DALLAS - See, these really are a new breed of Dallas Mavericks. They truly can play defense.
After being run over by Phoenix in the opener of the Western Conference finals, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks clamped down in Game 2, throttling the Suns early and late to pull out a 105-98 victory Friday night that evens the series at one game apiece.
Dallas held Phoenix to a season-low 17 points in the first quarter, but wound up trailing by two going into the final period.
Unlike their shootout-oriented playoff teams earlier this decade, these Mavs regained control with a 12-2 run that featured defensive stops on six of seven Phoenix possessions.
They also forced the Suns to miss 13 of their last 18 field goals before Steve Nash, who had 16 points and 11 assists, made a meaningless basket in the closing seconds. It was his only shot attempt of the second half and only points in the fourth quarter.
Nowitzki scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, including six during the game-changing burst. Jason Terry scored the other six in that run and finished with 18. Nowitzki also had 14 rebounds.
Josh Howard, who was considered iffy to even play because of a bone bruise that knocked him out of Game 1 in the opening minutes, scored 30 points, one shy of his career high. The Mavericks are now 22-0 this season when he scores at least 20.
The Suns head home for Game 3 on Sunday night with the familiar feeling of being 1-1.
Phoenix fell to 0-3 in Game 2s this postseason and five in a row dating to last season. Going back to 1999, which predates anyone on the roster, the Suns have dropped 10 of 11, the exception coming during a first-round sweep of Memphis last year.
Phoenix's reckless-abandon approach works well in openers because teams have trouble preparing for it.
Yet opposing coaches are good at figuring things out, because the Suns' scoring goes way down in Game 2; there was a 23-point dropoff this time, right in between slides of 33 and 14 the past two rounds. They also haven't cracked 100 in any Game 2.
Boris Diaw led Phoenix with 25 points, nine less than the career high he scored in the opener. Shawn Marion had 19 points and 19 rebounds, and Tim Thomas scored 20, including four 3-pointers.
Leandro Barbosa scored eight in place of injured starter Raja Bell (calf), whose status is likely to be clarified when the team returns home today. Barbosa scored 22 when he last replaced Bell, for a Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
The Suns used only two reserves, getting just 10 points off the bench. The starters all played at least 38 minutes. The Mavericks got 17 from their bench.
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