Clash of the Titans: Phoenix Wears Down Dallas, 129-127 (2 OT)In a highly entertaining prelude to a possible playoff showdown, the Phoenix Suns took a 16 point first half lead over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night and survived a huge Dallas comeback to prevail 129-127 in double overtime. Both teams made impressive runs just when the other team seemed to have put the game out of reach. Steve Nash had 32 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds. He scored 10 points in the last 57 seconds of regulation and hit the three pointer that tied the game at 111, sending the contest into overtime. Nash also made a key defensive play near the end of the second overtime, deflecting a Dallas inbounds pass off of Jason Terry, regaining possession for the Suns. Amare Stoudemire also had a tremendous night, making 12 consecutive field goals at one point and finishing with 41 points and 10 rebounds, shooting a blistering 16-19 from the field. Jerry Stackhouse led Dallas with a season-high 33 points, while Dirk Nowitzki had 30 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. Nowitzki shot just 11-28 from the field, missed a key free throw late in regulation, and cost his team a point in the second overtime by losing his composure and getting whistled for a technical foul (he did seem to have a legitimate gripe but chose the wrong time and manner to express it). He also missed a jumper that could have tied the game at the end of the second overtime. Jason Terry finished with 27 points, five assists and five rebounds.
While this is a thrilling win for the Suns and their fans, it is important to note that Phoenix is still just 2-6 against the other top teams in the West--Dallas, San Antonio and Utah--while Dallas is 5-3 against San Antonio, Phoenix and Utah. This game showcased all of Phoenix' strengths and weaknesses. The Suns are a great offensive team. Nash is a masterful creator and a very accurate shooter. Stoudemire is not merely living off of Nash's assists but also creating his own opportunities with powerful one on one drives to the hoop. Shawn Marion is "Mr. Do Everything," contributing 15 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. The speedy Leandro Barbosa provides instant offense off of the bench (17 points). The Suns shot .557 from the field and made more than .800 of their fourth quarter field goal attempts. The bad news? The Mavericks pounded them on the glass, 55-38, including 27 offensive rebounds. The Mavericks accomplished a 32 point swing--from down 16 to up 16--by being physical, shutting off dribble penetration and attacking the Suns in the paint on offense. Phoenix will not become bigger, stronger or more aggressive in the playoffs. What will happen in a playoff game if the Suns are not able to shoot at such an astronomical rate? Dallas is a more physical team and a more defensive minded team. Anyone who has watched Phoenix play knows that even if the Suns have a double digit lead that the other team can come back. The Suns cannot put away teams because they don't have the mindset to play the kind of defense that is necessary to do that. During the regular season they can run most of the inferior teams out of the gym, hitting them with waves and waves of offense. This style does not work at the championship level of the playoffs, because in the postseason there is more time off between games and all of the teams have at least eight highly talented players. Barring an injury to Nowitzki, I cannot see the Suns beating the Mavericks in a seven game series, nor can I see them beating the Spurs in a seven game series unless Tim Duncan is sidelined by injury.
This game does reveal at least one chink in Dallas' armor, though, and this must not be glossed over: the Mavericks seem to lack a killer instinct at times. Who can forget last year's NBA Finals, when Dallas was just six minutes away from taking a 3-0 lead? Who would have thought at that point that the Mavericks would not win another game in that series? Dallas was one free throw or one rebound or one stop away from winning this game in the fourth quarter but failed to grasp each of those opportunities. Detroit raced to a great regular season record last year but faltered in the playoffs. Dallas will face tougher teams in the 2007 Western Conference playoffs than the Pistons did in the 2006 Eastern Conference playoffs, including a San Antonio Spurs team that has looked unbeatable since the All-Star break. This loss has to remind Dallas' players and coaches of last year's failure in the Finals. Dallas' theme this year is supposed to be "Finish" and the Mavericks certainly failed to do that on Wednesday night. The rematch in a couple weeks in Phoenix, the final regular season meeting between these two teams, should be very interesting.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:46 AM