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Staggering finish by the Mavericks

Heat wither in a sloppy Game 1

DALLAS -- A thing of beauty a joy forever? Ah, no. But maybe that's not to be expected -- yet.

``I don't think either team played its best game," said coach Avery Johnson, whose Mavericks won the game. ``I think our best basketball is ahead."

``It's very competitive," said coach Pat Riley, whose team lost the game. ``It's going to be ugly and sloppy at times. We're going at each other hard. If somebody exhales for two minutes, you might find yourself down 8 or 9. That's what happened to us in the fourth quarter."

Dallas's 90-80 Game 1 triumph had its moments and had its star turns, but, as Riley said, there were a lot of down times in a contest that featured both a 31-point opening quarter by Miami and a dreadful 12-point fourth quarter. The NBA is all about ebbs and flows, but this is taking it to an extreme.

The fourth quarter was a roller coaster ride for the victors, too, for no sooner had a Jason Terry-led spurt provided them with a 10-point lead (82-72) than a Jason Terry-fueled dip found them leading by 3 (82-79), with Antoine Walker measuring an open 3-pointer. Fortunately for the Mavericks, 'Toine's ninth and final 3-point attempt spun out after a tantalizing millisecond when it appeared it might be going down to tie the score.

And that was it for the Heat. The Mavericks controlled the game in the final three minutes, and Game 1 was in the books.

Terry was The Man for the Mavericks in this one. With MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki laboring through a 4-for-14 shooting night, the Mavericks might have been doing the glub-glub thing early were it not for Terry, who hit all three of his field goal attempts in the first quarter, then went 6 for 8 in the second. While all this was going on, the Heat, sizzling first-period shooters (14 for 20), were moving to a pair of 11-point leads (34-23, 38-27).

If Terry (32 points) had not brought his A-Game, nothing would have saved the Mavericks.

But he did, and when the Heat started to cool off, the Mavericks were able to make a move. They first chopped that 11-point deficit down to 5 (40-35) with Nowitzki on the bench, and they finally made a late advance in the final minute, with Nowitzki coming up with two big plays, one at either end.

The first was a block of a Dwyane Wade drive on the penultimate Miami possession. That led to a Terry perambulation to the hoop for a game-tying basket (44-44). The second was a classic Nowitzki right-to-left drifter that descended from the balcony level and fell through the hoop after the horn sounded. It was only his second field goal of the half, the other being a first-period put-back.

So, amazingly, the Mavericks found themselves ahead at the half, 46-44.

And they were very grateful to be there. ``We were kind of frozen in the first half," Nowitzki said.

They came out strong in the third, moving to a quick 52-46 lead before a Miami spurt tied the score at 52 and established that this was going to become a true NBA grinder.

It was 70-68, Mavericks, after three, and it was still a taut game at 74-72 when Terry went off, scoring 8 straight points on a medium-range jumper and back-to-back threes, the second of which found him left unattended behind the arc following one of those damnable rotations teams insist on, even if it means a hot shooter is allowed to get open.

That Terry run made it 82-72 with 7:54 left. But 10 points up with almost eight minutes left is not a big deal in this league. The home crowd would be reminded of that reality in short order.

The Dallas problems began when Terry stole the ball and set out for the basket. With no one within 10 feet of him, he missed a dunk. Seven quick Miami points later the Heat were right back in it.

``I got a little too excited," Terry said. ``I was going a little too fast. I got ahead of myself. The next time I'll remember to lay it up."

Don't fall for that line. Next time Jason Terry will be sure to throw it down, just the way he did with a crowd-awakening slam in the first half.

A Miami curiosity in this game was the fact that only Shaquille O'Neal (17 points) and Wade (28) went to the line. The former lived up to his rep by going a sorry 1 for 9, while the latter inexplicably missed four of his 10, which didn't help, either. ``We were atrocious at the line," conceded Riley.

Shaq shot 8 for 11, but that tells you how often the Mavericks were able to make him a passer in this one. With adjustment being the name of the game in playoff basketball, Riley will be busy today plotting ways to get his big man more shots.

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