DALLAS -- Here's a tip for anyone who figured the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns were going to chase each other up and down the court throughout the Western Conference finals.
That's not really the way the Mavericks play anymore. Game 2 last night was a lot more like it.
Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists, and Josh Howard scored 29 points, but the main reason the Mavericks beat the Suns, 105-98, was their defense -- yes, defense.
Dallas limited Phoenix to a season-low 17 points in the first quarter, then made stops on six of seven possessions during a 12-2 run early in the fourth quarter that put the Mavericks ahead for good.
``I thought defensively we took a little bit more of a challenge," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.
The Suns had missed 13 of their last 18 shots until Steve Nash (16 points, 11 assists) scored a meaningless basket in the closing seconds. It was his only points and his only attempt of the second half, which best sums up the way Dallas turned things around after allowing 121 points in the opener.
``In hindsight, I would've maybe been more aggressive," Nash said.
The Suns head home for Game 3 tomorrow night.
Howard was considered iffy to play because of a bone bruise that knocked him out of Game 1 in the opening minutes. He scored 13 in the third quarter and finished 1 shy of his career high. The Mavericks are 22-0 this season when he scores at least 20.
The interior defense was boosted by the return of DeSagana Diop, who lost his starting job at the end of the second round and didn't get off the bench in Game 1. Keith Van Horn started at center, but the game changed when Diop replaced him midway through the first quarter.
He quickly trashed a mask worn to protect a broken nose and had 11 rebounds and 4 points in 32 minutes and helped limit Boris Diaw to 25 points, 9 fewer than he scored in the opener.