DALLAS, Oct. 30 (AP) -- Jerry Stackhouse was hot and Michael Finley wasn't. Then Finley began covering Stackhouse and things changed for both.


Michael Finley scored 23 of his 34 points in the second and third quarters. Glenn James NBAE/Getty Images
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Playing like a guy ready to earn his $102 million, Finley shut down Stackhouse through the middle quarters and got his own offense going, carrying the Dallas Mavericks past the Detroit Pistons 94-87 in the season opener Tuesday night.

"We had to rely on Mike and he did a marvelous job. He won the game for us,'' Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "When we were teetering, he gave us a lift. He played like a leader.''

Finley, who in July signed a seven-year contract for the maximum amount, scored 23 of his 34 points over the second and third quarters as the Mavericks closed an early gap and slowly but surely pulled ahead.

Detroit couldn't hold them off because of the job Finley did on Stackhouse.

After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, Stackhouse missed his next seven shots then had a tip-in with 1:11 left in the third that tied the game at 64. He made only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Defensive specialist Greg Buckner started the game covering Stackhouse, but sprained his right ankle late in the first quarter and didn't return. Dallas would have gone with off-season addition Adrian Griffin, but he's out with back spasms.

That left Finley. And he couldn't have been happier.

"When you're guarding a guy who's not a mainstay, you tend not to go as hard,'' Finley said. "Having to guard Stackhouse when they're going to him almost every time down the floor kept me more involved in the game.''

Finley finished 14-of-28 from the field, including 4-of-6 on 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds and three assists in 46 minutes. For one night, at least, Dallas went away from its plan of taking away Finley's crown as the league's most-used player.

"He carried us from beginning to end,'' said Tim Hardaway, an off-season pal of Finley's who was playing his first regular-season game as his teammate. "He carried us on his shoulders.''

The Pistons led by eight points early, yet came up short in the NBA coaching debut of Rick Carlisle.

"I thought we had a good defensive first half, then we succumbed to some shot-making and we let them get out in transition a little bit,'' said Carlisle, an assistant the last 11 seasons.

Dallas put the game away once Dirk Nowitzki heated up.

Nowitzki, who last week signed a contract extension worth roughly $90 million, failed to score a basket until a driving dunk in traffic several minutes into the second half. He made it up for it by scoring 20 of his 21 points in the second half, many of them at clutch times.

"I don't know what happened. Shots just weren't going in for me,'' Nowitzki said. "I went out early at halftime and tried to get some more shots in and get really warmed up. That worked for me.''

During a game-changing 17-5 third-quarter run, Nowitzki hit a 3-pointer then fed Steve Nash for a long jumper that gave Dallas the lead. Nowitzki hit another 3-pointer right after Stackhouse's tip-in tied the game.

After scoring the Mavs' first six points of the fourth quarter, he drilled another 3 to make it 84-71 with 6:40 left and celebrated by pumping his first, turning and screaming.

The Pistons called a timeout to try to settle themselves and the team-record crowd of 19,200 who took in Dallas' first regular-season game at its new $420 million home, American Airlines Center.

Detroit would get within five in the final minutes, but Nowitzki got in the way again, making two free throws with 43 seconds left after a flagrant foul by Michael Curry.

Nash had 14 points and 11 assists, while Juwan Howard had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Curry had 12 points and reserve Zeljko Rebraca had six points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes in his NBA debut. Ben Wallace grabbed 12 rebounds and scored six points.

Dallas' reserves provided quality minutes, though not big numbers. Danny Manning made both his shots for four points and had six rebounds in 20 minutes. Hardaway took only three shots, making one, and had eight assists in 24 minutes.

Notes: Both teams debuted new uniforms. ... Before tipoff, Nowitzki addressed the fans in German. Hardaway took the microphone and said: "Yeah, what he said.'' ... Carlisle was a player for five seasons, then worked under Bill Fitch, Chuck Daly, P.J. Carlesimo and Larry Bird. ... Local police and firefighters took part in pregame ceremonies.