Mavs' Johnson returns Griffin to starting lineup

Updated: June 8, 2006, 9:48 PM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Avery Johnson waited as long as he could. Then the lights went down Thursday night for pregame introductions to Game 1 of the NBA Finals and the secret he'd been keeping all week was out: Adrian Griffin was back in the starting lineup for the Dallas Mavericks.

Griffin's somewhat expected return meant that second-year point guard Devin Harris returned to the bench after starting the last 12 games.

Griffin started the first five games this postseason after being a regular starter during the season. Mostly a defensive presence, he went to the bench when Johnson opted to crank up the offense with the speedy Harris.

Now, with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat standing between Dallas and its first championship, Johnson went back to Griffin.

"We just have a certain way that we want to play," Johnson said before the game, without revealing his decision. It was announced to the media shortly before tipoff, but fans didn't know until the public-address announcer introduced Harris with the reserves. Griffin was the second starter introduced.

"There are certain guys on our team that we want to try to slow down Wade as best we can, so I think you'll see, you know, five, six guys on him," Johnson said. "Obviously Josh Howard and Griffin and (Jerry) Stackhouse, Marquis Daniels and Devin. Devin is a different type of defender. He's not as strong as those guys, but we like him when teams are trying to run a lot of pick-and-rolls."

Johnson turned to Griffin in Dallas' last game, too, sending him out to start the second half in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. The Mavs were trailing the Phoenix Suns by 12 points at halftime, then he helped key the defense that enabled Dallas to rally for the victory.

Without Harris, more of the ballhandling went to Jason Terry.

DeSagana Diop was the starting center, which meant he opened the game against Shaquille O'Neal. It also meant that Erick Dampier came off the bench, as he did most of the season. Dampier hardly played in the Phoenix series, with reserve forward Keith Van Horn starting three games.

Diop, Dampier and perhaps Van Horn will all take turns against O'Neal. Usual third-string center D.J. Mbenga can't play until Game 5 because of a suspension that began in the last round.

Johnson has used six lineups this postseason. This returns him to his first, which Dallas went 4-1 with -- sweeping Memphis in the first round, then losing to San Antonio in Game 1 of the second round.

The Mavs are looking to end a streak of two straight losses in series openers. They also are only 1-4 in Game 1s under Johnson.

"There's a certain way that we want to play in this series and we have an idea of what we think may work," Johnson said. "But we've got to go out there and do it."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press