Griffin's stops make Mavericks go


DALLAS — When the season started, Adrian Griffin was in Houston, without a team.

"I was praying my career wasn't over," he said.

It wasn't. The Dallas Mavericks came calling for the defensive specialist in late November, and now the 6-5 swingman is three wins away from the climax of his seven-year NBA career — a championship ring for himself and a high school diploma for his mother.

"If we win the championship, with my mom graduating, we might have the biggest party of the year," Griffin said.

Griffin missed his 49-year-old mother's graduation ceremony in Wichita last week because it conflicted with the tip-off of the NBA Finals. But Helen was in Dallas for Game 2 on Sunday.

Her son has made the most of his return to the Mavericks, giving Avery Johnson the defensive focus he preached from the beginning of his first full season as coach. It has become the identity of this team.

"We wanted a defender," Johnson said. "We wanted somebody that we could put on the best offensive perimeter guy to at least free Josh (Howard) up, especially at the beginning of the game, and hopefully keep him out of foul trouble."

Griffin's assignment in the Finals: Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. Wade scored 28 points in Game 1, and Griffin incurred the wrath of Johnson after Wade beat him to the basket in the first quarter. "In the playoffs," Griffin said, "you don't like giving up layups, and he (Johnson) encouraged me, in his way, of picking it up a little bit."

Griffin did. He outscored Wade 6-2 and forced two turnovers in the first 4½ minutes of the second half as Dallas stretched the lead to five points en route to a 90-80 victory.

"I try to use savvy veteran stuff to try to slow him down," said Griffin, who finished with eight points in 13 minutes. "But he's an awesome athlete. You don't totally stop guys like that. You just try to stop them at crucial times."

That was his job all season, against the likes of Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. Griffin's defense got him into the league out of Seton Hall as an undrafted free agent. He has made stops in Boston, Dallas, Houston and Chicago.

In his first go-around with the Mavs, he was on the 2003 team that went to the Western Conference finals. On that team: Avery Johnson.

"Griff had a comfort zone here, had a history here," Johnson said when asked about re-signing him. "And he fit right in the mold that we were looking for in having a defender. All championship teams, if you look historically, have that player. Bruce Bowen (San Antonio), Tayshaun Prince (Detroit), your Dennis Rodmans, your Horace Grants. That's why we were convinced we had to have him."

Griffin spent the beginning of the season working out in Houston. He stayed ready. "It couldn't have been a better fit," he said. "I was familiar with this team. I knew Avery from playing with him. It was a match made in heaven for me. It's been quite a ride."

Jack Benoitadrian, griffin