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Friday, June 02, 2006

We Are All Nowitznesses: Dirk's 50 Sinks the Suns

Dirk Nowitzki scored a franchise playoff record 50 points and the Dallas Mavericks held the Phoenix Suns to .456 shooting from the field in a 117-101 game five victory. The Mavericks can advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in team history with a win in Phoenix on Saturday night. Nowitzki had 22 points in the fourth quarter, two more than the entire Suns team. He shot 14-26 from the field and 17-18 from the line and had 12 rebounds, bouncing back from his 11 point, seven rebound performance in game four. Nowitzki joins Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone as the only players to have a 50-10 game in the NBA playoffs since 1970. Kobe Bryant is the only other player to score 50 points in a playoff game this year. He also did it against Phoenix, in the Lakers' game six overtime loss.

Josh Howard added 23 points and seven rebounds for the Mavericks, while Tim Thomas led Phoenix with a playoff career-high 26 points, making six of his eight three point attempts. Steve Nash (20 points, 11 assists) and Shawn Marion (20 points, 10 rebounds) each had double-doubles. Raja Bell, who provided such a lift for Phoenix last game, was clearly hobbled by his calf injury and scored only three points on 1-5 field goal shooting.

There were several remarkable momentum swings before Nowitzki seized control of the game in the fourth quarter. Dallas led 36-20 after the first quarter, forcing the Suns into an unheard of three 24-second violations. The Mavericks executed their game plan to perfection: minimize their turnovers, force Phoenix to turn the ball over, drain the shot clock unless there is a clear advantage. Nowitzki already had 13 points and the Mavericks seemed poised to blow Phoenix out. Of course, it is rarely that easy against Phoenix, because the Suns are a very resilient team that has a lot of offensive weapons. Tim Thomas scored 11 points to key a 32-22 Phoenix second quarter advantage that vaulted the Suns right back into the game. That momentum carried over into the third quarter and with 3:17 remaining in the period Thomas hit a three pointer that extended Phoenix' lead to 74-70. After the game, Nowitzki told TNT's Cheryl Miller that he felt that everything that Dallas had worked so hard for all year was slipping away. He decided that he had to take over, so he scored seven of Dallas' points in a 10-0 run. The Mavericks would not trail again the rest of the way.

Phoenix kept the game close early in the fourth quarter and only trailed 89-85 with 8:55 remaining. Then Bell fouled Howard and compounded matters by receiving a technical foul. Suns' Coach Mike D'Antoni complained so vociferously about those calls that he too was whistled for a technical foul. Nowitzki made both free throws and hit a jump shot; this four point play gave Dallas an eight point lead and Phoenix never got the margin closer than six after that.

The Lakers and Clippers each pushed Phoenix to the brink only to fall short in the seventh game. Dallas will not have that problem. The Mavericks are deeper than either of those teams and much better able to withstand--or even prevent--the Suns' trademark scoring runs. Phoenix will no doubt play with tremendous energy in game six but the Suns will fall just short of forcing their third straight seventh game.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM

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