PHOENIX, May 30 (Ticker) --Raja Bell returned and brought the Phoenix
Suns back from the postseason brink.
Bell provided an emotional spark and the Suns rediscovered their
rhythm in a thorough 106-86 beating of the Dallas Mavericks
that evened the Western Conference finals at two games each.
NBA TV highlights from Mavericks-Suns:
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Leandro Barbosa scored a playoff career-high 24 points and Steve Nash added 21 and seven assists for the second-seeded Suns, who
reached triple figures for the first time since Game 1 and
finally found a way to slow down Dirk Nowitzki.
The Suns have yet to lose with Bell and yet to win without him.
He suffered a left calf strain in the fourth quarter of their
Game 1 win and sat out losses in Games 2 and 3.
"You see what he means to us," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.
"Nature has a way of healing warriors a lot quicker. Whatever
we've needed all year, he's done it spiritually, physically,
talent-wise, whatever. And he just stepped up again."
Feared to be out for the series, Bell started and also provided
a lift. He made his first two shots en route to nine
points and played his customary annoying defense.
"We're a confident bunch," Bell said. "We always feel like we
have a chance. But we understood, winning another series being
down 1-3 was - the odds of that are slim to none. So I felt
that this was my shot. If I was going to help, then tonight was
a big game for that."
Bell's jumper started a 12-2 run that closed the third quarter
and gave the Suns a 79-67 lead. As Phoenix pulled away in the
final period, he added a driving layup - appearing to aggravate
the injury - and drew a charge on consecutive possessions before
sitting down for good with a wrap around his lower leg.
"The one thing I knew I wasn't going to be able to do today was
explode off the left leg," Bell said. That was part of the
problem coming into the game ... I tried to stay away from
situations like that. (But) I kind of forgot that I was injured
at that point, and more than pull it, it just hurt a lot. So I
think I avoided a bullet there."
"Taking charges, falling - that is Raja," Suns forward Tim Thomas said. "He is a hard-nosed warrior."
Perhaps more important, Bell's presence allowed Barbosa to
return to the bench, where he is more effective. After
struggling in the first three games, he made 10-of-13 shots,
including 4-of-6 3-pointers.
"I think Raja coming back helped (Barbosa) and settled him, but also
spread the floor out, hit a couple of shots, started getting his
confidence up," D'Antoni said. "This is LB. He's this good."
The Brazilian guard had a 3-pointer in the surge that ended the third
period, then added two more in a 17-4 spurt that opened the
fourth quarter and gave the Suns a 96-71 lead.
"We all knew what he was capable of," Nowitzki said. "He came
off the bench and really looked in rhythm. The shot looked
great. He was taking us to the basket and finishing."
Nowitzki, who was averaging 27.7 points and 16.7 rebounds in the
series, had his worst game of the postseason with 11 points on
3-of-13 shooting, adding seven rebounds.
"They did a good job once I got the ball and spun," Nowitzki
said. "They double-teamed me and they got the ball out of my
hands some. But I still have to be more aggressive and look for
"Every time he tried to take a fadeaway or any shot, we were
contesting it," said Suns forward Shawn Marion, who had the
primary responsibility on Nowitzki. "We were active and never
gave him the same look."
Boris Diaw had 20 points and nine rebounds and Marion added 15
and eight for the Suns, who shot 54 percent (43-of-79),
including 7-of-15 from beyond the arc.
"We kept our energy tonight and sustained it and they didn't
have an answer for it," Marion said. "We kept applying pressure
on them. Tonight we were able to stop them and score. Before
we would stop them and not be able to score. "
Josh Howard scored 16 points for the fourth-seeded Mavericks,
who had six players in double figures. Dallas shot just 42 percent (33-of-79), and forced just
seven turnovers as its defense disappeared.
"They played more of a complete game, and we just didn't have
it," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "We were not there
mentally or physically."
Game 5 is Thursday in Dallas.
"It's up for grabs, really," Nowitzki said. "It's 2-2, and they
showed they can beat us in a big game at home already."
Wearing a sleeve to help with circulation around his strained
left calf, Bell made a pair of early jumpers and gave the
defense a boost.
"I think the rest really helped me a lot," Bell said. "I wasn't
able to do a whole lot (Monday), so I didn't know exactly how
it was going to feel. But I was pretty committed to trying to
give it a shot and they were pretty fair with me about letting
me do that."
The biggest beneficiary was Barbosa, who had started the last
two games. He scored 13 points in the first half, when Phoenix
shot 59 percent (23-of-39) and went to the locker room with a
"Not having Raja is a trickle-down effect," D'Antoni said. "It
really affects (Barbosa)'s speed and being able to open the floor up
for another 30 minutes from a guy who can rest guys a little bit
more. Everybody takes two or three more minutes off."
As in Game 3, however, the advantage could have been bigger.
The Suns gave away a first-quarter lead although Nowitzki was
on the bench with two fouls and frittered away most of a 45-34
advantage with five-plus minutes left in the second quarter.
"I'm thinking, 'Here goes the nightmare again,'" D'Antoni said.
Jason Terry's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 67-65 with 3:48 left
in the third period, but the Mavericks made just three baskets
over the next 10-plus minutes.
"They outplayed us, outworked us on both ends of the floor,"
Terry said. "We made a lot of mistakes."