Mavs turn up Heat, claim win in Game 1
DALLAS Dirk Nowitzki sputtered and struggled in his first NBA finals game, so the Dallas Mavericks hitched a ride on the Jet to claim the opener.Jason Terry grabbed the spotlight from the three big stars in this championship series, scoring a playoff-high 32 points with a soaring grace befitting his nickname even though he missed an open layup that nearly erased all his achievements.A sniffling Dwyane Wade and a brick-laying Shaquille ONeal couldnt finish a late run, and Dallas held on to beat the Miami Heat 90-80 on Thursday night.Both franchises first appearance on the NBAs biggest stage contained all the jitters and mistakes you might expect. Though Terry was the Mavericks savior, scoring 20 points in the first half and 12 in the fourth quarter, he missed a fourth-quarter layup that kick-started Miamis late run.The Mavericks went nearly 7 minutes between fourth-quarter field goals before Jerry Stackhouse clinched it on a wobbling jumper with 1:02 to play. Dallas held the Heat to two free throws over the final 5:13, escaping with a sloppy but satisfying victory and just 16 points from Nowitzki, their superstar.I tried to get the big fellow involved and spread it around, but I was there when they needed me, Terry said. It just means we got one win. Theres another level for us to go defensively. We just have to work hard and focus.Wade finished with 28 points for the Heat, but managed just three in the fourth quarter while feeling the effects of the sinus infection thats bugged him for a week. ONeal had 17 points and seven rebounds and the three-time champion went 1-for-9 at the free throw line, leading Miamis abysmal 7-for-19 performance.Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday night in Dallas, with Game 3 in Miami on Tuesday.Terry was the ostensible replacement for Steve Nash after the point guard left Dallas for a bigger contract in Phoenix and proceeded to win consecutive MVP awards. Though the fans love Terrys energy and all-around game, he was inconsistent in three opening rounds highlighted by a gritty performance in a decisive Game 7 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.Terry was the first Dallas player other than Nowitzki to lead the club in scoring since Game 4 of the second round against the Spurs, when Terry had 32.We didnt win 60 games because of me, Nowitzki said. We didnt get here because of me. … We swing the ball to the open guy, and he was hot today.After Terry hit consecutive 3-pointers, the Mavs had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. But Terry inexplicably missed that open fast-break layup and the Heat scored the next seven points while holding Dallas scoreless for 4 1/2 minutes.The creeping unease in Dallas didnt go away until Wade and Antoine Walker missed big fourth-quarter shots. Though most of the game was played at Miamis favored tempo, the Heat struggled for consistent offense before going 5-for-20 from the field in the fourth quarter.These are the first NBA finals since 1971 between two first-timers, although there are champions on both benches. ONeal and Miami coach Pat Riley have seven rings between them, and Dallas coach Avery Johnson won it all as a player with the 1999 Spurs.In search of their first title, the Mavericks took the opener and the historic 73 percent success rate of the winner in Game 1.They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the celebrations, noise and goodwill in the series opener proved it. The long-suffering fans packed into this beautiful arena hugged each other spontaneously even before the opening tip, finally enjoying a finals after 26 often-miserable seasons in the league.Television ratings have been way up during the most exciting, unpredictable playoff season in recent memory and the finals opener lived up to the first three rounds, even if wasnt quite as dramatic as the best games of the spring.Johnson was cagey about the Mavs starting lineup all week, refusing to tip his plan for slowing the Heats superstar duo. Veteran Adrian Griffin got the start at shooting guard to take the first shift against Wade, sending Devin Harris to the bench after starting the last 12 playoff games.Following the usual frenetic opening ceremonies, Miami jumped to an early 11-point lead with 70 percent shooting and 13 first-quarter points from Wade. Dallas calmly recovered, holding the Heat scoreless in the final 3:59 of the first half and taking the lead on Nowitzkis second field goal, a leaning jumper at the halftime buzzer.The Heat drew actual first blood when Stackhouse got a bloody cut on his nose from a collision with ONeal in the second quarter. Stackhouse made one of his two free throws before heading to the locker room.
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