MVP takes high road in Big D
Nash nailed 5-of-8 3-pointers on his way to a near triple-double.
Nash looked your Daily Dime correspondent in the eye and did what Nash does.
"I know people are going to keep asking me, but I've let all the bitterness go," Nash said as he exited the interview room, having dispatched his old Dallas pals into summer with what many here described as the best game he's ever played.
"I already had all the satisfaction I need before this series even started. All I wanted tonight was for my team to win."
Nash got what he says he wanted by sparking the infliction of a 130-126 overtime defeat -- a defeat that will haunt the Mavericks even more than their epic collapse in the 2003 conference finals. Dallas carried a 13-point lead over San Antonio into the final quarter of that Game 6, without an injured Dirk Nowitzki, and seemed certain to force a Game 7 on the road in which all of the pressure would have been foisted onto the Spurs. In a hailstorm of 3s that night, they self-destructed.
This had to be more painful.
This was Dallas, with a healthy Nowitzki, blowing a 16-point lead with 4:01 to go in the third quarter in front of the largest crowd ever at American Airlines Center. This was Dallas letting the razor-thin Suns -- without the injured Joe Johnson and a fouled-out Amare Stoudemire at the finish -- force overtime even after the hosts amazingly held Phoenix scoreless for nearly four minutes in crunch time.
This was a series that should have at least gone seven, given the Suns' vulnerability after losing Johnson. This was the Mavericks losing in six, and eliminated on their home floor, because of the little Canadian who, at 31, was deemed no longer capable of doing this kind of shredding in the playoffs by Mavs owner Mark Cuban.
Thirty-nine points, 12 assists and nine rebounds' worth of shredding, while playing all but three of the 53 minutes.
"I think he really wanted to show all of Dallas what we (let go)," Nowitzki said of his best friend, "and he really did that."
Intimates who've known Nash longer than Nowitzki has insist that the motivation he gained from the last summer's messy divorce fuels the freshly minted Most Valuable Player more than he'll ever admit.
Oooh, that smarts.
Cuban, likewise, wasn't ready to admit anything in defeat, no matter how many times he was pressed. Even after seeing Nash beat out Shaquille O'Neal for the MVP trophy, and then play at a level befitting Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson in this series, Cuban insisted that he would have let Nash go to sign Erick Dampier and Jason Terry "a hundred times out of a hundred."
He didn't stop there. Told that wide segments of the basketball public, locally and nationally, were bound to use these results to grade the Mavs' decision to part with Nash, Cuban said: "They're idiots, then. Next question."
Reason being? Cuban says he feels "180 degrees" different than he did last spring, when Nash shot 38.6 percent from the floor in a five-game, first-round exit to Sacramento. Cuban came out of that series convinced that the franchise needed a major philosophical change. He thinks this group, by contrast, needs only time and some tweaking, and maybe he's right. I've said numerous times that the Mavs are high on my list of overachievers this season, having overcome Nash's defection and numerous injuries and a very late coaching change in mid-March to win 58 games, plus a seven-game epic with Houston.
Cuban need only point to the Phoenix Shredders for confirmation that perceptions can change quickly. Suns president Bryan Colangelo was roundly skewered in recent years for trading away Jason Kidd and then the star guard he got for Kidd (Stephon Marbury). Now he's the Executive of the Year, having squired Nash away from Dallas.
Even Nash keeps saying that assessments are premature. Asked one last time to finally declare that Cuban has made a mistake -- or at least confirm Suns coach Mike D'Antoni's suspicion that Nash has an "extra pep in his step" whenever he sees his old boss sitting near the floor -- Nash passed yet again.
In a predictably pedestrian and gentlemanly close to a thrilling and contentious series, Nash wouldn't even agree with the idea that he had just gone to a new gear no one, Nash included, knew he had. He passed off his truly sick 30.3-point scoring average on 55-percent shooting as a byproduct of his old team forcing him to shoot.
"I've never taken 20 shots a game so many games in a row before," Nash said. "That probably has as much to do with it as anything."
Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash hug after Nash's Suns eliminated Nowitzki's Mavericks from the playoffs. There was no postgame interaction between Nash and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Often in the series, Nowitzki covered Nash after a Phoenix pick-and-roll. And Nash even found himself trying to stop his 7-foot friend on occasion.
Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash had dinner at the Suns' hotel on the eve of Game 6. Before that, they visited each other's houses on off-days.
The regular get-togethers for these best friends on opposite sides have earned Nowitzki some not-so-friendly Sleeping With The Enemy jabs from a few teammates. The hot topic on Dallas sports-talk radio Friday morning focused on the notion that Nowitzki -- and other Mavericks -- haven't been as physical against Nash as they could have been because of their fondness for the little guard.
But the only Mav whose opinion matters on this matter -- coach Avery Johnson -- said before Friday's tipoff that he was not angry with Nowitzki about the fraternizing.
"Don't read too much into that," Johnson said in a scolding tone.
"It's a different time. It's a different culture."
The accepting response from the hard-driving Johnson is a bit of a surprise. Especially given his admission that, late in his playing career, Johnson never considered dining with close pal David Robinson between games of the 2003 Western Conference finals pitting Dallas against San Antonio.
"But that doesn't make me better than them or make them worse than me," Johnson said.
Nowitzki, for his part, was very clear going into the series that he and Nash would socialize on days off. No matter what anybody thought.
In a first-person account he gave to ESPN The Magazine on the eve of Game 1, Nowitzki said, "I think both teams have moved on as best we can. At the beginning, in November and December, of course it was a little bit tough to see (Nash) in a different uniform. And obviously it's a little comical that, the first year he leaves, we meet in the playoffs. But I don't really think it's going to be that hard.
"If I try to say he's just another player, of course that's a lie. I care about him like a family member. He had an unbelievable season, and I'm very proud of him. But to say this is going to be an emotional series because he's going to be on the other team, that's going a little too far.
"I don't think it's going to be weird at all. We'll be fighting on the court, but I'm sure we'll be going out for dinners like we normally would. I want to see his kids. I want to see his future wife. If we go to dinner on an off-night, we're not going to be taking about our game plans.
"We're competing against each other, but I've always said that we're going to be friends for the rest of our lives."
Marc Stein, from American Airlines Center in Dallas
The Mavericks were more physical with Steve Nash in Game 6 than they had been all series, but they couldn't stop Nash from joining Lakers great Magic Johnson as the only players to average 25 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in a single series.
Play of the Day
After a quick turnaround for Games 1 and 2, the Spurs and Suns will have three days off. Game 3 of the West finals isn't until next Saturday.
That should be a huge boost for Suns swingman Joe Johnson, who can either try to come back with limited practice time -- and wearing a mask -- in Sunday's Game 1 or perhaps skip the first game or two and get an extra week of work in before making his return.
The rest is also bound to benefit Tim Duncan's ankles and Steve Nash's hamstrings. As a result, while such a long gap between Games 2 and 3 might diminish the momentum of the series a bit, it might also give us better basketball.
Western Conference finals schedule:
Game 1: Sunday, May 22
Marc Stein's prediction for the Western Conference finals:
San Antonio 4, Phoenix 3
Factor in San Antonio's defensive prowess and its experience edge and you have to see the West's No. 2 seed as the favorite.
Yet you can only call the Spurs slight favorites, given the increasing concern about Tim Duncan's ankles and how those ankles will hold up when the Suns starting running Duncan. And with Joe Johnson coming back soon, maybe even for Sunday's Game 1, Phoenix might actually be the healthier team.
The Mavs will be haunted all summer by the mental mistakes they made at key points of Game 6.
As Marc Stein alluded to above, foremost was Jason Terry not defending the 3-point line in the final seconds of regulation, allowing Steve Nash to tie the game on a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left. Considering the time and score, Terry should have conceded the drive and played Nash for the 3-pointer.
But two other errors shouldn't be overlooked. First, the Mavs failed to get a timeout immediately after Nash's shot. Instead of their running a set play to win the game out of a timeout, Jerry Stackhouse dribbled upcourt to gun a desperation jumper that missed badly.
Then there was Nowitzki's rushed miss of a 3-pointer at the end of overtime to seal Dallas's fate. There still were 10 seconds left when he fired away, meaning the Mavs could have worked to get a much better shot.
As Nowitzki said after the game, "With Steve leaving, we weren't smart enough (this season). Overall our basketball IQ wasn't great."
The Mavericks were eliminated from the NBA playoffs Friday when the Suns overcame a 16-point third-quarter deficit for a 130-126 overtime win in Dallas.
The Mavs' 80-64 lead equaled the largest second-half cushion that any team has blown in a must-win Game 6 or 7 since the Trail Blazers blew a 71-55 lead to the Lakers in the seventh game of the Western Conference Finals in 2000.
Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Both the Mavs and the Suns scored at least 100 points in each game of the series.
The last time both teams scored at least 100 points in every game of a playoff series was the 1995 NBA Finals, when Houston swept Orlando in four games.
The last time it happened in a playoff series of six games or more was 1986, when it happened three times in the conference semis: