Game 2: Mavs take advantage
Erick Dampier's improved effort around the basket and the Dallas' team effort to stop the Suns' Amare Stoudemire made the difference in Game 2.
PHOENIX It wasn't a Game 7. Nor was it one of those Win Or Go Home games to stave off elimination.
It was a must-win for the Dallas Mavericks simply because it's hard to imagine how they'd ever rebound against the Phoenix Suns had they blown a Game 2 teeming with opportunity.
Dallas had so much working Wednesday night that you struggle to understand how this wound up a 108-106 nailbiter. You're even tempted to wonder aloud whether Dallas can play Phoenix any better.
The temptation grows stronger still when Dirk Nowitzki shows little willingness to entertain the inevitable postgame Driver's Seat Question, even after the Suns lost home-court advantage and Joe Johnson.
"I don't really like that word," Nowitzki said.
Driver's seat is two words, of course, but you get the point. The Mavericks feel too fortunate to leave America West Arena with a 1-1 split to do any gloating, having received so much of what they prayed for in the wake of a horrific Game 1 ... only to hang on for a shaky two-point triumph.
The Mavs had Erick Dampier's pointed response to a call-out from Nowitzki: 15 points and 12 rebounds in a longer-than-expected 27 minutes. Reveling in a series of early touches, Dampier made his first six shots and showed everyone precisely why no one inside the Mavericks' locker room (besides Dampier) got mad at Nowitzki for taking the typically frowned-upon step of publicly criticizing the moody center. It's because Dampier, as stated here before, responds best when shamed publicly.
The Mavs also had Michael Finley playing even closer to flawless than Dampier, with a retro 31 points along with get this a game defensive effort against Amare Stoudemire. One of Avery Johnson's Game 2 surprises called for Finley to shadow Stoudemire for long stretches in hopes of luring the Suns into forcing the ball down low to their big man instead of running their usual stuff. The Suns took the bait and a flummoxed Stoudemire, who never figured on seeing a little shooting guard on him, never settled in, no matter what his gaudy line (30 points and 16 boards) suggests.
The Mavs, in short, had no shortage of advantages. They controlled tempo for a half, limiting the confused Suns to a stunning four fast-break points at intermission. They faced a seriously shorthanded home team in the second half after Johnson, one of the Suns' five iron-man starters, was possibly lost for the series after falling face-first from the rim just before halftime. The Mavs, likewise, forced Suns coach Mike D'Antoni much deeper into his bench than normal by getting Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson in foul trouble.
Yet the Suns still could and really should have won anyway. Amare somehow missed an alley-oop dunk, a layup and a tip-in in quick succession in the final two minutes, when it seemed easier to convert all three shots.
Despite all of Wednesday's woes, it shouldn't really surprise you that Steve Nash was fairly upbeat as he walked out of the building.
With or without Johnson, Nash thinks his razor-thin team can live up to its status as the NBA's premier road show.
"I think we're going to be all right," Nash said.
Not until we see what the Mavs have in Game 3 will we consider disputing the MVP's claim.
The Miami Heat are the only unbeaten team left in the playoffs, and Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni thinks he knows why his team is no longer on that short list.
Too much thinking.
Overconfidence was not the young Suns' downfall in Wednesday's Game 2 loss to Dallas, D'Antoni insists. The Suns' mistake, according to the coach, was trying to exploit size mismatches in the first half instead of running first, second and third ... and then taking note of what the opponents are doing.
Like Phoenix normally does.
"Our strength is to run, [look for] pick and rolls and be the Phoenix Suns," D'Antoni said. "We didn't do that."
What they did instead is force the ball to Amare Stoudemire into a clogged middle. Dallas surprised the Suns by putting a swingman (Michael Finley) on Stoudemire and often surrounding him when Finley needed help.
"We almost tried to be a smart team out there," D'Antoni said, sounding horrified at the thought.
How about Jeff Foster?
Coming off the bench for Indiana, Foster has simply been brilliant. His 18.0 rebounds per 40 minutes leads all playoff performers, and he's shooting 56.5 percent from the floor.
He didn't miss a shot in a seven-point, 13-rebound effort in 21 minutes against Detroit in Game 1, but that was just the warm-up act for his 14 points and career-best 20 rebounds in Indiana's Game 2 upset.
Despite their decided underdog status, the Pacers are 5-4 in the playoffs but no thanks to their offense. The Pacers rank last among playoff teams in scoring (87.9 ppg), last in field-goal percentage (39.4 percent) and second to last in turnover rate (16.8 percent of their possessions).
Ranked by Offensive Efficiency, my measure of points per 100 possessions, only Denver has been less effective than Indiana. At least the Nuggets had an excuse they were going against the mighty defense of the Spurs.
In contrast, the Pacers played seven games against a middling Celtics defense and still couldn't find the basket. Now that they're facing the Pistons, the task won't get any easier.
Western Conference Semifinals
Phoenix 1, Dallas 1
Game 3: Fri., 9:30 ET, at Dallas, ESPN
San Antonio 2, Seattle 0
Game 3: Thurs., 10:30 ET, at Seattle, ESPN
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Miami 2, Washington 0
Game 3: Thurs., 8 ET, at Washington, ESPN
Detroit 1, Indiana 1
Game 3: Fri., 8 ET, at Indiana, ESPN
(AP Photo/Paul Connors)
On this fast break, the Suns lost Joe Johnson, perhaps for the rest of the series and beyond. As he absorbed a hard foul from Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse, Johnson grabbed the rim but as he swung, he lost his grip, his body rotated 180 degrees on his fall and he landed on his face. Thursday Johnson is expected to undergo surgery to repair a displaced fracture of the orbital bone.
Jeff Foster, Indiana: Foster's monster Game 2 wasn't as surprising as it sounds. Foster was playing hurt (hip and calf) at the start of the playoffs, but his 14-point, 20-rebound outburst to spark Indy to a split marked Foster's third successive playoff game with at least 12 boards.
Play of the Day
Dave (San Antonio): What do you think about Ray Allen? Does he have a point about Bruce Bowen's defense or is he just being a whiner?
Brian James: Bruce has a niche to fill to keep himself on the floor, and it is as a top flight defender. If he didn't bring the physical style of play to his game, he wouldn't be on the floor. Ask Ray if he would like him as a teammate on the Sonics. The answer would be yes.
Shouldn't Nate McMillan consider starting Nick Collison at some point?
While the rest of the Sonics are getting slapped silly by Tim Duncan and company, Collison has played two strong games. He's shooting 63.9 percent in the playoffs, and his 40-minute averages of 16.9 points and 11.9 rebounds are outstanding. Plus, he's one of the few Sonics with both the length and the mobility to competently guard Tim Duncan.
Despite all that, Collison has logged only 17 minutes in each of the first two games against San Antonio.
So how bad does it look for Washington and Seattle going into Thursday's Game 3s?
While both the Wizards and the Mavericks overcame 2-0 deficits in the 1st round, it's certainly not the norm. In fact, only 10 of the 182 teams to trail 2-0 have come back to win the series.
Here are the results of the 182 best-of-seven series in which one team led 2-0:
Won in 4: 44 times
Lost in 6: 5