Nowitzki had 31 points and 11 rebounds and Dampier chipped in 12 and 12 as the Mavericks kept the Grizzlies winless in postseason play with a 103-93 victory in Game One of their Western Conference first-round series.
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After losing Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals last season to Phoenix, Nowitzki called out Dampier, who easily was outplayed by Suns center Amaré Stoudemire. Dallas lost the series in six games, but appears to have learned its lesson and got major contributions from both Sunday.
"He was great," Nowitzki said of Dampier. "He was bringing energy and he had a couple of and-ones that pumped up the crowd. He was big and we're looking to get more of him, hopefully, in the playoffs."
"We want (Dampier) to play with emotion and intensity," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "The experience we got last year as a team is why we brought eight guys back. Is coach happy because he played that way for one game in the series? No, he is still paying me back."
The tandem of Nowitzki and Dampier helped the fourth-seeded Mavericks control the middle, gaining a 40-29 rebounding advantage and dropping Memphis to 0-9 all-time in the playoffs. The Grizzlies were swept in the first round by San Antonio in 2004 and suffered the same fate to Phoenix last season.
"I came out there and hit the boards whenever I had the opportunity," Dampier said. "I tried to block out to get rebounds. Just go out there and play hard and leave it all out there on the floor. Give the fans what they want to see and we were able to get a win."
Despite its playoff struggles, Memphis has yet to succumb to a mental breakdown.
"Nobody here is thinking about the past and losing again," Grizzlies All-Star forward-center Pau Gasol said. "Everybody is very positive. We've got to stick together here to be more successful in game two and get rid of that so people will stop talking about it and bringing it up."
Nowitzki had 19 points and Dampier nine and seven rebounds at halftime as Dallas took a 60-51 lead against a Grizzlies squad that led the NBA in scoring defense during the regular season by allowing an average of just 88.5 points.
"I wanted the ball in my hands to make some stuff happen and kind of feel good about myself going into these playoffs," Nowitzki said. "Hopefully, we're going to keep playing for a couple of months here, but that first game was important to me. I found my rhythm really quick and I was able to knock a few shots early."
For Memphis coach Mike Fratello, it was not hard to see what his team was lacking early on.
"It's pretty easy to figure out wherre the problems developed," Fratello said. "At halftime, we were down 12 offensive rebounds to one and have six total rebounds in a half of basketball. They had 24 rebounds at the half."
Memphis got within 77-75 on a free throw by Gasol with 2:50 left in the third quarter. It was the closest the fifth-seeded Grizzlies had been since late in the first, but Nowitzki hit a 12-footer on the other end and Jerry Stackhouse made two free throws to rebuild a six-point advantage.
"In the third quarter, we came back," Gasol said. "We were right there. That gave us confidence. We know we have a chance here. We've just got to do it for 48 minutes, cut down on our turnovers, keep them off the free-throw line a little bit more and also play a little harder out there."
Nowitzki had two free throws and Dampier a three-point play to cap an 11-3 run spanning the third and fourth quarters and give the Mavericks an 88-78 lead with 9:51 to go.
Jason Terry, who scored 20 points, had a dunk and a baseline jumper in a span of 24 seconds as Dallas took a 92-80 lead with 7:58 remaining, and an 8-0 burst moments later helped the hosts pull away. Terry finished the run with two free throws at the 5:39 mark to give the Mavericks their largest lead, 100-82.
"(That run) was big," Terry said. "By getting stops on one end and really getting out in transition and getting easy baskets, we didn't settle for too many jumpers tonight. For the most part we got to the free-throw line in the fourth. That was big."
Stackhouse and Marquis Daniels combined for 27 points off the bench for Dallas, which opened its quarterfinal series with Houston last season by dropping two at home. It will host Game 2 on Wednesday.
"We've learned a little bit from last year," Nowitzki said. "Giving up two at home last year put us in a huge hole, so we wanted to make sure we came out a lot more aggressive and I think we did."
Gasol, who did not make a basket in the first half, scored 21 of his 24 points after the break. Eddie Jones chipped in 16 points and did not have a turnover, but his teammates committed 19 of them.
"(My play in the second half was) a little better," Gasol said. "A little better but it doesn't matter how well you play in a half, you've got to play well for 48 minutes. It's just not going to do it playing well for 20 minutes."
Dampier and DeSagana Diop, who had five rebounds and a block in 14 minutes, stymied Gasol for the bulk of the contest.
"I thought they battled," Johnson said of Dampier and Diop. "Gasol is a tough cover. We tried to give him different looks. Damp and Gana battled as best they could, but Gasol is a tough cover."
After going 0-of-5 from the floor in the first 24 minutes, Gasol buried a jumper 16 seconds into the second half and made another less than three minutes later to start a 19-8 run.