DALLAS, May 20 (Ticker) -- Steve Nash
stuck the dagger in the Dallas
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Nash again victimized his former team with 39 points, 12
assists, nine rebounds and every big play down the stretch as
the Phoenix Suns reached the Western Conference finals for the
first time in 12 years with a 130-126 overtime victory.
The top-seeded Suns closed out the fourth-seeded Mavericks in
six games to move into the conference finals for the first time
since 1993, when they were led by NBA MVP Charles Barkley. This
time, they were led by Nash, who has removed all doubt about
his MVP award.
"Before the series I wasn't sure he was the MVP, but I
definitely believe he's the MVP of the league now," Mavericks
swingman Jerry Stackhouse
Over the last four games of the series, Nash averaged 37.0
points, 11.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds. Three of those were in
the American Airlines Center, where he had spent the previous
six seasons and provided repeated reminders of what the
Mavericks let go last summer.
"I just have had such a great time with my teammates this year,"
Nash said. "We've really done some special things. Not many
players get to experience 60 wins and get to have as much fun as
we had this year.
"When the playoffs come, the older you get, you realize you
don't get that many opportunities at this. You kind of see the
end of your career at some point. Although it's a long way off,
you realize the urgency in that."
Although Nash's recent run has included a career-high 48 points
and his first career postseason triple-double, this one may have
been the best of all. With the Suns seconds away from heading
back home for the unknown of a Game 7, Nash quickly dribbled
upcourt and drilled a 3-pointer that made it 111-111 with 5.7
"I'm not sure exactly what the time was, but going at that speed
you know you can get some separation," Nash said. "I figured
I'd get a pretty good look at it."
Stackhouse missed a 3-pointer and Nash and Shawn Marion
took charge in overtime, combining for all but one of
Phoenix's 19 points. They worked a beautiful pick-and-roll that
led to Marion's teardrop shot, giving the Suns a 123-118 lead
with 1:46 remaining.
Marion scored 11 of his 38 points in overtime and grabbed 16
rebounds - both playoff career highs -- as he picked up the slack
for foul-plagued All-Star center Amare Stoudemire
. The Suns
made a pair of charges in the fourth quarter, both with
Stoudemire off the floor.
"Obviously it's not what we wanted. We couldn't get any
breaks," Nash said. "(Stoudemire) kept getting kind of some
ticky-tack fouls and fouled out."
"It was a feel for the game at the time," Marion said. "Amare
was in foul trouble most of the game so I was getting more
involved and he (Nash) was finding me. I had it going."
While the Suns rallied around their star in Nash, the Mavericks
unraveled around All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki
, who was barking
at teammates but missed all five of his shots in overtime.
Nowitzki and Nash were best friends as Dallas teammates.
The run-and-gun Suns erased a 16-point third-quarter deficit,
squandered a five-point fourth-quarter lead and trailed, 104-99,
with less than three minutes to play. But they kept coming
behind Nash, who scored eight points in the final minute of
"Steve Nash had an incredible series," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson
said. "He is playing as good basketball as I have seen
him play in his career."
Stoudemire scored 18 points and Jim Jackson
added 16 for the
Suns, who have less than 40 hours before hosting second-seeded
San Antonio in Sunday's conference finals opener.
"It was a great series and the good news is that we passed, but
the bad news is that we have a quick turnaround and San Antonio
is waiting for us," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
scored a postseason career-high 36 points but made a
crucial mental error and Nowitzki added 28 and 13 rebounds for
Dallas, which was just 3-4 at home in the postseason.
Stoudemire committed his fifth foul late in the third quarter
and took a seat. With Nash at the controls, the Suns opened the
fourth period with a 14-2 run and took a 91-86 lead on a dunk
by the otherwise quiet Quentin Richardson
at the 8:08 mark.
Stoudemire came back, but so did Dallas. Nowitzki sank two free
throws and a 3-pointer before a free throw by Stackhouse gave
the Mavericks a 104-99 bulge with 2:40 to go.
After Stoudemire fouled out, Nash drilled a 3-pointer for a
106-105 lead with a minute left, but Howard made a layup and
Nowitzki hit two foul shots for a 109-106 advantage with 27
seconds to play.
Nash drove for a layup and -- after Stackhouse made a pair from
the line -- did not call timeout, dribbled upcourt and buried the
tying 3-pointer over Terry, who had a chance to foul but did
not, earning an on-court tongue-lashing from Nowitzki.
"It's a tough play to defend," Nash said. "We had run a bunch
of pick-and-rolls and we pushed the ball down the court. It's
really difficult to defend someone who's pushing the ball full
speed down the court. You don't know if he's going to come off
the pick-and-roll, you don't know if he's going to go in for a
"You just can't give up a three at that point," Stackhouse said.
"We've got to do everything we can to make a guy drive and get
two points. We backed off of him, he was in a groove and
feeling good, he just stepped right into it and knocked down a
Nash and Marion sank consecutive 3-pointers early in overtime,
giving Phoenix the lead for good at 119-114. In the final
seconds, Dallas had a chance to tie, but Nowitzki missed badly
on a 3-pointer and Nash made two free throws to seal it at
128-123 with 8.3 seconds to go.
Richardson had 11 points and 13 boards for the Suns, who shot
49.5 percent (48-of-97) from the field and held a 55-47
advantage on the glass. Josh Howard
had 21 points and 14 boards
and Stackhouse scored 19 points for the Mavericks, who shot 43
percent (42-of-97) and made 35-of-43 free throws.
With Stoudemire struggling and Nowitzki, Terry and Howard
providing a triple threat, Dallas opened an 80-64 lead in the
third quarter before 3-pointers by Nash and Jackson capped a
13-0 surge that made it a game again.
"I think when we get down, we get a sense of urgency to come
back," Marion said. "We can score 16 points in just a couple
minutes, so it's just a matter of us staying focused and getting
some stops to help ourselves to get back in it."