Tired of gift-wrapping games, the Dallas Mavericks finally heeded coach Rick Carlisle's advice. In other words, protect the basketball.
In a show of force and mental aptitude, the Mavs turned the ball over just three times in the second half Friday night and that enabled them to upend the Phoenix Suns 109-99 at US Airways Center.
Dallas (20-27) is now 1-2 on this four-game road trip, which concludes Monday night in Oklahoma City before the Mavs finally return home after a week on the road to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
After fumbling and stumbling their way to 12 first-half turnovers against the Suns, the Mavs protected the ball so well in the second half it was as if they were guarding the U.S. mint.
From the 10:48 mark of the third quarter until O.J. Mayo inadvertently stepped on the baseline with 12 seconds remaining in the game, the Mavs had absolutely no turnovers.
“Cutting down on turnovers was the key to the game, particularly in the second half,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had 12 in the first half and that's way too many.
“You can't win on the road turning the ball over 12 times a half — no way. Guys did a much better job (in the second half), our execution was better, our defense was better, our rebounding was better.''
After losses at Portland on Tuesday and at Golden State on Thursday that ended in controversial style, the Mavs were hell-bent on making sure the game wasn't going to come down to a referee's whistle. They also knew that it would have been difficult for them to focus on the task at hand if they didn't enter Friday's game with a very fresh mind.
“In this league you have to forget about (Thursday's loss) and move on to the next game and give ourselves a chance to win this game,'' said Darren Collison, who finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks. “So we forgot about it just in time, and we wanted to make sure we closed this one out, and we did.''
The Mavs were clinging precariously to a 98-93 lead when Shawn Marion grabbed a Vince Carter missed jumper and scored inside. On the ensuing Mavs possession, Marion scored inside again off a feed form Collison that increased Dallas' cushion to 102-93 with 2:15 left.
A pair of free throws by Shannon Brown got the Suns within six with 1:37 remaining. However, Collison drilled a jumper, and then added a free throw after Goran Dragic received a technical foul for slamming the basketball onto the court.
Two freebies wrapped around another basket from Marion closed out the scoring as the Mavs finally got to exhale after what had to be a restless night following the loss to the Warriors.
“I thought we were in denial about losing that game (to the Warriors),'' said Mayo, who had 20 points, five rebounds and three steals. “I thought we really enforced our will, raised our level of competitiveness and toughness, mentally and physically to go out there and get that win.''
Mayo noted that with all the miscues the Mavs had in the first half, it still ended with the score knotted at 54-54.
“We had 12 turnovers at halftime and we got back to even (on the scoreboard) and didn't play a very good half of basketball,'' Mayo said. “We knew going into the second half, on the road, not playing a very good first half and to have a tie ballgame, we had to keep our energy and our effort up and our engagement in the game on the whole, and we would have a chance to win.''
Besides the turnovers, the Mavs were able to control the game because they got contributions from a lot of players:
- Vince Carter came off the bench to pour in 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting.
Marion also had four blocked shots as the Mavs shot 45.5 percent from the field and left a building feeling good about themselves for the first time since they beat the Suns on Sunday in Dallas.
The Mavs' bench outscored their Suns counterparts 52-25 and outrebounded them 18-12.
“They're playing well and with a lot of energy,'' Carlisle said of his bench. “They actually got us the lead, I believe, and then it was up to our finishers to finish.
“Everybody did their job tonight.''
It was a night when the Mavs played without forward Dirk Nowitzki for the second straight game. Nowitzki strained his right adductor Monday against Portland and hopes to be ready to play this Monday against the Thunder.
The Mavs also played without center Chris Kaman, who missed his third consecutive game after suffering a concussion after crash-landing on his head during Monday's practice.
Brown led the Suns with 20 points, Dragic flirted with a triple-double -- 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists -- and Luis Scola finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Mavs overcame a 71-61 deficit with 4:45 left in the third period when they rolled up their sleeves and simply went to work.
The way Collison viewed it, they reflected the teachings Carlisle tries to convey to them on a daily basis.
“Just because he's being hard on us or easy on us in a difficult way, you can't take it too seriously,'' Collison said.
“He's trying to make us better and help us become the players we need to be in this league, and it's been good for me.
“I think we had steady improvement.''
More than anything, the Mavs got a much-needed win.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760