But Steve Nash and an agile big man? They still haven't figured
that one out.
With Nash picking up where he left off against his former team
last postseason and Boris Diaw filling the role of Amare
Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns erased a late nine-point deficit and
beat the Mavericks 121-118 Wednesday night in a thrilling,
fast-paced start to the Western Conference finals.
Nash scored 10 of his 27 points in the final 3:26, then set up
Shawn Marion on a go-ahead basket with 43 seconds left. After
Dallas regained the lead on a jumper by Devin Harris with 4.8
seconds to go, Diaw swished a turnaround 7-footer with a
half-second remaining on a play originally designed for Nash.
"I saw their bench basically yelling out exactly what was going
to happen, so I was like, 'OK, Plan B," Nash said. "I was about
to call timeout, but ... Tim (Thomas) got it inside and Boris made
a heck of a play."
Diaw scored a career-high 34 points, showing on a big stage why
he was voted the league's most improved player and why the Suns are
back in the conference finals for the second straight year despite
having had Stoudemire for only three games.
"At one point there was a label on him that he was a soft,
non-competitive player," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I'm
telling you he's just the opposite. ... He's one of the most
competitive guys we have, just an intelligent basketball player
that knows how to play."
Harris scored a career-high 30 and Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points
and 19 rebounds, but the Mavericks blew their late lead with a
spurt of turnovers and a lack of defensive stops when they needed
"We were just bad tonight in a lot of different areas that we
have to improve on in a hurry," coach Avery Johnson said.
It shouldn't have been too much of a surprise, though, because
the combination of Nash and Stoudemire carried the Suns past the
Mavs in the second round of last year's playoffs. Stoudemire scored
between 30 and 40 each of the first three games, then Nash burned
them with between 34 and 48 over the last three games.
Dallas fans might not be able to take more of these
heart-stopping finishes this postseason. The Mavericks were coming
off a second-round series against San Antonio that included six
games decided at the end, including Game 7 in overtime.
One consolation for the Mavs is that they also lost the opener
to the Spurs. Another is that Game 2 is in Dallas on Friday night.
For Phoenix, this furious finish stuff is becoming fun.
The Suns lost all seven regular-season games decided by three
points or less, then dropped another early in the playoffs. But now
they've won two nail-biters, having also beaten the Clippers 94-91
in Game 3 of the previous round.
Both teams lost starters to leg injuries -- Josh Howard for
Dallas (sprained right ankle) and Raja Bell (strained left calf)
for Phoenix. The Suns also are concerned about Marion, who had 24
points and 13 rebounds but appeared to hurt his left ankle in the
Asked if he'll be able to play Game 2, Marion said, "Hey, I
don't have a choice."
Howard is having an MRI on Thursday to determine if and when
he'll return. Bell left the locker room on crutches.
"I felt it pop," he said. "It's pretty painful. But I've got
to be optimistic. I want to play. We'll see how it feels in the
Johnson said Howard's absence creates "a big void" on both
ends of the court. Besides covering Marion, he's one of Dallas'
best attackers. He scored six points in his six minutes; Dallas is
21-0 this season when he scores 20 points.
Although both teams were coming off Game 7 wins Monday night,
there was no emotional or physical letdown either way. The track
meet everyone expected was off and running from the start.
It was 62-58 at halftime and both teams were making at least
half their shots. They were even more accurate in the third
quarter, surpassing the Game 1 scoring total from the Eastern
Conference final between Miami and Detroit before the fourth even
Dallas went ahead for the first time with Harris leading a 13-2
run midway through the third quarter. Then a 13-0 burst at the end
of the third and start of the fourth looked like it was going to be
the difference, especially with the Mavs still up 114-105 with 3:43
Then, Nash -- the league's two-time MVP -- decided it was time to
stop distributing and start scoring. He scored Phoenix's next 10
points on a pair of 3-pointers, a layup and two foul shots.
"I guess, in a way, I tried to be a little more aggressive,"
said Nash, who had 16 assists, the most by anyone this postseason
and one shy of his career high.
Harris, now in Nash's old role of driving the Mavs' up-tempo
attack, nearly made Nash's big effort a side note with his shot.
But there was still plenty of time for the Suns.
After Diaw's shot, Dallas had a throw-in from near the Phoenix
bench, but Marquis Daniels missed Nowitzki and threw the ball out
of bounds. The Suns tacked on two more points with 0.2 left on a
pair of free throws by Thomas, who scored 17.
While officials took their time deciding how much time was
remaining, fans began streaming out and Nowitzki threw the ball at
the front of the scorers table in anger.
Jerry Stackhouse scored 16 points for the Mavs and Jason Terry
added 15. Daniels had nine and Keith Van Horn, who is likely to see
a lot of time this series, scored seven on 3-of-11 shooting. He was
1-of-7 on 3-pointers.
Harris, who had only nine points the two previous games, made
eight straight shots in the second half and finished 12-of-17.
Trying to save a loose ball in the third quarter, Phoenix's
Leandro Barbosa instead spiked it hard into assistant coach Marc
Iavaroni. ... Dallas C Erick Dampier started for the second
straight time after having coming off the bench since January.
Deposed starter DeSagana Diop, who broke his nose Monday night,
didn't play. ... Stoudemire is on Phoenix's active roster and was
shooting before the game, but was made inactive.