HOUSTON, April 28 (Ticker) -- Staring an insurmountable deficit in the face, the Dallas Mavericks looked to their defense.

Shutting down Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks used a 20-0 run and climbed back into their Western Conference first-round series against the Houston Rockets with a 106-102 victory.

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Entering the postseason among the NBA's hottest teams, the fourth-seeded Mavericks played poorly in surprisingly losing the first two games of the series at home. They were looking at a 3-0 series deficit, something no team in NBA history has overcome.

All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley both struggled badly in the first two games, while McGrady clearly was the star. Yao also came up big in Game Two on Monday, scoring 33 points on 13-of-14 shooting.

Nowitzki and Finley had their best games in this one, but it was the defense - something that has become better under new coach Avery Johnson - that lifted the Mavericks back into the series and continued the home-court disadvantage.

"We had two of our worst games, defensively, to start this series," Johnson said. "Our captains (Finley and Nowitzki) stepped up big tonight."

"The biggest key was defense, and we wanted to contest every shot they put up," Finley said. "It's a formidable position we have put ourselves in. Our defensive effort that we had tonight was needed for us to continue the series."

After a Mike James layup with 9:31 remaining gave the Rockets an 88-80 lead, they were held without a point for the next 6:47.

Finley and Nowitzki scored the first seven points of the surge and Jason Terry hit two free throws with six minutes remaining to give the Mavericks the lead for good. Josh Howard capped the burst with a three-point play and jumper, giving Dallas a 100-88 lead with 2:58 to go.

Bob Sura finally ended the Rockets' drought with a 3-pointer 14 seconds later.

Nowitzki scored 28 points on 9-of-16 shooting and Finley added 20 for the Mavericks, who are trying to become only the third team in NBA history to win a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home.

In the first two games, Nowitzki made just 13-of-41 shots while Finley scored a total of 15 points.

"I had a tough first two games," Nowitzki said. "I've got to stay aggressive for us to be successful. In the first two games, I never found my rhythm. Today was a lot better. When my confidence is up, I'm a different player."

The Mavericks also received a boost off the bench from Jerry Stackhouse, who scored 18 points in 37 minutes. Dallas' bench did receive a blow when versatile forward Keith Van Horn went down with what appeared to be a serious left ankle injury early in the second quarter.

McGrady scored 23 points in the first three quarters but was limited to just one basket in the fourth, a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left when the outcome already was decided. He finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

"Obviously it was very disappointing on our part," McGrady said. "We pretty much had the game under control in the fourth quarter and for some reason we stopped executing. We didn't play defense, they were making shots."

Yao also was a non-factor in the fourth quarter, scoring his only points with seven-tenths of a second remaining. He battled early foul trouble and collected 15 points and 10 rebounds.

In each of the first two games, the Rockets played well in the fourth quarter, shooting 59 percent and 69 percent. In the final period of this one, they shot just 28 percent (5-of-18).

"We had a lead in the fourth quarter at home, and we got hammered," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "That says a lot about Dallas, and I'm sure as we analyze and watch, we'll be disappointed in ourselves."

Sura had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who host Game Four on Saturday.

"We just didn't play well enough to win," Sura said. "When they were down 10, they kept fighting. They got themselves back in it. There's no question about it."

Showing some urgency, the Mavericks played well early and scored the final eight points of the first quarter to take a 32-27 lead. Stackhouse's two free throws with 7:18 left in the second quarter gave the Mavericks their biggest lead of the half at 43-33.

Nowitzki scored 14 points and Finley 11 in the half as Dallas settled for a 54-49 advantage at the break.

McGrady made a jumper and layup to start the third quarter, triggering a 21-6 surge that David Wesley capped with a 3-pointer, giving the Rockets a 70-60 lead with 5:39 remaining in the period.

Wesley, who scored a total of 12 points in the first two games, netted nine of his 17 in the third quarter that ended with Houston holding an 83-78 lead.

Terry added 13 points and six assists for the Mavs, who shot 48.5 percent (33-of-68) and made 32-of-37 free throws. Houston shot 45 percent (36-of-80) and went 13-of-25 from the arc.