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Mavericks rally to claim victory in opener

Kidd, Nowitzki burn Blazers as Dallas draws first blood
by: RONALD MARTINEZ Dallas' Jason Kidd reacts after sinking a 3-point shot against Portland in their NBA playoff opener Saturday night.

DALLAS - In the beginning, there was Jason Kidd. In the end, it was Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas' future Hall-of-Famers were the difference in a 89-81 victory over the Trail Blazers Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at American Airlines Center.

Nowitzki scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter while Kidd, whose regular-season high was 21, added 24 points, sinking a career playoff-high six 3-pointers as Dallas seized advantage in the series.

Kidd, who averaged a career-low 7.9 points during the regular season, scored 11 of his points in staking Dallas to a 47-37 halftime lead.

Portland stormed back and was in front 72-66 with six minutes remaining when the Mavericks, led by Nowitzki, began a parade to the foul line that turned the tide. Dallas outscored the Blazers 23-9 the rest of the way, making 13 of 13 at the charity stripe over the final half-period.

'We were lucky to get out of here with a win,' Nowitzki said.

Dallas won the game at both lines - 3-point and free throw. The Mavericks were 10 for 19 from beyond the arc to 2 for 16 for the Blazers. Dallas was 25 for 29 at the foul line to 9 for 13 for Portland.

Asked if Tuesday's Game 2 is now a must-win for Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge shook his head no.

'Every game is a must-win in the playoffs,' said Aldridge, who scored 27 points on 12-for-20 shooting. 'Tonight was a must-win. We had it. We let it get away from us.'

It was a puzzling conclusion to a game with a rare statistical blueprint.

The Blazers made eight more field goals than the Mavericks (35 to 27) and outscored the hosts 30-2 in second-half points in the paint, 46-18 overall.

That would seem to suggest the Blazers were much the aggressors.

Why, then did the Mavericks have such an advantage at the line, especially in the fouth quarter, when they were 18 for 19, the Blazers 1 for 2?

Nate McMillan would like to know.

'I just don't get the free throws - 19-2 in the fourth quarter,' the Portland coach said. 'It's hard for our guys to know how to play out there when it's called different. We were attacking, and our guys didn't know how to play. A lot of touch fouls (on the Blazers) took the momentum and pretty much gave them control of the game in the fourth quarter.

'Our guys were attacking the basket, being aggressive, and there were no calls in some situations. The game was decided in the fourth quarter at the free-throw line.'

Aldridge, who got only four attempts at the line, making three, was asked if the Blazers got the short end of the stick by the referees.

'No comment,' Portland's power forward said. 'I'll get fined, so no comment. (The Mavericks) got the benefit of the doubt on some of the calls, but I don't want a fine right now."

Kidd shot .361 from the field and .340 on 3-point attempts in the regular season. On Saturday, the veteran point guard made 9 of 14 shots, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range, and contributed five rebounds, four assists and two steals with only one turnover in 34 minutes.

'Spectacular,' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. 'We had some guys who didn't play their best games, but Jason Kidd played the game of the year to this point.

'Every shot he made, every play he made, was absolutely essential for us. His leadership is something you can't quantify.'

After sitting out two games late in the regular season to rest for the playoffs, Kidd, 38, looked reinvigorated Saturday night.

'I was ready,' Kidd said. 'The rest helped. I felt great, and we got a big one under our belt tonight.'

Kidd was pretty much all Dallas had in the first half as Nowitzki, with Aldridge and Nicolas Batum taking turns guarding him, made only 4 of 12 shots from the field with four turnovers.

'Kidd was a key to keeping them in the game when they were struggling,' Aldridge said. 'If he doesn't make those 3s early, the game could have been a lot different.'

Portland led 22-21 after one quarter but was only 6 for 16 from the field in a 15-point second period as the Blazers went into the half trailing 47-37.

'The 10-point lead at halftime was deceiving,' Carlisle said. 'It just didn't feel like much of a cushion because of how the game was being played.'

Things turned around in the third quarter as the Blazers scored the first six points, then closed to within two points before settling for a 61-57 deficit entering the final period.

'We were fortunate to be up four going into the fourth quarter,' Carlisle said.

When Portland outscored Dallas 15-5 over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to go on top 72-66, it appeared an upset was in the making. The Mavericks went more than 11 minutes - from the 4:38 mark in the third quarter to 5:28 in the fourth - without a field goal.

Then came Nowitzki's heroics and the Mavericks' march to the foul line. Carlisle pointed to Nowtizki's 3-pointer from the corner to give Dallas a 75-74 lead with 3:40 to play.

'That was the biggest shot of the game,' Carlisle said. 'It energized the building and energized our team.

'We talk about the importance of persistence; Dirk was a great example tonight. He wasn't great the whole game. These games are going to test you that way.'

'I got some bounces my way,' Nowitzki said. 'When I made that shot (for the 75-74 lead), it relaxed me and I was able to play my game.'

Nowitzki made 7 of 20 shots, while Dallas' No. 2 scorer, Jason Terry, was only 2 for 5.

'With those shooting numbers, (the Blazers) would think they would leave this building with a win,' Nowitzki said. 'But Jason made them pay.'

Aldridge scored 12 of his points on six lob passes - four from Andre Miller. Other than that, Aldridge had to work for everything he got as Dallas single-covered him most of the way with centers Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.

'He's a great player,' Carlisle said. 'He's going to score. We have to work to take away the lob dunks. Subtract 12 points from 27, it's a much more manageable number. But they get those plays because they have guys who are multi-dimensional and can make those plays. He's terrific at finding the spots to do it.

'We're not going to be able to play him straight up all the time, though I felt Chandler and Haywood did a very good job in post situations. The baskets he gets other ways are what make him special. We have to work to limit those, but he's not going to be easy to deal with no matter what.'

Saturday's game was in some ways as expected - physical, back and forth and down to the wire.

'This game is typical of how they're going to be,' Carlisle said. 'We were down six with how much time left, and we had to go on a significant run to win the game. It's a great win for us, but it was extremely difficult.'

Batum said the Blazers can't get caught up in the officiating.

'I don't care about the calls,' said the Blazers' small forward, who came off the bench for 14 points and four assists in 34 minutes. 'Sometimes you don't get the calls. That's just the game.

'We didn't make our 3-point shots, we didn't get to the line. But they scored 88 points. Normally when that happens, we win. We know if we can just shoot a little better, we will win.'

Nowitzki said the premium on winning Game 2 is even higher now, with the series moving to the Rose Garden for Games 3 and 4.

The Blazers 'are one of the best home teams in the league,' he said. 'Their fans are phenomenal. We'd love to go up there leading 2-0 in the series.'

NOTES - Nowitzki finished with a team-high 10 rebounds but had six turnovers in 39 minutes. ... Portland is 3-24 all-time in playoff series after dropping Game 1, including 1-17 in the first round. ... League-wide, the team that wins the opener has won 78 percent of seven-game series through history. The Blazers, though, fell to Phoenix after winning the lid-lifter a year ago. ... Aldridge led the NBA in baskets off lob passes during the regular season with 102. Miller was the league leader in assists off alley oops with 74. ... Portland center Marcus Camby had a big game, going for 18 rebounds (one short of his career playoff high), four points, five assists and two blocked shots in 29 minutes. He didn't play the final 10:44 of the game.

Miller finished with 18 points, six assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes. ... Blazers Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews were no-shows. Wallace was 0 for 5 in the first half, going scoreless with one rebound in 18 minutes. He finished with eight points on 4-for-13 shooting and five boards in 39 minutes. Matthews got two early fouls and played only seven first-half minutes. He wound up with two points, one rebound and no assists with three turnovers in 19 minutes. ... Portland's Brandon Roy made only 1 of 7 shots and scored two points in 26 minutes off the bench. ... Portland shot .550 (33 for 60) on 2-point attempts. Dallas shot only .409 from the field, including .362 (17 for 47) on 2-point attempts.