DeSagana Diop's final numbers Sunday were as unimpressive as his resumé.
Four points. Six rebounds. One block.
But the fifth-year center's performance was still one of the biggest reasons his team was able to lock down the Suns' offense in a 95-88 win.
Following a ragged first half in which Phoenix built a 52-47 lead on 48.8 percent shooting, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson inserted Diop to patrol the paint and beyond with his long wing span and active body.
The Suns wilted after the switch, scoring just 36 points over the final 24 minutes and shooting 15-for-41 (36.6 percent) from the field.
“That was a key for us," Johnson said. “You're going to give up some 3s maybe when he's in there. But man, when those guys are driving to the basket, if he's in the vicinity — it is good to just have somebody around the basket."
Diop didn't get his hands on a lot of shots, but he altered a bunch. He also gave Dallas a much-needed answer to Suns post Boris Diaw, who had torched the Mavericks for 34 and 25 points in the first two games of the series.
Diaw still had 20 Sunday, but he had just six in the second half and committed four turnovers as he struggled to find a way to attack Diop.
“I was just telling myself ‘if he hits a jumper over my long arms, I've got to live with that,' ” Diop said of Diaw. “He's such a good driver and finisher. That's why I wasn't going for his fakes. I wanted to make him a jump shooter."
Diop's performance was the centerpiece in Dallas' best defensive effort of this series. But it was not the only point of note.
All season, Dallas preached how it was a better defensive team than the one the Suns saw, and beat, in last year's conference semifinals.
But that unit was nowhere to be found in Game 1 and showed only in spots in Game 2.
In the final 24 minutes Sunday, the Mavericks finally put their minds where their mouths were.
“We were just really active tonight," guard Devin Harris said. “We got in the passing lanes and got our hands on a lot of balls."
The Mavs also made a concerted effort to follow Johnson's Game 2 mantra: “Transition defense. Transition defense. Transition
defense." “Our focus, first and foremost was to get back," guard Jason Terry said.
Early in the first round of the playoffs, Lakers coach Phil Jackson talked about how difficult it is to game-plan for the Suns and their unorthodox style.
That was true for the Mavericks as well.
“We were just coming off a series with the Spurs and then you have to face these guys who play a totally different game," Dallas forward Josh Howard said. “It took some time, but we've watched a lot of game films on these guys and we're doing a good job of playing their tendencies.
“That's why I think their point production has been dropping."
And boy is it dropping. After scoring 121 in Game 1, the Suns have put up 98 and 88 the past two.
They also managed just 13 assists — a season low.
“I don't want to say we've figured anything out yet because it's a long series," Johnson said. But “We were really embarrassed by our defense in the first game and I think they have an idea of what they need to do now, and nothing short of it, versus this team."