Tougher Mavericks keep series going

Monday, April 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Maybe it was when Shawn Bradley threw an elbow to Karl Malone's head, got hit with a flagrant foul and didn't say a word.

Or maybe it was when Dirk Nowitzki dunked over Malone, stared at him, then walked away.

But by the time John Stockton's teeth opened a gash in Steve Nash's forehead that required seven stitches, the Dallas Mavericks surely had proved to the Utah Jazz _ and themselves _ that they had finally grasped the principles of playoff basketball.

By getting physical and keeping quiet, the Mavericks beat the Jazz 94-91 Saturday to extend their first-round series to a Game 4 Tuesday night in Dallas.

``You can't back down to this team,'' Bradley said. ``As veteran as they are, you have to stay focused. We were poised enough at the end to get a much-needed win.''

Utah leads the best-of-five series 2-1 and still has tons more playoff experience. But the young, hungry Mavericks are no longer playing like wide-eyed rookies.

``They were just more aggressive,'' Jazz forward Donyell Marshall said after Game 3.

In winning the first two games, Utah muscled up against Dallas, intimidating the Mavericks and daring officials to blow whistles against the home team. Dallas players whined about noncalls and were too distracted to control the game's flow.

Back at Reunion Arena for their first home playoff game in 11 years, the Mavericks knew the crowd and maybe even the refs would be on their side. So they took it to the Jazz from the beginning.

Dallas used an 11-0 run in the first quarter to go up by 13 in the second. Utah tied it in the third, but another 11-0 run gave the Mavericks a big cushion early in the fourth.

But the Jazz, who overcame a four-point deficit in the final minute of Game 1, rallied again.

A layup by Stockton put Utah up 91-90 with 34 seconds left. It was the first time the Jazz led since 18-16, and if they held on they'd be headed to the second round.

Nash answered with a nifty turnaround jumper from about 10 feet. A Utah turnover underneath its basket led to two free throws by Michael Finley. Stockton hurried and missed the last shot, giving Dallas its first postseason victory since June 1988.

``I knew before the game that we were going to have to come back and I told them that,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. ``Down the stretch, we just didn't take care of the ball, then we had John saddled with foul trouble.''

If it sounds like griping, it is. Utah complained a lot and the stat sheet shows that the Jazz had good reason. Dallas took 30 free throws to 11 for the visitors.

Sloan and Malone talked about focusing more on the game than the officials in Game 4. They want to close the series Tuesday and avoid a Game 5, even if it would be in Salt Lake City.

``I hope our mindset is not `Wait until we get back home,''' Malone said. ``I don't like Game 5s. Anything can happen in Game 5.''