LOS ANGELES » Even after the Los Angeles Lakers blew a 16-point lead in the second half, Kobe Bryant had two chances in the final seconds to erase the Dallas Mavericks’ big comeback with yet another game-winning shot.
Bryant and Pau Gasol fumbled away the Lakers’ first opportunity before Bryant just plain missed his last shot, allowing Dirk Nowitzki and his tenacious Mavs to take an early second-round series lead.
Nowitzki scored 28 points and hit two go-ahead free throws with 19.5 seconds left before Gasol and Bryant made a crucial turnover, and the Mavericks rallied for a 96-94 victory in Game 1 last night.
"You’ve got to make plays, and you’ve got to dodge some bullets," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "We did both."
Nowitzki had 14 rebounds for the Mavericks, who steadily erased a huge third-quarter deficit before the dramatic finish to the perennial playoff teams’ first postseason meeting in 23 years.
The Lakers are "highly concerned," said Bryant, who scored 21 of his 36 points in the second half. "This team can beat us, it’s clear."
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Miami vs. Boston
CHICAGO VS. ATLANTA
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
OKLAHOMA CITY VS. MEMPHIS
L.A. LAKERS VS. DALLAS
NOTE: All series best of seven games; x-if necessary
After Nowitzki’s free throws gave Dallas its first lead of the second half, Bryant fell down under defensive pressure from Jason Kidd while trying to get the ball from Gasol with 5 seconds to play. After one free throw by Kidd, Bryant missed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off the back rim just before the buzzer.
"It’s definitely a great win for us, but if you look at their last series, they lost Game 1 and came right back and won the next two and had the series back in control," Nowitzki said. "We’d love to go for it in Game 2."
Game 2 is tomorrow night at Staples Center.
Gasol had 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the second-seeded Lakers, who lost their second straight Game 1 after winning six straight openers over the previous two seasons. Their loss to New Orleans two weeks ago was much more surprising than this loss to the playoff-tested Mavs, but the Lakers’ lack of poise down the stretch should be scary to anybody anticipating a threepeat.
"We felt like we gave the game away," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I’m not so sure Dallas didn’t outplay us, but the players felt like we gave it away. … The game was won in the third quarter when we got the lead and stopped playing defense and stopped playing offense. It took a lot of energy out of us and gave a lot of energy to them."
The Mavericks trailed 92-87 with 3:32 to play, but finished on a 9-2 run — showing all the late-game tenacity that’s expected of Bryant and the two-time defending champions.
"We did well, but I think we can do better," said Shawn Marion, who scored 10 points for Dallas. "Is there anybody that knows we play good D?"