Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks let loose with a few primal howls as they left the court, cutting through the scattered boos and gloomy silence at Staples Center.
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After back-to-back wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks are headed home with something coach Rick Carlisle insists they expected.
These longtime playoff disappointments have a golden opportunity to knock out the two-time defending champions.
Nowitzki scored 24 points, Shawn Marion added 14 and the Mavericks stunned the erratic Lakers 93-81 in Game 2 on Wednesday night, taking a 2-0 second-round lead with consecutive road wins.
Jason Kidd scored 10 points for the Mavericks, who pushed the Lakers halfway to playoff elimination with Nowitzki’s stellar shooting, another steady defensive performance, and a decisive 9-0 fourth-quarter rally. Dallas did nothing spectacularly well, yet was significantly better than the cold-shooting Lakers on both ends.
”We came to compete, and we came to make something happen here,” Marion said. ”We made our presence felt on both ends of the floor tonight. We did a good job of handling their pressure and just going out there and doing what we’ve been doing all postseason, just playing good defense and just playing our style of play.”
Kobe Bryant scored 23 points for the Lakers, who hadn’t lost the first two games of a playoff series since the 2008 NBA finals – also the last series they lost. Only three NBA teams have come back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two at home, where dismayed fans sent the Lakers off with boos and jeers.
”We came here to win two games,” Carlisle said. ”We’re going to need every gun blazing and throw the kitchen sink at these guys when they come to our place.”
Game 3 is Friday night in Dallas.
Los Angeles missed its first 15 3-point attempts in Game 2, only avoiding its first playoff game without a 3-pointer since May 8, 2001, on Bryant’s 3-pointer with 2:43 left. Los Angeles finished 2 for 20 on 3-pointers, but the Lakers also appeared simply exhausted during long stretches of their 75th playoff game in the last four seasons.
”I saw guys tired out there, but I don’t think it’s contagious from two years ago or three years,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ”Really poor second half on our part tonight. Just really a rugged third quarter for our team, had a hard time getting going.”
Los Angeles also could be short-handed in Dallas: Ron Artest was ejected with 24.4 seconds left for apparently clotheslining Dallas guard Jose Barea, possibly leading to a suspension. Even Jackson conceded ”there’s a good chance” he won’t have Artest on Friday.
”It’s not a basketball play, so we’ll see what happens,” Barea said.
After years of playoff underachievement during owner Mark Cuban’s tenure, the Mavericks certainly appear primed to change their reputation.
Dallas, which won just one playoff series in the past four years before this spring, was more aggressive and inventive than the champs, maintaining a steady lead before breaking it open with nine straight points down the stretch in the rally led by Barea, who highlighted it with an impressive short shot directly over Andrew Bynum. Barea had 12 points and four assists.
Cuban led the cheers behind Dallas’ bench as the Mavs pulled away in the fourth quarter. Not even Bryant could save the Lakers, going scoreless in the fourth until hitting two free throws with 3:11 to play.
Bynum had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who haven’t been able to control the paint with their usual vehemence against the Mavericks’ three 7-footers. Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but appeared tentative for long stretches while struggling to contain Nowitzki.
The Mavericks protected the rim and largely controlled the tempo, using their advantages in depth and athleticism to limit the Lakers’ offense. Dallas took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter and stretched it to 10 moments later before coasting home with little opposition from the Lakers, who went 7 for 20 in the final period.
Gasol’s struggles have been the Lakers’ biggest mystery of the postseason. The Spanish All-Star 7-footer barely contributed to Los Angeles’ tough six-game victory over New Orleans in the first round, and he came back from a quiet opener against Dallas with another mediocre game, getting booed several times by the home crowd.
”He was one of the guys that looked tired out there,” Jackson said.
Dallas rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to win Game 1, finishing on a 9-2 run capped by four last-minute points from Nowitzki, who seems determined to erase memories of the Mavericks’ past playoff failures on big stages. Nowitzki had 28 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1, including the go-ahead free throws.
Nowitzki came out firing again in Game 2, scoring 15 points in the first half with the 7-footer’s usual array of impossible-to-block fallaway jumpers. Dallas took an eight-point lead in the second quarter, but Los Angeles made a 10-0 run catalyzed by Bryant before the Mavericks took a 51-49 halftime lead on another Nowitzki jumper.
The Lakers ran several defenders at Nowitzki, using Gasol and Lamar Odom before trying Artest in the second quarter. Artest gives up 5 inches to Nowitzki, who seemed to have little trouble in the matchup.
Notes: Bryant has 5,246 career playoff points to 5,248 for Shaquille O’Neal, in fourth place on the NBA’s career playoff scoring list. The former Lakers superstar is injured and sitting for the Boston Celtics this spring. … Dallas is the most recent NBA team to win a series after losing the first two games at home, doing it in 2005. … Fans near courtside included Larry David, directors McG and Brett Ratner, Bridget Moynahan, Eliza Dushku, George Lopez, Dax Shepard, Anthony Anderson, Holly Robinson Peete and Jaime Murray.