They got the victory they needed to avoid full-fledged and fully justified panic.
Putting away the panic button
They got the Golden State Warriors rattled, too, albeit with considerable assistance from the Warriors.
They also got some offense from other sources, with Dirk Nowitzki still drawing all the attention from Golden State's defense.
However . . .
You can't call Wednesday night's Game 2 win, which didn't look comfortable until Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson talked their way into unpardonable ejections, more than a small step for the guys from Big D.
"We kinda looked like the Mavericks tonight," Avery Johnson told the media masses after a 112-99 triumph evened this 1 vs. 8 doozy at 1-1 entering Friday's Game 3 in Oakland.
You have to figure that much of the follow-up chatter after this one will focus on the Warriors' second-half loss of composure, which -- you also have to figure -- is tied to frustration stemming from Dallas going to the free-throw line 43 times.
But I'm not going to get too hung up on it, since none of Wednesday's scenes will surprise veteran Warrior Watchers. Davis believing his first technical foul was unjust and sarcastically clapping at the referees until he got tossed? Jackson getting his own two Ts and then stupidly putting himself at risk for suspension by refusing, as they say, to leave the court in a timely manner? You just saw, in a span of two games, pretty much everything good and bad about this extremely dangerous No. 8 seed: Copious amounts of athleticism, fearlessness and confidence at the disposal of a highly creative coach, all of which is offset by a wild streak in their behavior and basketball decision-making that can make the Warriors a danger to themselves.
Yet we repeat: The scenes you just saw are somewhat expected from the volatile, young Warriors. I'm drawn more to the mystery that is the Mavs' collective mood, specifically how skittish they continue to look, as if they're somehow starting over confidence-wise after completing one of the most extraordinary regular seasons on record.
Even during their highest highs last season -- like winning a Game 7 in San Antonio or taking a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals -- you could sense that the Mavs themselves, new to that sort of success, didn't always believe what they were accomplishing. Not so this season. These Mavs have carried themselves for months as though they really believe that they're the league's best team. It's been one of the standout aspects of their 67-15 response to unraveling in the Finals.
Then this series began.
Nowitzki, not surprisingly, is taking the brunt of the criticism, even though I'd argue that he played Game 2 in an encouraging manner, trying to bring his teammates into the game with Don Nelson intent on keeping Nowitzki swarmed. The MVP-to-be slowly built up to a 23-point outing, with 10 points in the pivotal third quarter.
He was still timid at times, undoubtedly shaken by his 4-for-16 nightmare from the field in Game 1, but Nowitzki is a 7-footer who can't just go into Kobe Mode, dribbling past halfcourt and straight into shot opportunities. He's going to need help getting the ball in good spots if the opposing coach -- who knows his weaknesses as well as anyone -- has his defenders fronting Dirk on almost every possession and mixing up the timing of the double-team help.
For all the improvements they've made with their defense and shot selection, this has been true about the Mavs since Steve Nash left: Teams with good defensive schemes that make the Mavs operate in the halfcourt can have success, because Dallas doesn't have the playmakers or traditional low-post scorers who can create easy shot opportunities for Nowitzki. The Mavs' offense is filled with isolation plays and Nelson's Warriors, with their interchangeable range of same-sized defenders, contest them well.
So it remains incumbent on Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse to capitalize on Nellie's Dirk obsession. The Mavs' four best players combined on this night to total 90 points -- after managing just 52 in Game 1 on 18-for-57 shooting. Still this fact remains true: Dallas didn't seize any semblance of control until Davis' ejection. That's true even on a night when the guard's game lacked bite . . . and with the Warriors racking up 24 turnovers compared to nine assists . . . and with Monta Ellis seeing very little of the ball after his scorching start.
"I know they're mentally and physically tougher and they're more experienced [than last season], but what does that mean?" Johnson wondered aloud before the playoffs began.
"It means something if you can use it to your advantage."
So far? The Mavs haven't. Nowitzki acknowledged in his postgame address that the Warriors, in spite of their second-half unraveling, are "still in the drivers' seats."
That's because it was the experienced Mavs who inexplicably looked like jittery playoff rookies in Game 1. It's also because they'll be greeted in Oaktown by a rabid crowd that's been waiting 13 years for a playoff game, in a building that Golden State went 30-11 in. Winning one or two there will require the Mavs to be their 67-win selves by then, as opposed to kinda resembling them.
Glenn James//NBAE via Getty Images
Baron Davis was steamed after receiving his first technical foul. His applause helped earn him a second.
SAN ANTONIO -- The Nuggets entered this series with the Spurs confident in the ability of forward-center Nene to guard Tim Duncan one-on-one, with Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Marcus Camby providing a second line of defense.
But when Duncan is hot, he not only scores buckets but also opens driving lanes for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, develops open 3-pointers for Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry and contributes in other ways.
The Duncan trickle-down theory proved true in Game 1 as he scored only 14 points while missing 10-of 17 shots, took only two free throws and had five turnovers during a 95-89 defeat. Parker also missed 12-of-20 shots en route to 19 points in Game 1, while Ginobili missed 11-of-15 shots for nine points.
The Duncan trickle-down theory also proved true in Game 2.
In hopes of getting his dominating game back Wednesday, the 6-foot-11, 260-pounder watched lots of film from Game 1. And it worked.
He scored 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, made 4-of-6 free throws and had five assists. With 27.9 seconds remaining, he banked in a 9-foot shot from the right post, giving San Antonio a 93-88 lead.
And with Duncan hot, Parker had 20 points and 6 assists and Ginobili had 17 points.
"With Tim it can just be about his presence. If he's not here, I'm not getting open jump shots and Manu and Tony aren't getting open lanes to the basket," Bowen said.
Said Ginobili: "I knew before the game [Duncan, Parker and I] were not gonna play like Game 1. We can accept for one us to play bad or even two to play so-so because usually one of the three is going to play really well. In Game 1, none of us three did. So we knew it was going to be a much better game for us."
Jonny (Toronto): Hello, David, so where do we put Anthony Parker now? He's played exactly this way for the last month and a half, becoming one of the Raps most dependable defenders and clutch shooters. Is he simply solid but unspectacular or does he deserve more credit than that?
David Thorpe: I don't know -- but I do know he can really play on both sides of the ball and is a great teammate. Solid job the NBA geniuses to miss on this kid for 5 years.
Spurs even series with Nuggets, 1-1
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Tony Parker's 20 points helped the Spurs even the series with the Nuggets at one game apiece.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
Consider: The Warriors were 26-35 on March 4 after Don Nelson's technical foul at the buzzer cost them the game against Washington. Since then they're 17-6, including a surprisingly easy Game 1 win at Dallas. It's not a coincidence that this is also when guard Baron Davis returned to the lineup, giving the Warriors a healthy backcourt for the first time all season.
It's a high-pitched squeal and it can mean "hello," "goodbye," "I'm open," or "I'm walking down the hallway minding my own business." The Cavs just know "Yee!" means happy-go-lucky Drew Gooden is close by.
During a stretch of the second quarter in the Cavs' 109-102 Game 2 victory over the Wizards on Wednesday night, the entire Cavs bench was chirping "Yee!" in unison. Gooden made six straight shots in the quarter, putting up 15 of his 24 points in leading a game-changing run that put the Cavs ahead for good
Gooden can be a character, and not just because he sometimes wears a shirt with "Yee" on it.
He's currently in an '80s throwback phase, growing an odd patch of hair in the back of his head he calls a "ducktail," scouring eBay for calculator watches, and searching for reruns of "Miami Vice." Wednesday, though, his role was to make the Wizards pay for their strategy.
After giving up 36 points a game to LeBron James in the playoffs last year, the Wizards are determined to make someone else to beat them in this playoff series.
They've been playing zone and double-teaming James on screen-and-rolls, forcing him to give the ball up. In the first four meetings with Washington this season, including Game 1, James averaged just 23 points a game.
But the tactic can pay off only if James' erratic teammates don't step up.
In Game 1, it was Larry Hughes and his 27 points that helped LeBron. By halftime of Game 2, James had just nine points, but Gooden had 19 and the Cavs had the lead. By the time James got going, scoring 13 of his 27 points in the fourth, the game was mostly in hand.
There were some flashy moments Wednesday night for both sides. James proved his sprained left ankle was fine, pushing off it to swat Darius Songaila's layup attempt in transition. Brendan Haywood got in Anderson Varejao's face, drawing a technical and then taunting the crowd.
But the most important detail for the Cavs remains they are getting help for their star when it matters.
-- Brian Windhorst in Cleveland
There is a very, very small chance that the SuperSonics have played their last game in Seattle. I'm told that at a meeting Tuesday with more than 100 Sonics employees, owner Clay Bennett said he was "99 percent" certain the team will be back in Seattle for the start of the 2007-08 season.
I also heard it is not a slam dunk that Bennett will move the Sonics to Oklahoma City, even though every single member of his ownership group is from there. Apparently, Kansas City is so eager to get a flagship tenant for its new arena, signals have been sent to Bennett and a handful of other owners that the deal they could get in K.C. would be far superior from an economic standpoint to whatever deal any of them might make elsewhere.