves. We had some Mavericks in most of the plays tonight, which I thought was a key for us.”
The Suns missed 13 of their last 18 shots until Steve Nash scored a meaningless basket in the closing seconds. It was his only points and his only attempt of the second half, which perhaps best sums up the way Dallas turned things around after allowing 121 points in the opener.
Johnson blistered his team Thursday, primarily for allowing 32 fast-break points. Phoenix had only 21 this time, and plummeted from 72 points in the paint to 46.
“We were just better at getting back defensively,” said Jason Terry, who scored six of his 18 points during the game-changing spurt.
Nash, the tone-setter for the Suns just like he was for the offensive-minded Mavericks of the early 2000s, had 16 points and 11 assists. He got only three assists in the second half once Dallas honed in on stopping him.
“In hindsight, I would’ve maybe been more aggressive,” Nash said. “But I felt like I was making the right play. I was drawing two players and throwing it to the open man.”
The Suns head home for Game 3 on Sunday night with the familiar feeling of being 1-1.
Phoenix has lost all three of its Game 2s this postseason and five straight dating to last season. Going back to 1999, which predates anyone on the roster, the Suns have dropped 10 of 11, the exception coming during a first-round sweep of Memphis last year.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for,” said forward Tim Thomas, who scored 20 points, including several key 3-pointers. “We wanted to be greedy and get two (wins). We go back to the desert to do it all over again.”
Howard was considered iffy to even play because of a bone bruise that knocked him out of Game 1 in the opening minutes. He scored 13 in the third quarter and finished one shy of his career high. The Mavericks are now 22-0 this season when he scores at least 20.
“It was sore, but I was able to keep playing,” said Howard, who decided to play about an hour before tipoff. “I had some pain, cutting in and out, but for the most part it felt good.”
Howard also is Dallas’ best perimeter defender, so having him back certainly helped on the other end of the court, too.
The interior defense was boosted by the return of DeSagana Diop.
Diop lost his starting job at the end of the second round and didn’t even get off the bench in Game 1. Keith Van Horn actually started at center, but the game changed when Diop replaced him midway through the first quarter.
He quickly trashed the mask he was supposed to wear to protect a broken nose — “I couldn’t breathe,” he said—but he never avoided contact. He had 11 rebounds and four points in 32 minutes and helped limit Boris Diaw to 25 points, nine less than he scored in the opener.
“I felt I could help by running the floor and playing defense,” Diop said.
Diop’s impact was immediate, too. The Suns went from making six of their first 10 shots to making only one of their next 13, missing nine in a row along the way. Dallas capitalized with a 14-0 run.
Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds for Phoenix. Leandro Barbosa scored eight in place of injured starter Raja Bell (calf), whose status is likely to be clarified when the team returns home Saturday.
The Suns used only two reserves, getting just 10 points off the bench. The starters all played at least 38 minutes.
The Mavericks got 17 from their bench, led by 11 from Jerry Stackhouse. He didn’t have any until the closing seconds of the third quarter, either.
Phoenix snapped out of its slow start to lead 52-47 at halftime. After a tight third quarter, Dallas went ahead for good on a pair of free throws by Terry with 8:10 left.
Even when the lead grew to seven with 1:17 left, the Mavs were still wary because the Suns erased a nine-point deficit with less than four minutes left in Game 1.
Thomas gave Dallas fans reason to worry when he hit a 3-pointer that ended the Mavs’ go-ahead scoring run, then another with 40 seconds left that got Phoenix within 100-96.
“Coach turned to me and asked if I could hit the 3s and of course I am going to say, `Yes,”’ Thomas said. “He just kept them coming.”
After Stackhouse made one of two foul shots with 38 seconds to go, Thomas got a good look off an inbounds pass, but his shot bounced off the rim and over the backboard. The game was essentially sealed then.
“It came down to making plays at the end of the game,” Stackhouse said. “We didn’t do that in Game 1.”
This was the first time in eight playoff meetings the last two years that Phoenix’s leading scorer had less than 30. … Dallas ended a two-game home losing streak, which matched its longest of the season. … The Mavericks won for the first time in five conference finals games at the American Airlines Center. They were 3-0 at their previous home, Reunion Arena. … Phoenix’s lowest-scoring first quarter was 18 in the regular season, 22 in the playoffs. … In a clever takeoff of Nike’s LeBron James playoff ad campaign, some Mavs fans wore black T-shirts that read, “I am a Nowitzness.”