- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

DALLAS — See, these really are a new breed of Dallas Mavericks. They truly can play defense.

After being run over by Phoenix in the opener of the Western Conference finals, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks clamped down in Game 2, throttling the Suns early and late to pull out a 105-98 victory last night that evens the series 1-1.

Dallas held Phoenix to a season-low 17 points in the first quarter, but wound up trailing by two going into the final period.

Unlike their shootout-oriented playoff teams earlier this decade, these Mavs regained control with a 12-2 run that featured defensive stops on six of seven Phoenix possessions. They also forced the Suns to miss 13 of their last 18 field goals before Steve Nash, who had 16 points and 11 assists, made a meaningless basket in the closing seconds. It was his only shot attempt of the second half and only points in the fourth quarter.

Nowitzki scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth, including six during the game-changing burst. Jason Terry scored the other six in that run and finished with 18. Nowitzki also had 14 rebounds.

Josh Howard, who was considered iffy to even play because of a bone bruise that knocked him out of Game 1 in the opening minutes, scored 30 points, one shy of his career high. The Mavericks are now 22-0 this season when he scores at least 20.

The Suns head home for Game 3 tomorrow night with the familiar feeling of being 1-1.

Phoenix fell to 0-3 in 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.

Phoenix’s reckless-abandon approach works well in openers because teams have trouble preparing for it. Yet opposing coaches are good at figuring things out, because the Suns’ scoring goes way down in Game 2. There was a 23-point dropoff this time, right in between slides of 33 and 14 the last two rounds. They also haven’t cracked 100 in any Game 2.

Boris Diaw led Phoenix with 25 points, nine less than the career high he scored in the opener. Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds, and Tim Thomas scored 20, including four 3-pointers.

Leandro Barbosa scored eight in place of injured starter Raja Bell (calf), whose status is likely to be clarified when the team returns home today. Barbosa scored 22 when he last replaced Bell, for a Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

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.

Another key player for Dallas was center DeSagana Diop, who played 32 minutes after not getting on the court in Game 1.

Diop had 11 rebounds and four points in 32 minutes. He wore a mask to protect his broken nose when he first went in, but trashed it quickly.

Keith Van Horn was a mildly surprising pick to start at center as the Mavericks went with a small, athletic lineup. The game changed, though, when Diop went in midway through the first quarter.

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.

Phoenix’s 17 points in the first quarter was less than half the 35 it had in Game 1.

The Suns snapped out of it to score 35 in the second, giving them a 52-47 halftime lead. Things were tight in the third quarter, then Dallas went ahead for good on a pair of free throws by Jason Terry with 8:10 left.

Still, the Mavericks couldn’t breath easy until there were less than 10 seconds left, not after the Suns erased a nine-point deficit with less than four minutes left in Game 1.

Thomas hit a 3-pointer that ended Dallas’ key scoring run and hit another with 40 seconds left that got Phoenix within 100-96.

After Stackhouse made one of two foul shots with 38 to go, Thomas got a good look off an inbounds pass — and his shot bounced off the rim and over the backboard. The game was essentially sealed after that, especially when he fouled out with 17 seconds left.

The Mavs made things tough on themselves, though, not only wasting their great defensive effort early but also by missing 10 free throws in the second half.

Devin Harris scored only nine points for Dallas after having 30 in Game 1. And Game 1 starting center Erick Dampier didn’t make it off the bench.

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