Commentary

Mavs turn up defense, turn down Heat

Dallas stops another long streak with strong pressure and Jason Terry's late spree

Updated: December 21, 2010, 8:38 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

MIAMI -- The Mavericks spent the two days leading up to Monday's showdown talking endlessly about everything the Miami Heat had done right in rattling off 12 wins in a row since losing three weeks ago in Dallas.

The list was long and stunning: running more, playing all-world defense, playing off each other, shooting the lights out of the 3-ball. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were practically walking on water. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle went so far as to say Miami was doing "unprecedented things."

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
AP Photo/Alan DiazDirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks hounded LeBron James into a scoreless first half.

Then the Mavs -- as Carlisle will say -- systemically took it all away. The NBA's streak-busters did it again, holding Miami to 40.5 percent shooting by mixing in doses of a now-clockwork zone defense that the Heat couldn't counter.

Dallas allowed just five fast-break points, held Miami's big three to mortal performances (60 points combined on 22-of-49 shooting) and then won it 98-96 with 10 minutes of lockdown fourth-quarter defense and a 33-point final period spurred by Jason Terry's 19.

So add the Heat to the San Antonio Spurs (12-game win streak), New Orleans Hornets (eight), Utah Jazz (seven), Boston Celtics (five) and Oklahoma City Thunder (five) on the list of hot teams the Mavs have stopped cold.

"I don't make a huge, huge deal out of the streak," Carlisle said. "We are just trying to play solid basketball and win as many games as we can."

The Mavs have won 22 of their first 27 and three in a row since having their own 12-game streak snapped a week ago. They're 9-1 on the road, with the second game of a back-to-back coming Tuesday night at the trade-transitioning Orlando Magic. That game ends the Mavs' pre-Christmas portion of the schedule and sends them into a five-day break.

For a few hours, they'll savor this wild one that saw several back-and-forth runs starting from the opening tip when the Mavs raced to a 14-2 lead. The Heat closed the quarter with a 12-0 run and expanded it to 17-0 one minute into the second quarter.

In the third, a 10-0 Mavs run was countered by a 13-0 Heat spurt. And back and forth it went. As the game progressed into the fourth quarter and the Heat struggled to seven points in the first seven minutes, it began to have that familiar feel like the other Mavs wins against quality, streaking teams. The formula: hang tight and then shut it down with defense.

[+] EnlargeJason Terry
Issac Baldizon/Getty ImagesJason Terry woke up late, scoring all 19 of his points in the final 11 minutes of the game.

That wasn't always the case during the 5-1 homestand in which the Mavs built four 20-plus-point leads only to see them melt away and have to sweat it out.

"We got away from that," said Tyson Chandler, who had eight points and 10 rebounds and helped limit the Heat to 26 points in the paint. "It seemed like the longer our winning streak was going, we started to take a step back and relax on the defensive end. It took that loss [to the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 13] to wake everybody back up, and now we're communicating out there and we're actually following Coach's game plan again.

"This has to be our identity. If we want to have a special year, we've got to think defense first."

With 1:25 to go in the game, it seemed the Mavs might record another sub-20-point defensive fourth quarter. Miami had scored just 17 points and trailed 89-85. A late Miami flurry, counterattacked by Terry's amazing quarter, changed that dynamic.

However, it didn't alter yet another impressive night in which the Mavs put their defensive foot down firmly.

"We got to rely on our defense if we want to win," said Jason Kidd, who had seven points and seven assists on a rare night in which he had to go more than 38 minutes. "Our offense is going to come and go, but we rely on our defense that we've got to get stops. We did that in the fourth quarter and capitalized on the other end. Even if we miss a shot, we just felt like we could get another shot and get another crack at it at the other end."

The Mavs had just three players score in double figures but gained contributions in other ways. Dirk Nowitzki had a game-high 26, 17 in the first half before he cooled in the second. Caron Butler had 13 points on a mediocre shooting night.

But, Butler was as aggressive as he's been driving to the basket, and while he struggled to 1-of-5 shooting in the first half, he had a big hand, along with Shawn Marion, in holding James scoreless in the first half.

Then it was Terry time in the fourth. Through three quarters, he hadn't hit a bucket. Then on cue he dropped 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including three 3-pointers and two daggers in the final 2:27.

"I love the way we hung in," Carlisle said. "We had a couple of leads and we lost them. We stayed poised. Guys believed in each other. We just kept saying we are going to keep working the game, keep getting stops and rebounds."

At least now they can stop talking about the Heat.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

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