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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Phoenix Rings Dallas' Bell 106-86, Evens Western Conference Finals at 2-2

Four Phoenix Suns scored more points than Raja Bell's nine in the Suns' 106-86 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night but Bell had a huge impact on the game. His return to the starting lineup provided some much needed fire and grit and strengthened the Suns' bench by enabling Leandro Barbosa (24 points on 10-13 field goal shooting) to return to his role as a non-starter. Steve Nash had 21 points and seven assists and Boris Diaw produced 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and one "facial" on Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks completely failed to execute their game plan of forcing turnovers, limiting their own turnovers and running the shot clock down. Dallas committed 14 turnovers while only forcing seven and failed to control the pace of the game. Josh Howard led Dallas with 16 points--14 of them in the first half--and nine rebounds, while Nowitzki had a very rough night: 11 points on 3-13 field goal shooting and seven rebounds, ending his streak of six straight playoff games with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.

It is not necessarily shocking that the Suns won a game on their homecourt but it is surprising that they routed Dallas by 20. The Mavericks' four previous playoff losses this year came by a combined 11 points. Most statistical indicators pointed steadily downward for Phoenix since game one, which the Suns won on a last second shot, but the X-factor for Phoenix is always energy. When the Suns are energetic and aggressive on defense and in pursuit of loose balls that translates into open court opportunities and then it becomes a feeding frenzy. The Suns are 2-0 in this series when Bell plays and 0-2 when he sits out.

This game looked like it could turn out to be a classic case of what Yogi Berra might call "deja vu all over again." The Suns led by as much as 11 in the first half before Dallas trimmed the margin to 51-46 at halftime. In the previous two games, Phoenix had halftime leads but wilted in the second half and the Mavericks won. Dallas did take the lead briefly in the third quarter and with 3:09 remaining in the period the score was tied at 67. The Suns then went on a 25-6 run, ensuring that one of these teams will face elimination in a sixth game in Phoenix.

Speaking of "deja vu all over again," during the second quarter TNT analyst Steve Kerr made an observation that should sound very familiar to 20 Second Timeout readers. He said that Nash's ability to drive baseline and then find cutters flashing to the basket reminds him of Wayne Gretzky. This is what I wrote about Nash and Gretzky almost two months ago (in this post: Kobe Scores 51 but the Lakers Play Like Zeroes):

"Speaking of hockey, the way that Nash dribbles behind the basket on one side and comes out the other to either make a shot or deliver an assist is reminiscent of how Wayne Gretzky operated in his 'office' behind the goalie."

posted by David Friedman @ 12:49 AM


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At Wednesday, May 31, 2006 1:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Digging the 'stache man. As far as Nash, he's definitely got some superb passing skills, but he needs to mix it up a little. Too often he'll drive toward the basket, the defenders run away from him to defend the pass, and Nash will just take it back outside to try something else while I'm shouting, "Take the damn shot".

At Wednesday, May 31, 2006 6:26:00 PM, Anonymous hector said...

This is a comment I made on "The End of the Bench" blog in January:

A lot of NBA-level players can shoot well, if they’re left wide open. The key is that Steve Nash is (1) a great shooter, so when he penetrates, the defence has to collapse on him, which almost always leaves someone wide open — and Nash then (2) sees the open man, and (3) delivers a pass right into his hands.

This is exactly what made Wayne Gretzky so great, the same combination: a great shot, great vision (in basketball terms, court awareness), and an ability to drop a perfect, soft pass right on his open teammate’s stick.

Comment by hector — Thursday, January 19, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

At Wednesday, May 31, 2006 11:01:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Kerr probably reads your blog. Its amazing how if you work on your game that it really can improve.
Raja Bell was a deep on the bench player. Now he can score and he is a force.
I remember watching NBATV and the Suns practice sessions when D'Antoni was saying to Bell "Keep shooting. You will shoot 300 of those this year." I said RAJA BELL, he cant shoot.
Obviously he worked on it and the youth of today should realize that there is always room for improvement.
Sorry I went off on a tangent for a minute.

At Thursday, June 01, 2006 2:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous: sometimes it seems like it does throw Nash off if the defenders stick with their men and don't double-team him; Nash's first inclination is to pass, not to score. Considering Nash's shooting percentages and assist totals, it is difficult to criticize his decision making process too much--the results are usually pretty good.


Clearly, the Nash-Gretzky analogy is a case of great minds thinking alike, right? You, me and Steve Kerr :)


Not sure if Kerr regularly reads the blog or not. He does know about it, because I have spoken with him a few times and mentioned the site.

Bell is a nice story. He actually has been a good three point shooter throughout his career (.377 coming into this season), but this year he increased his accuracy on two pointers, three pointer and free throws. As you said, hard work pays off.


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