DALLAS – Jerry Stackhouse's 3-pointer split the net while he tumbled into his teammates' arms. He extricated himself from the jubilant Dallas bench and headed upcourt, pausing momentarily for a wide-eyed hug with coach Avery Johnson.
Though they're still two games away from their first championship, the Mavs could celebrate a rip-roaring opening week in their thrilled Texas town.
Dirk Nowitzki had 26 points and 16 rebounds in the Mavericks' 99-85 victory Sunday night, leading a balanced attack that came at the Heat in waves and eventually put Dallas up 2-0 in the series.
"We feel that this is an opportunity for us," Stackhouse said. "We want to do all we can to prepare ourselves to be able to fulfill a dream of ours, and fulfill the dream of our city. We're one more step closer to that."
An offensive explosion is no surprise in Dallas, where fans have been treated to one of the NBA's most exciting teams for years.
O'Neal's statistics were the real eye-catchers in Game 2: A career playoff-low five points, six rebounds and a fourth-quarter benching for the three-time finals MVP. Wary of simple double-teams, he frequently passed the ball out of the low post even before Dallas' second defender arrived.
Was he afraid of being fouled and going to the line, where he went 1-for-9 in Game 1 and 1-for-7 in this one? The self-described "quotacious" center wouldn't talk about what went wrong: He skipped the postgame interview session, earning a $10,000 fine from the NBA and socking his team with a $25,000 bill.
When the Heat take the court for Game 3 back home Tuesday night, somebody had better speak up. For two games, the Mavs have shackled one of his generation's greatest postseason performers, as his three NBA finals MVP awards attest.
Though Johnson claims no special insight, the Mavs' defense on O'Neal was unprecedented. After Shaq scored on Miami's first possession, he waited 20 1/2 minutes to get his only other field goal. He spent the final 15:13 on the bench, a towel draped on his head.
"He can't be as dominant as he wants to be right now," said Dwyane Wade, who had 23 points but also struggled. "He's been in this situation more than anybody, so I'm sure we'll bounce back."
Stackhouse added 10 of his 19 points in a fantastic 79-second stretch to close the first half, when Dallas completed a 27-6 run that essentially finished the Heat. His three straight 3-pointers included a four-point play.
Dallas also played the best defensive half in franchise playoff history, holding Miami to 34 points in the first half -- after limiting the Heat to 36 in the second half of the Mavs' 90-80 victory in Game 1.
"That sent us into the locker room obviously not in a very good state of mind," Miami coach Pat Riley said of Stackhouse's theatrics. "They did what they had to do at home. We'll have to play the game a lot better than we played it here in Dallas. Whatever adjustments we make over the next couple of days are going to have to work."
Only Boston (1969) and Portland (1977) have rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win the finals. Unless the Heat figure out a solution to the group malaise that's left Wade on the perimeter and kept the ball away from O'Neal, there will be a parade in Dallas.
Jason Terry had 16 points and Howard had 15 -- and Howard also completed a four-point play -- the elusive act of hitting a 3-pointer while getting fouled. There were just six four-point plays in NBA finals history before the game, and Dallas was the first team to get two in the same game.
But the Mavericks did something much more historic and important on the other end: They limited O'Neal to his worst postseason performance. In 190 career playoff games, Shaq finished with a single-digit point total just three times.
"It was a team effort," Nowitzki said. "No one can stop Shaq one-on-one. It was a team effort, and our big men did a decent job."
O'Neal scored on the Heat's first possession while being fouled, but he missed the ensuing free throw -- and then went 20 1/2 minutes without another basket, taking just five shots all night. He was 2-for-5 from the field -- both career playoff lows.
Antoine Walker scored 20 points, hitting four 3-pointers and leading a late run that never got closer than 12 points.
"This series is far from over," Walker said. "We know that, and hopefully they know that. We're a veteran group of guys. A lot of us have worked our whole career to get to this point, and we ain't going to lay down now."
Notes: Miami Forward Udonis Haslem fell hard to the court while driving to the hoop in the third quarter, and sat on the bench with ice wrapped on his left shoulder. He didn't return, but said he'll play in Game 3. ... O'Neal scored seven points for the Lakers against Houston on April 19, 2004, and matched that total this season in Game 3 against Chicago.