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Quiet man Howard leads Mavs' toughs

Johnson gets team to rough up Suns in crucial Game 3 win

In the last week or so, the Dallas Mavericks got caught punching an opposing player, Michael Finley, who was once their teammate, with Jason Terry winding up suffering a one-game suspension for being the culprit. The team eventually shrugged that off, however, by deposing the defending champion Spurs on the Spurs' home court in no less of a pressure cooker than a Game 7.
They started this Western Conference finals series by throwing another opponent to the floor, the Suns' Boris Diaw, whom Erick Dampier yanked out of the air as Diaw attempted a layup. Damp never even glanced at Diaw as Diaw lay on the floor with a bemused look etched on his face. Damp just accepted congratulatory hand slaps from some teammates.
And on Sunday in the Suns' US Airways Center, in danger of being blown out a couple minutes before halftime, the emergent new tough man from the Mavericks' locker room, Josh Howard, knocked Tim Thomas to the floor rather than concede a dunk that would've put the Suns up by 10.
Howard was whistled, properly, for a flagrant foul. And then as Thomas tried to make his way to the free throw line to shoot the technical, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki gave him, as they say in those old gangster movies, "the bidness" - a forearm here and an elbow there. Two more technical fouls were assessed.
Then the Mavericks really roughed up the Suns. They went on a 15-2 run that Suns coach Mike D'Antoni allowed afterward was the difference in what became a 95-88 Mavericks win.
"I thought the turning point was the end of the first half where we were up by 11 and missed two or three layups and (had) a couple of bad plays and came in at five points up instead of ... at least 11 or 13 or 15," D'Antoni lamented.
Whoever would've thought the Mavericks could be a team that, in the street vernacular popularized by that comical MTV show, "Punk'd" their competition?
"Things happen man," Howard said of the flagrant. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I would say one of their guys could knock me down."
This is a soft team no more. And that bodes well if it is not to look back from the 2-1 lead it forged Sunday in this best-of-7 series and advance to play one of the physical, in-your-face survivors from the East, Ben Wallace's Pistons or Pat Riley's Heat.
This newfound attitude is certainly something that Avery Johnson has tried to instill in his brief time at the helm. It's a byproduct, of course, of his emphasis to play defense and do other things like take the ball to the rack rather than settle for jump shots. You can't play defense without being tough. "I just thought it was just a situation there where our defense was soft," Johnson said of the end of the half and how they started the third quarter with DeSagana
Diop subbing for Keith Van Horn, who started the game at center. "I just wanted to turn it up a little bit."
But it takes players with a mindset to accept it all to make it work. This team has them, and maybe none is rougher and tougher than the outwardly reserved Howard, who got teary-eyed up not long ago while making a presentation to some kids he cares for deeply in Dallas.
This was the second consecutive game in which Howard drew so much ire from officials that they felt it necessary to hand him an elevated foul. His fortitude was proven in Game 2 of this series, too, when he played - and played very well - despite a bone bruise on his foot that knocked him out of Game 1 early.
"I think we have confidence in ourselves and our defensive schemes," Howard said. "It's something that's been instilled in us and we're playing ball with it.
"We can't let down. We have to fight like we did tonight."
These Mavericks can certainly do that.

Updated : 2021-10-26 09:01 GMT+08:00