A Sundrop of D
How would Nash top Game 4's 48 points? How 'bout a triple-double by the third quarter?
PHOENIX -- The aim for both coaches is actually the same. Avery Johnson and Mike D'Antoni openly say it every day, to their players and anyone from the press who will listen.
Just keep the other team under 105, and we'll win.
Just one of the many reasons we'll miss this series when it's gone.
You won't see another series like it this postseason, and the soap opera spectacle of Steve Nash tormenting his old team is only one reason. It's the biggest reason, of course, but Nash going Oscar Robertson on the Mavs in Game 5 with 34 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds in the Suns' 114-108 triumph -- as a tidy little encore to Sunday's 48 points -- was merely a fraction of the fun at America West Arena.
The grudge element is certainly growing, with another Dallas alumnus (Jim Jackson) dishing out his own torment unto the Mavericks, but, again, there's more here. Wednesday's game was a complete game.
You saw the usual back-and-forth game of scoreboard overload, but you likewise saw some legit, playoff defense.
The final score doesn't reflect it, true, and neither team held the opposition under the magical 105 barrier.
You could honestly call this a defensive struggle for three quarters, by the standards of the teams involved, with Dallas clinging to a 77-76 lead entering the fourth. It was conceivable, at that shocking pace, that neither team would make it to 100, which would have been the upset of the playoffs so far.
You could also make a serious claim that defense -- one brief but decisive dose of D -- won Game 5 as much as anything for the Suns.
In those first three quarters, it was Dallas' defense that you noticed most. The Mavericks, for the second successive game, simply refused to let Phoenix uncork a scoring run of any significance. The Suns were held to only four fast-break points at halftime, reminiscent of their struggles to run in Game 2 and Game 4 defeats.
"I thought the wind was out of our sails," Nash said.
Then it all changed during a dogged span of resistance from the hosts to start the fourth quarter. With Nash resting on the bench, and D'Antoni playing two more subs than usual in crunch time -- Leandro Barbosa and Walter McCarty -- Phoenix held Dallas scoreless for the first 3:16 of the fourth.
It's more impressive than it sounds. In that span, Phoenix scored nine unanswered points. The Mavericks, meanwhile, went 0-for-4 from the floor with two turnovers, and the contrast enabled the Suns to turn a one-point deficit into an 85-77 lead. And the lead held up once the usual back-and-forth scoring bursts resumed.
"The best thing (tonight) was our energy defensively," Nash said. "We gave up a lot of points, but we made it really hard for them (at the end)."
Better than a triple-double? Better than the best rebounding game of his life?
Nash nodded his head yes, knowing that the Suns will need at least a couple more shutout spurts to get the victory they need to finish off the stubborn guys who really aren't ready for this to end.
It's Game 5 of the second round of the playoffs and Steve Nash is supposed to be wearing down.
Aren't you, Steve?
"Stereotypes, I guess," Nash said with a sheepish grin.
The Suns hardly looked daisy-fresh at the end of Game 5, with Shawn Marion playing all 48 minutes and Jim Jackson, at 34, playing 45 in his ongoing role as a fill-in starter for the injured Joe Johnson. Suns coach Mike D'Antoni trusted only three reserves (Leandro Barbosa, Steven Hunter and Walter McCarty) for a total of 28 minutes, in which the trio combined for three points.
The encouraging news for D'Antoni: Nash looks like he's getting stronger. Nash totaled 27 points and 17 assists in Game 3, followed by a 48-point outburst in Game 4, followed by Wednesday's 34 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds.
"I feel great," he says.
Bear in mind, though, that the Suns won't have two days off to prepare for Game 6 in Dallas as they had leading up to Game 5. It remains to be seen if Nash will look this fresh Friday night. And Game 7, if necessary, is Sunday back in Phoenix.
Bear in mind, too, that Nash did look tired at the end of the third quarter, forcing D'Antoni to sit Nash to start the fourth. Yet the Suns survived his absence and got Nash back for seven points in the game's final seven minutes.
"He is a tough little player," Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki said of his old pal. "We all know it."
Nowitzki, incidentally, merits a mention for his toughness. Nowitzki took a swipe to the left eye from Jackson in the third quarter and needed some brief treatment in the locker room before returning. Nowitzki then scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 34, his highest output of the playoffs.
Marc Stein, at America West Arena in Phoenix
Tune in for Game 6 Thursday night.
Even if you're sure San Antonio's going to close it out, tune in.
Because this is probably your last chance to see the Sonics as we've come to know and love them. This Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang club, full of free agents welded and wired together -- nine or 10 of them, if you include free-agent head coach Nate McMillan -- somehow flew in the face of conventional wisdom and to ridiculously unexpected heights. And now it's almost certainly about to break up.
The playoffs move on; a week from now nobody remembers this club. Nobody's talking about Reggie Evans' relentless hard-hat work under the boards all year, Rashard Lewis' breakout season or Luke's big Game 4. Next time we look it'll be like, "Where'd everybody go?" And, "Yo, Luke, keep your head up, young Jedi."
Before the season, we were all wringing our hands over the fact that the Pacers and Pistons might meet in the second round of the playoffs. It just didn't seem right. It seemed it would rob us of the East finals we deserved.
At that point, the Pacers and Pistons were seen as the East powerhouses, with the Heat a third wheel. And yet, because the two teams play in the same division, one would be the fourth seed and they would be forced to play prematurely.
But Detroit trailed Miami all season, and Indiana barely crawled into sixth place in the East, after surviving the Nov. 19 brawl and numerous injuries. From there, the Pacers outlasted a soft No. 3 seed, the Celtics, and now we're right back where we thought we didn't want to be -- Pacers-Pistons, second round.
I can't say we're lucky, because these two teams are hard to watch, especially when they get together. But a playoff system that makes little sense has, by sheer happenstance, given us a series that makes perfect sense.
Play of the Day
Marc Stein, in Phoenix
His face swollen from his May 11 injury, Joe Johnson received an enthusiastic greeting from the Phoenix faithful, who hope their team survives long enough to see Johnson's return to the playoffs.
Tonight Steve Nash became the first player with at least 30 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in an NBA postseason game since Jerry West did it in 1969.
The only other player ever to record a 30-12-12 playoff game was Oscar Robertson, who did it four times.
Magic Johnson had an NBA-record 30 postseason triple-doubles, but he didn't score as many as 30 points in any of them.
Elias Sports Bureau, Inc.
Aaron (PHX): I think you should come up with a mathematical calculation for the most powerful dunker in the NBA. I put Amare on top of that list. How 'bout you?
John Hollinger: Darvin Ham. Watch Detroit in garbage time.
Jeff (Iowa): Eric, how 'bout some love for Reggie and his buddies?
Eric Neel: The Pacers thing is interesting, right?
On the one hand, this postseason is pure torture, an endless game of "what if."
On the other hand, this postseason is their finest hour because Reggie's come alive when nobody had a right to expect more from him, because they've played tough, because Jeff Foster's been a Hoover, because at times Tinsley's looked unstoppable at the top of the circle.
It's the essence of ambivalence: You feel terrible and good for them/about them at the same time.
They say closing out a series is the toughest thing to do.
Uh ... not for Detroit.
The Pistons are 7-0 in their last seven closeout games:
In other words, for the last three seasons, including this year, they've ended their successful series on a winning streak.
Indiana, you've been warned.