PHOENIX (AP) – As Dallas prepared for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson urged his team to play with the same desperation it showed in a Game 2 victory.

The Mavericks did just that, and now they’re two victories away from the first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

Sparked by a first-half altercation involving Jason Terry and Tim Thomas, the Mavericks defeated Phoenix 95-88 to take a 2-1 lead Sunday night.

Dirk Nowitzki had 28 points and 17 rebounds for the Mavs, who overcame an 11-point first-half deficit and regained home-court advantage they lost in the series opener. Josh Howard added 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Mavericks.

The Suns have lost back-to-back games for the first time since they dropped three in a row to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. They dropped their second straight game without Raja Bell, who is out with a strained left calf. The Suns are 1-5 without Bell in the regular season and playoffs.

Steve Nash had 21 points and seven assists for the Suns and Boris Diaw added 20 points.

Tempers flared late in the first half, when Howard was called for a flagrant foul for hitting Thomas in the face as the Phoenix forward drove to the basket. As Thomas walked to the foul line, he and Terry exchanged shoves, and both players were assessed technicals.

Thomas made both free throws to give Phoenix a 52-42 lead with 2:05 left in the half.

After the scuffle, the Mavericks scored the last five points of the quarter to cut it to 52-47 at halftime.

Dallas kept rolling after intermission, outscoring the Suns 10-2 to take a 57-54 lead.

The Mavericks outscored the Suns 15-2 in a seven-minute stretch after the technicals were called. A three-pointer by Nash ended the spurt, but Phoenix managed only 16 points in the third quarter, a series low.

Dallas took a 72-68 lead into the fourth quarter and appeared ready to reclaim home-court advantage. But the Suns tied it at 72 on a jumper by Diaw and Shawn Marion’s dunk on a missed lay-up by Leandro Barbosa.

The Mavericks answered with an 11-2 run, capped by Keith Van Horn’s three-point play to take an 83-74 lead with 6:12 left.

With Dallas leading 90-84 and less than two minutes to play, Nowitzki appeared to miss the rim as the shot clock expired. The Mavericks grabbed the rebound and were allowed to keep possession even as the Suns’ bench exploded in protest.

Terry’s 12-footer in the lane put the Mavericks up 92-84 with 33 seconds to go.

Notes: Bell could return to the line-up for Game 4 Tuesday night, coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Raja feels better today than he did yesterday,” D’Antoni said before Game 3. “He’s not ready to go today. He’ll continue to be day to day. I think it will be hard but as soon as he’s ready he’s going to get out there.”