SALT LAKE CITY -- Karl Malone, John Stockton and Danny Manning proved experience means a lot in the playoffs.
Malone scored 26 points and Stockton had 12 points, 18 assists and two go-ahead free throws with 25.8 seconds left as the Utah Jazz scored the final six points and beat the Dallas Mavericks 88-86 Saturday.
"It's just basketball. Forget about age," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "Young, old, whatever. It's about who plays focused."
In an emotional, closely contested opener to the best-of-five series, it was the Jazz that held their focus in the end. Utah prevailed in a frenzied atmosphere and took a 1-0 lead into Tuesday night's Game 2 in Salt Lake City.
Manning scored 12 for the Jazz, hitting a huge 3-pointer with 58 seconds remaining. With Utah trailing 86-82 and facing a do-or-die possession, Malone found Manning open at the top of the key.
"They went down to double-team on Karl," Manning said. "Karl gave me a great pass. I got a clean look at the basket, and I'm very fortunate it went in."
Dallas coach Don Nelson was ejected midway through the fourth quarter as referees called seven technical fouls and one flagrant foul. But it was a call that wasn't made that had the Mavericks steamed at the end.
After Stockton hit two free throws with 25.8 seconds remaining to put the Jazz ahead 87-86, Dirk Nowitzki drove the lane at the other end. Nowitzki was stripped by Malone, and Donyell Marshall came away with the ball before being fouled with 3.3 seconds left.
"Dirk puts the ball on the floor a lot," Malone said. "He likes to go to his left. He keeps the ball down low, and I was able to grab it."
Mavericks assistant Donn Nelson, who took over after his father was ejected with 7:20 to play, jumped and ran in front of the Dallas bench, stunned that no foul was called.
"Dirk taking it strong to the hole was something we've encouraged him to do all year," the younger Nelson said. "In the playoffs, a lot of times you don't get calls like that."
Television replays appeared to show Malone stripping the ball cleanly.
"I thought I was fouled but you'll never get that on the road," Nowitzki said.
Marshall missed his first foul shot but made the second. After a timeout, Michael Finley inbounded to Nowitzki, who tossed it back to Finley for a 30-footer that bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
"We wanted the best shot possible," said Finley, who led the Mavericks with 26 points. "Coach told us if a 3 is available, go ahead and take it. I was just trying to get a good look."
Nowitzki and Steve Nash each scored 20 and Juwan Howard had 14.
"That was a tough game. Those guys are so talented," Stockton said. "They have a good team, and I expect this series to be a dogfight."
Marshall and Bryon Russell finished with 12 points each for Utah.
The Delta Center, where the Jazz finished 1-9 against playoff-bound teams toward the end of the regular season, was bedlam for excited Utah fans for much of the afternoon.
And the Jazz, the league's second-oldest team behind Portland, needed all the help they could get because the teams are so closely matched.
Utah is seeded fourth in the West and Dallas is fifth. They split the season series, with each team winning twice on the road, and each went 53-29 during the regular season.
"I think where they really won this game today was when they beat us two weeks ago at our place," Nash said. "That's where they won homecourt."
It didn't hurt the Jazz that they've been here before. With Finley, Nowitzki and Dallas center Shawn Bradley in the playoffs for the first time, Jazz starters had been in 445 playoff games compared to 11 for the Mavericks.
"Sixteen and 17 years of playing," Malone said, referring to himself and Stockton. "That's a lot of basketball and mostly (there's) the belief that you can win the ball game."
The Mavericks, back in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, seemed ready to falter in the third quarter.
The Jazz closed the first half with an 8-0 run to take a 40-39 halftime lead, then began the second half with an 8-3 burst and followed a timeout with another 13-2 surge for a 57-44 lead with 6:19 to play in the third.
During the latter run, Nelson and his son were whistled for technical fouls after disputing a third-quarter turnover call that went against the Mavericks.
But Dallas charged back and took a 62-61 lead into the fourth quarter by holding the Jazz to four points in the final six minutes of the third.
Notes: The shot clock above Utah's basket broke after the third quarter, forcing officials to keep time from the scorer's bench. ... Malone got a technical late in the first half after throwing Bradley off his back. Bradley also got a personal foul. ... Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wore a white T-shirt with the phrase, "It's payback time" printed in four languages on the front. ... Dallas point guard Howard Eisley, who spent five seasons with the Jazz, was booed all day by Utah fans. ... Jazz publicist Kim Turner missed the game after the death of his father.
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