Welcome back to the NBA playoffs, Dallas Mavericks. What took you so long? Dirk Nowitzki (right) & Co. arrived casually late to the postseason Friday night, downing the Hornets 97-87 in Game 3 to pull within 2-1 in their Western Conference series.
This was the Mavs team that NBA fans have come to know over the past few seasons. Defense. Dirk. Dominance at home.
The main reason the Mavs can breathe a little easier is they finally figured out a way to slow Chris Paul (at least for one night). They also outrebounded the Hornets for the third straight night and got to the foul line (28-of-38) for at least 38 attempts for the third straight time. It's only one game, but those are positive indicators for Dallas.
Nowitzki (32 points, 19 rebounds, six assists) might have been the star of the game, but Jason Terry was the Mavs' unsung hero. The veteran shooting guard took over the primary defensive duties on Paul, helping limit the MVP candidate to 16 points (on 4-of-18 shooting) and 10 assists. At the other end, Terry chipped in 22 points, including a big three-pointer with less than two minutes to go that effectively sealed the victory.
After watching Paul split their traps in Game 2, the Mavs didn't double-team him nearly as much in Game 3. They basically had Terry crowd him and go under the screens on pick and rolls to jam up the lane and force him to shoot from outside. When Paul did try to turn the corner, Dirk was usually waiting for him in the lane. The strategy worked mainly because Paul wasn't really knocking down his outside shot, and he got no help from David West. It might be a different story in Game 4.
Jannero Pargo was the lone bright spot for New Orleans. The little guard came off the bench to score a playoff career-high 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting. It will be interesting to see if Pargo's big night carries over for him, or whether it proves to be one of those oddball occurrences that happens in the playoffs. Either way, the Hornets wasted a rare big scoring night by one of their bench guys.
Once again, the play was chippy on both sides. Paul threw a high elbow into Terry on one drive, and Erick Dampier repaid the favor by shoving Paul with both hands on a drive to the basket in the final seconds. Look for the temperature to get even higher in Game 4.
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