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Friday, November 10, 2006

Western Shootout: Dallas Outguns the Suns in Conference Finals Rematch

Dallas and Phoenix each shot better than .540 from the field in Thursday night's Western Conference Finals rematch but the Mavericks made the crucial shots--and stops--down the stretch in an entertaining 119-112 victory. Dirk Nowitzki scored 35 points and added seven rebounds and four assists. He shot 11-19 from the field and 12-12 from the free throw line. Jason Terry scored 30 points on 9-15 field goal shooting and Jerry Stackhouse had 23 points on 10-16 field goal shooting. Leandro Barbosa (9-15 shooting) led Phoenix with 30 points, Shawn Marion (9-16) had 21 and Steve Nash narrowly missed having a triple double of dubious quality (21 points, nine assists and 10 turnovers). Amare Stoudemire contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes of playing time. The Suns are now 1-5 and have blown leads of at least nine points in each of the losses. This was the Mavericks' first win of the season; the defending Western Conference Champions are 1-4.

The Suns got off to a blazing start, leading 19-10 barely four and a half minutes into the first quarter--but three minutes later Dallas led 22-19 after Terry's three pointer. Dallas led 34-26 at the end of the first period. Stoudemire made some good plays during the quarter but showed signs of rust, too. His explosiveness seems to be improving but he does not have good balance, which leads to awkward shots, fumbled passes and personal fouls. TNT ran an interesting statistic: in the Suns' first five games they have outscored their opponents by 15 points with Stoudemire out of the game but trail by 30 points when he is in the game.

Phoenix opened the second quarter with a 16-6 run, taking a 43-40 lead on Barbosa's three point play at the 6:46 mark. Then it was the Mavericks' turn--specifically, Nowitzki and Terry, who scored all of Dallas' points in a four minute, 14-2 run that put the Mavericks back on top, 54-45. The Suns hit three straight three pointers in the waning moments of the second quarter and only trailed 60-56 at halftime. Nowitzki poured in 25 points in the first half while Barbosa made all four of his three point shots. Stoudemire scored five points on 2-2 shooting while committing no fouls in his first five minutes but only had two points on 1-4 shooting while being whistled for three fouls in his next 16 minutes. Clearly, fatigue is still a factor as he tries to regain his old form in his comeback from microfracture surgery.

The teams opened the third quarter by trading baskets like two heavyweight boxers trading punches, with Phoenix outscoring Dallas 14-10 in less than four minutes to tie the game at 70. The Mavericks closed the quarter with a 23-15 run. Nowitzki only scored six points, but he passed well out of the double team, collecting two assists. Terry had 12 points and Stackhouse had 11.

Play got a little chippy early in the fourth quarter. Barbosa collided with a driving Terry while trying to block his shot. There was a lot of contact but no foul was called. Instead, Anthony Johnson received a technical foul. Nash's free throw cut the Dallas lead to 95-88. On the ensuing possession Nash nailed a three pointer. Terry committed an offensive foul and then Barbosa scored on a drive to pull Phoenix within two. Dallas called a timeout but was unable to score and Nash's jumper tied the game at the 9:14 mark. The stage seemed to be set for the Suns to ride the energy of their home crowd to victory over the team that eliminated them in last year's playoffs. Neither team went up by more than two until Stackhouse's jumper with 4:46 remaining put Dallas up 107-104. Dallas never trailed again; the Suns made some tough shots--including Stoudemire's dunk off a Barbosa feed to pull the Suns within 109-108 and Nash's left handed jump shot in the lane to tie the score at 112--but simply could not get enough stops. After Stoudemire's dunk, TNT's Doug Collins said, "This could be his epiphany, the moment that he realizes that the knee will hold up." Hopefully that is true, but unless Stoudemire and the Suns improve a lot at the defensive end of the court all the dunks and epiphanies in the world won't mean much; Dallas outscored Phoenix 10-4 in the last 2:17 of the game.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:30 AM

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