Earl K. Sneed recaps Friday night's Game 3 between the Dallas Mavericks and two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, as the Mavs sprinted to a 3-0 series lead behind a fourth-quarter comeback led by Dirk Nowitzki.
It was a dream opportunity for the Dallas Mavericks coming into Friday night’s Game 3 at the American Airlines Center.
Up 2-0 in their second-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers after stealing two games on the two-time defending champions’ home floor, the Mavericks returned to Big D looking to put the series in a stranglehold with a third win and fifth straight in the playoffs.
And with the hometown crowd reaching a building record of 21,156 fans all in unison for a royal blue-out, the Mavs took the court looking to move one game away from the Western Conference Finals.
Despite trailing for much of the fourth quarter, the Mavericks would rally behind leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch on Friday night. And with their star player leading the way, the Mavs would in fact open up a 3-0 series lead, outscoring the Lakers 32-20 in the final quarter to sprint to a 98-92 win.
“We’re playing against the best. I mean, they’re the two-time defending champions. And if you want to beat the best you’ve gotta bring the best,” Nowitzki said after the win. “I think we’re all coming together and playing on a higher level than we did in the regular season. …They have the heart of a champion, of a back-to-back champ, so you don’t ever want to give a champion life.”
“Just taking it one game at a time,” center Tyson Chandler added. “We’ve been fortunate to get this 3-0 lead. Until it’s 4-0, I’m not going to count them out. I don’t want to put any words in their mouths. I’m not sure how they’re feeling right now. I just know how we’re feeling. We feel like we’ve got to seize the moment. We’ve got a great opportunity, and we’ve got to close it.”
But the Lakers would show why they are the reigning titleholders with a quick start, looking for center Andrew Bynum inside early with Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom filling in for a suspended Ron Artest.
The Mavericks would respond, however, behind Nowitzki’s back-to-back 3-pointers and a 12-4 run. And with both Bynum and two-time NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant — along with Chandler and fellow center Brendan Haywood — picking up two quick fouls apiece, the Mavericks edged out the Lakers after one, 29-27.
Nowitzki would receive a helping hand from sixth man Jason Terry early in the second quarter, as the star reserve looked to assert himself at the offensive end of the floor. Meanwhile, Bryant shook off his early foul trouble and kept the Lakers in the game with an array of offensive moves. And after multiple Dallas turnovers and empty possessions led to a 13-3 L.A. spurt following back-to-back dunks by Bynum, the Lakers took a 51-47 lead on the scoreboard as the visiting squad escaped the first half with the upper hand.
Despite an 18-point first half by Nowitzki and 12 more for Terry, the Mavs found themselves behind thanks to 24 combined points from Bynum and Odom. And with the Lakers outshooting the Mavs, 52.5 percent to 45.9 percent, through two quarters and outscoring Dallas in the paint, 34-12, the home team faced an uphill climb coming out of the locker room.
It wouldn’t take long for the Lakers to open up a seven-point advantage in the third quarter after Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer from the wing forced Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to call timeout with 8:16 left in the period. And again the Mavs would find an answer, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from point guard Jason Kidd and Nowitzki to remain close.
But after the Mavericks battled back to tie the game at 64-all, the Lakers’ strong inside presence would lift L.A. to an 8-2 run to close the period up 72-66.
A 3-pointer for a struggling Peja Stojakovic, who started the game 1-for-5 from the floor, would get the Mavs on the board first in the final quarter.
“You play the game and you try not to think about the missed shots,” Stojakovic explained. “Just kept being aggressive. I think that’s the only thing you can do at that point in the game."
But the Lakers’ ability to score at the rim would again put the Mavericks in a hole, after Shannon Brown’s driving score over Terry gave the visitors a 79-71 edge with 9:28 remaining.
Reserve guard J.J. Barea’s driving score with 6:49 left would bring the Mavs to within six, 81-75, followed by a corner 3 from Stojakovic as the Mavs inched closer. And after Bryant and the Lakers again tried to pull away, Nowitzki and Stojakovic exchanged a pair of triples to spark a 10-2 Dallas run that culminated with Nowitzki swishing a pair at the foul line at the 2:40 mark to give the Mavs their first lead, 88-87, since a 45-44 score with 2:48 left in the first half.
With the Lakers trying to respond, the Mavs continued to milk Nowitzki while Terry’s crucial 3 and 2-for-2 trip at the charity stripe gave his team a 95-91 advantage with 18.7 ticks left. And after a Lakers’ turnover at the other end, Terry put the game away with another perfect pair at the foul line with just 16.6 seconds remaining.
Pau Gasol would then go 1-for-2 at the line with 9.0 seconds standing in the way of a Mavs’ win, before Kidd finished off the scoring and a 20-7 run over the final 5:08 of play.
“I actually felt like we had some decent looks all game long, but we just couldn’t make enough. Then we were down eight there in the fourth, but I’m proud of how the team responded to that hole we were in,” Nowitzki explained.
Nowitzki finished the night scoring a game-high 32 points on 12-for-19 from the floor, grabbing nine rebounds to boot.
“Dirk Nowitzki made it happen,” Carlisle said of his star player’s leadership in the comeback. “Just about everything that happened down the stretch was a direct result of him either scoring the ball or making a play to get somebody a shot or making a pass for an assist for a three or a two or whatever it was.”
Off the bench, Terry pitched in 23 points and Stojakovic hit 3-for-7 from 3-point range for his 15 points. Kidd made it four Mavericks in double figures with 11 points to go along with his nine assists. And the Mavericks also finished the night with a 42-15 advantage in bench scoring.
Bynum led five Lakers in double figures with his 21-point, 10-rebound night.
“Bynum, he did a great job tonight,” Chandler said. “You know, he’s a handful. He’s a big guy, and he was able to get off early. And it’s my job and [Haywood's] job to try and slow him down.”
Meanwhile, Odom added 18 and Bryant was held to 17 on 8-of-16 from the floor.
“The key to the game aside from Dirk being the guy who facilitated everything on offense was that Peja did a great job on Lamar Odom the last six or seven minutes. As great as Kobe Bryant is, and he is un-guardable, Odom is right there with him as one of the most difficult matchups in all of basketball, because of his versatility, his size, length, skill. We needed Peja’s shooting out there, but the job he did defensively was equally important,” Carlisle added.
The Mavericks did, however, end the game with a 39-37 rebounding edge, in addition to a 24-of-29 night at the foul line, taking 15 more free throws than the Lakers. And despite being outscored in the paint, 56-20, and outshot by the Lakers, 47.6 percent to 46.3 percent, the Mavericks stuck in the game with their 3-point shooting, hitting 12-of-29 from deep compared to L.A.’s 3-for-13.
The Mavs will now try to close out the series at home on Sunday in an early tip-off, looking to sweep the defending champs with another blue-out planned for the potential closeout game.
“They have a lot of pride over there in that locker room, and we’ve gotta go take it,” Nowitzki said while looking ahead. “They’re not gonna give it to us. …We’re not good enough to relax or take a step back or the pedal off the medal. We gotta play with the same energy, enthusiasm and with the same crowd on Sunday.”
“We’re not thinking that we’ve won three games and can walk over these guys,” Terry added. “They’re the champions. You’ve got to knock the champ out in boxing and in basketball.”
Note: Game 4 of the Mavericks’ second-round series will take place at the American Airlines Center on Sunday afternoon, airing nationally on ABC at 2:30 p.m. CT. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
The Mavs-Lakers Game 4 this Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center will be a MAVS ROYAL BLUE-OUT!
Every seat at the American Airlines Center will have a MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt placed in it. We need for you and every Mavs fan to show their Mavs pride. So, dress ready to put on your MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt when you get to your seat.
Be there early! Doors open at 12:30 p.m. Mavs players take the court at 2:15 p.m. and tip-off is at 2:30 p.m. Be decked out in MAVS ROYAL BLUE at Game 4 and all home playoff games.
Tickets for Game 4 are priced $19 and up for Round 2. Tickets will be available online at mavs.com, via phone (214-747-6287 or 1-800-4NBA-TIX), the American Airlines Center® North Box Office* and all Ticketmaster outlets (Fiesta Grocery Stores, Simon Mall in Garland and Shops at Willow Bend).
The first-round series between the two teams continues as follows:
Game 4 – Sun May 8 2:30 p.m. CT ABC
Game 5 * Tue May 10 TBD TNT
Game 6 * Thu May 12 TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Sun May 15 2:30 p.m. CT ABC