You can't exactly call it the sweetest possible revenge. Steve Nash still needs two more wins over the Spurs for that ... as well as the knowledge that Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw won't be suspended for Game 5.
Suns rise when Nash falls
Pretty high up there on the sweet meter.
Nash answered that knee to the groin from Bruce Bowen and his coach's calls for some over-the-hump, breakthrough toughness in the manner he would have scripted if he could have: With a steely fourth quarter, namely, that willed Nash's Suns to the biggest victory they've ever recorded and a simple toss of the ball to referee Steve Javie at the final buzzer to cap it.
There's a reason Nash is the only Sun who has consistently refused to voice any public frustration with the Spurs' handsy defense in the first three games of this second-round showdown: That's how his soccer-playing English father raised him. When you're being kicked, John Nash always taught his son, you make the guy kicking you think you're sipping tea.
That was Nash on Monday night. He finally lost his cool after Robert Horry hip checked him into the scorer's table in the final minute -- "It's hard, I guess, to always take the high road and turn the other cheek," Nash admitted afterward -- but only after he had spent the rest of the evening by dribbling through every barrier and spurring Phoenix to a series-tying 104-98 triumph in San Antonio.
Six immediate reactions to a heating-up series that will suddenly go at least six games:
• First things first, since it's obviously what everyone wants to know about: The suspension question. By the letter of the law, Stoudemire and Boris Diaw have to be hit with one-game suspensions for leaving the bench after Horry cracked Nash. This is a virtually ironclad NBA rule, except for the time back in 2002 that Doug Christie was attacked in the tunnel by Rick Fox in a Lakers-Kings exhibition game and several Kings players left the bench to assist him. The league ruled that time that no one, in the heat of the moment, knew exactly who Christie was tangling with, resulting in some unexpected pardons. In this case, Stoudemire clearly strayed into the court for a brief moment and even Suns coach Mike D'Antoni couldn't stifle a postgame laugh when Phoenix tried to suggest that Stoudemire was heading to the scorer's table to check in after the foul.
Stoudemire and Diaw never made it near the scrum, as Suns assistant coaches scrambled them back to the bench. Nor did Monday's incident ever become an actual brawl, with referees Joe DeRosa and Javie getting between Nash and Horry before it could escalate. There is also a growing perception, most of all, that Bowen was shown a good deal of leniency by the league office after being accused of intentionally kicking a dunking Stoudemire in Game 2 and kneeing Nash in Game 3 ... and going unpunished in both cases. Doesn't the league have to balance that against the notion of "staying consistent" on leaving-the-bench suspensions?
"That would be terrible if that silly play at the end of a game, when the game is really over, if that causes a detriment to the rest of the series," Nash said afterward. "That would be ridiculous."
He then tacked on a pretty shrewd argument about literal interpretations when he pointed out that cheering subs technically leave the bench when they stray onto the court to celebrate big plays.
• The above bit of sharpness from Nash can't surprise you if you watched the way he finished this Game 4, quarterbacking Phoenix's rally from 10 points down. As good as you can look when you finish with eight turnovers, that was Nash in the final period, highlighted by the tidy drop-off to Raja Bell and subsequent screen that sent Bell in for an uncontested layup, and then the behind-the-back specials with each hand to set up Stoudemire for the two biggest hoops in crunch time. You can pardon the turnovers and Nash's two late missed free throws when you factor in how much he created for his team -- especially at the finish -- in a 24-point, 15-assist performance.
• Spurs coach Gregg Popovich opened himself to some rare, big-time criticism by keeping Tim Duncan on the bench too long after Duncan picked up his fifth foul with just over six minutes to play. Don't you let a wily veteran like Duncan play more with five fouls? Stoudemire has been scolded in this series for his occasional lack of playoff savvy but did pretty well with five fouls, lasting all the way to the end and finishing with 26 points. With all the trouble San Antonio had getting scoring from anyone else when it mattered, Duncan needed to be out there sooner.
• Even more inexplicable is the Horry hip check. He is known as perhaps the greatest role player of all-time, as Big Shot Rob, as Mr. Easygoing. Nailing Nash with such force is not the sort of hit you associate with Robert Horry. And with an elbow aimed at Bell during the ensuing pushing and shoving, Horry could be looking at a multi-game suspension.
• Was this the Suns' breakthrough moment? Not sure yet. We'll know for sure only if the Suns can actually win what now becomes a best-of-three, with Phoenix possessing home-court advantage. Just don't forget that San Antonio was down 3-1 to Dallas in this same round last year and would have won that series if Dirk Nowitzki hadn't snatched Game 7 from them. The Spurs are more than capable of winning another game in the desert.
If there's such a thing as a 2-2 lead, it looks like Phoenix has one after this grittier-than-ever comeback. The Suns got stops in the fourth quarter. They had plenty of chances to fold and hung in instead. As D'Antoni noted, Shawn Marion was a one-man defensive wall in the fourth, with a few timely double-teams thrown at Duncan -- the first we've seen from Phoenix -- to slow the hosts down.
• Oh, yeah: The Suns just saved the whole second round with their rally. We'd be looking at four separate 3-1 series if the Spurs hadn't relinquished control of Game 4. Now we're looking at a good 24 hours of debate about what kind of punishments we should and will see ... and what should be a pretty tasty Game 5 on Wednesday.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
When Steve Nash was sent into the wall courtesy of a Robert Horry flagrant foul, a bout of contention ensued.
When the pounding music stopped and stunned fans swallowed their cries, all that was left for Vince Carter were the jeers.
He held his hands in front of his face, trying to pass the shock of the moment by pleading with an unsympathetic Dick Bavetta for a reprieve that wasn't coming. But the drained and pleading look on Carter's face betrayed his protest, the look in his eyes more of defeat than defiance.
It was a chance for a beautiful finish to another ugly Eastern Conference playoff struggle, a low-scoring, poor-shooting, emotion-filled grinder that only purists and the winning team's fan base truly love. Under the hot lights and millions of eyeballs, Carter found himself in the situation the NBA playoffs were created for Monday night.
It was the bedrock of an instant classic: the Nets down two points, his number called in the huddle, his game to win, lose or extend.
Jason Kidd had 17 rebounds in the Nets loss to the Cavs. Kidd is only the fifth guard in the last 30 years with 17 or more rebounds in a playoff game. The others: the Lakers' Magic Johnson (18 in 1981), Chicago's Michael Jordan (19 in 1991), Boston's Paul Pierce (17 in 2002) and Sacramento's Bonzi Wells (17 in 2006).
AP Photo/LM Otero
Steve Nash confronts the man who just committed a Flagrant 2 foul on his person (see below for flagrant foul details).
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
The penalties for accumulated flagrant fouls in the playoffs:
A player will receive one point for Flagrant 1 fouls and two points for Flagrant 2 fouls. If the player's point total exceeds 3 points, he will receive an automatic suspension following the game in which his point total exceeds 3 points and for each additional flagrant foul committed during the playoffs, as follows:
• Player at 2 points commits a Flagrant 2 foul: automatic one-game suspension
• Player at 3 or 4 points commits a Flagrant 1 foul: automatic one-game suspension
• Player at 3 or 4 points commits a Flagrant 2 foul: automatic two-game suspension
• Player at 5 points or more commits a Flagrant foul (1 or 2): automatic two-game suspension
San Antonio's Robert Horry now has two points and Bruce Bowen had one entering Wednesday's game. Golden State's Jason Richardson has two.
-- Marc Stein
Over the last 10 years, the Spurs have been one of the best teams in the NBA. Their 82 playoff wins tie the Lakers for the most in the league in that time. They can eclipse the Lakers with a win in Game 5.
They have won 19 playoff series, which is second in the NBA in that time. And they have won three titles in that span, which is tied for the most in the league.
-- ESPN Research
Smithsonian (D.C.): How 'bout them Jazz?! If they make it to the Western Conference finals, do you see them trying to move AK-47 or Mehmet Okur for a 2-guard, or will they stick with the same roster?
John Hollinger: If they make the WCF I think they're much less likely to try to do any major surgery in the offseason. Biggest need remains a 3-point threat, Gordan Giricek has never quite answered the bell there.
Jake (Oregon): Now that the Jazz are in control against Golden State, I've been thinking in hypotheticals. How would a Jazz-Mavs series have gone?
John Hollinger: I was thinking about the same thing today. Jazz probably would have put AK on Dirk Nowitzki, but Carlos Boozer would be having a much more difficult time against DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier. Probably a lot slower paced and more physical, but the way Utah and Dallas were going by the end of round 1, would it be that big a shock if the Jazz were up 3-1 on Dallas too?
RL (N.Y.): What adjustments do you see Don Nelson making before their next game?
John Hollinger: For some reason, the Warriors had trouble taking advantage of Harpring's matchup on D Sunday night, something they had great success with in Games 2 and 3. But biggest thing is Nellie has to find a new defensive wrinkle ... maybe he picks up full court or traps half court, something to raise the energy and get more deflections that lead out to easy buckets.