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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Great Escape: Diaw's Dagger Does in Dallas

Dallas led Phoenix 114-105 with 3:26 left in the game and 116-110 with 1:36 remaining but Steve Nash scored 10 straight points for the Suns in 2:22 and Boris Diaw hit a game winning turnaround jumper with .5 seconds left as Phoenix stole home court advantage with a 121-118 victory (Tim Thomas provided the final margin by making two free throws after Dallas threw the ball away attempting an inbounds play). Diaw scored a career-high 34 points and Nash had a sensational game with 27 points, 16 assists and five rebounds. He hit threes, acrobatic driving layups and even postup shots, leading TNT's announcing crew to call him "a 6-2 Kevin McHale." Devin Harris led Dallas with 30 points, while Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 19 rebounds.

Dallas' strategy was to guard the three point line at all costs and the Mavericks did hold Phoenix to 5-15 three point shooting--but Nash hit two big threes in the final 2:11 of the game and the Suns shot .553 from the field due to Dallas' determination to, as TNT's Doug Collins put it, "hug" the three point shooters and not provide help against dribble penetration. Perhaps this strategy will work in the long haul--TNT's Steve Kerr said that Dallas Coach Avery Johnson was taking a page out of San Antonio's playbook for how to beat Phoenix--but Dallas gave up too many dunks and layups. The Mavericks must find a way to force Phoenix to beat them with midrange jumpers.

On the plus side for the Mavericks, they outrebounded Phoenix 48-38 and absolutely feasted on the offensive boards (18). Dallas did have the lead down the stretch after trailing for most of the early part of the game, so maybe the strategy is correct but the last minute execution of it was poor. If Dallas plays the same way for 48 minutes in game two--as opposed to 45--the Mavericks have a good chance to even the series.

Injuries could be a big story as this series progresses: Dallas' Josh Howard did not return to the game after spraining his ankle, Phoenix' Shawn Marion was hobbled by a sprained ankle and Phoenix' Raja Bell had to be assisted off of the court after he heard something pop in his lower left leg.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:58 AM

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