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 on Monday 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."
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 Wednesday 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?"
Lamar Odom scored 15 points for Los Angeles, which nursed a small lead throughout the second half into the final minute. Nowitzki scored in the lane with 40 seconds left to trim the deficit to 94-93, and after Jason Terry swiped the ball from Bryant, Gasol inexplicably fouled Nowitzki on the Mavericks' inbounds play, setting in motion the final events.
Terry scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half to lead the Mavs' reserves, who outscored Los Angeles' bench 40-25.
The Lakers took a 53-44 halftime lead with a 14-2 run that included four points in the final 0.7 seconds.
Terry got too close to Odom's last-ditch heave from halfcourt right before the buzzer, and Odom made three free throws. Nowitzki then got a technical foul for throwing an aggressive elbow under the hoop while scrapping with Ron Artest, and Bryant hit a final free throw.
Dallas made a 20-6 run shortly after falling behind 60-44 to open the third quarter. Bryant singlehandedly kept the Lakers ahead with 12 consecutive points, but Jackson blamed the defeat on that stretch of awful basketball after taking a commanding lead.
"I know we got that crazy last minute there, but we've got to come out in the second half and play better," said Andrew Bynum, who managed eight points and five rebounds for Los Angeles. "We didn't lose it at the end. We lost it in the third quarter."
Both teams put aside the ugliness of their ejection-filled meeting on March 31 while preparing for the franchises' first postseason meeting since the 1988 Western Conference finals.
Jackson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to rekindle their history of mutual sniping in the media, instead praising each other in recent days. Jackson even said Cuban would be an excellent prospective owner for the troubled Los Angeles Dodgers, although Cuban declined to comment on the much-rumored prospect before Game 1.
Both clubs finished off their first-round series in six games after splitting the first four. The Lakers took control against the Hornets after the opening stunner, while the Mavericks bounced back admirably after blowing a 23-point lead in a Game 4 loss to Portland.
NOTES: Bryant had the 81st 30-point game of his playoff career, trailing only Michael Jordan (109) in NBA history. Bryant has scored in double figures in 156 straight postseason games. ... Fans near courtside included Eddie Murphy, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham (on his 36th birthday), Jack Nicholson, Gordon Ramsay, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, January Jones, Jennifer Carpenter, singer Seal, Mekhi Phifer, Anthony Kiedis, New York Jets TE Dustin Keller and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis.