PHOENIX, June 3 (Ticker) --Avery Johnson's transformation of the
Dallas Mavericks is complete.
Displaying the defense and mental toughness instilled by their
coach, the Mavericks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first
time in franchise history as they again shut down the Phoenix
Suns in a 102-93 victory.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks closed out the second-seeded Suns in
six games in the Western Conference finals. In the first
championship in 35 years matching Finals first-timers, Dallas
hosts Miami in Game 1 on Thursday.
"I think for the first time in my life I'm speechless,"
omnipresent owner Mark Cuban said.
Postseason superstar Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points, 10 rebounds
and three blocks as Dallas dominated the second half.
Jason Terry scored all 17 of his points after halftime and Nowitzki
added 16 as the Mavericks outscored the Suns, 63-42.
In his first full season as coach, Johnson turned the Mavericks
into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and was named
Coach of the Year. The mental toughness was evident when they
beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on their home
floor in Game Seven of the conference semifinals.
"I think overall, the transistion to a defensive team is
complete," Johnson said. "That's pretty new. We feel that we
can play different styles and we can play against teams with
"We were still able to just hold everything together (this
season)," Mavericks guard Jerry Stackhouse said. "I think that
built a lot of character for our team throughout the year and it
just climaxed in this moment in this game."
With a chance to clinch the series, the Mavericks got off to a
terrible start. They trailed by 18 points midway through the
second quarter and were still down, 60-45, before tightening the
defensive screws and making a remarkable reversal.
Over the next 12 minutes, the run-and-gun Suns - playing their
20th playoff game, saddled with foul trouble - managed just 12 points and surrendered the lead.
"We knew they would come out with a burst of energy and we felt
that we could withstand that burst and still be around in the
second half," Stackhouse said. "Then (we) find a way to get
stops and to get this game."
"Our guys fought as hard as they could; we just ran out of
steam," said Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who ended his postgame
comments in tears. "Third quarter, we just got bogged down and
Nowitzki led the charge with a pair of three-point plays and
back-to-back hoops that closed the third quarter and cut the
deficit to 66-62.
A basket by Terry and follow shots by Josh Howard and
DeSagana Diop opened the final period and provided a 68-66 lead, and the
Mavericks never looked back.
"At halftime the worst was behind us," Terry said. "We did a
great job of getting back into it. We just came out in the
second half and let it all hang out."
Nowitzki made a pair of blocks to fuel a 6-0 spurt that gave
Dallas a 78-72 bulge with 6:08 to go. After a jumper and
3-pointer by Stackhouse - who scored 13 of his 17 points in a
40-point fourth quarter - Howard stole a lazy inbounds pass to
make it 85-77 with 3:46 to go.
"I am as proud of our second-half defense as I have been all
year, especially under the circumstance," Johnson said.
A pair of driving layups by two-time MVP Steve Nash closed the
margin to 90-83 before Howard stuck in the dagger with a
3-pointer with 90 seconds left.
Howard scored nine of his 20 points in the final period for
Dallas, which somehow shot 47 percent (37-of-78) from the field
despite an awful start and a 3-of-20 showing from the arc.
Boris Diaw had 30 points and 11 rebounds and Nash added 19 and
nine assists for the Suns, who shot 50 percent (36-of-72).
Leandro Barbosa scored 14 points and Shawn Marion added 13 and
"You can't just tail off every second half the way we did and
not expect it to mean something," said Nash, who clearly was
fatigued throughout the series.
In the first quarter, Dallas scored a playoff-low 14 points on
6-of-21 shooting and fell behind by 15 points. Terry picked up
his third foul early in the second period, and a 3-pointer by
Marion made it 44-26 with 6:13 left.
Phoenix held a 51-39 halftime advantage and rebuilt the lead to
60-45 on a steal and driving layup by Barbosa. But he joined
Diaw on the bench with his fourth foul shortly thereafter.