Nash says Suns need to show more fight in Game 4

PHOENIX -- Sporting a small wound over his right eye, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash was backed up against a wall as he met with reporters after practice Monday.

That's where Nash's Suns will find themselves if they don't play better in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night. They're feeling bruised, but not beaten, after a 95-88 Game 3 loss to Dallas on Sunday left them trailing 2-1.

Afterward Nash, who got cut early in the game, said the Suns needed to show more fight. On Monday, Nash said he wasn't trying to send a message through the media because he had told his teammates the same thing.

"I think at times we've been a little too passive," Nash said.

The Suns have to change that quickly or they will be eliminated one step short of the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.

"It's a must-win-game situation Tuesday night," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We win that, it's a two-out-of-three series. Obviously they have home court, but we've shown that we can win there."

Nash said one reason for the Suns' struggles is the absence of guard Raja Bell, who has missed the past two games with a strained left calf. Bell is not expected to play in Game 4.

"It's a must-win-game situation Tuesday night. We win that, it's a two-out-of-three series. Obviously they have home court, but we've shown that we can win there."
Mike D'Antoni

Bell scored only eight points in Phoenix's 121-118 Game 1 victory at Dallas. But he brings a fire that the Suns have lacked in the past two games. It was Bell who floored Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in Game 5 of the opening round, drawing a flagrant foul and a one-game suspension. The Suns won that game and the next two to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

Bell said he agreed with Nash's assessment that the Suns had their shoulders slumped in the second half Sunday night, when they scored only 36 points.

"I did see it a little bit, and I don't know what to attribute that to," Bell said. "I think we have to find that [energy] from whoever's suited up."

Phoenix seemed to slump after an altercation late in the first half between the Mavericks' Jason Terry and the Suns' Tim Thomas. Thomas had drawn a flagrant foul from Josh Howard, who hit Thomas in the face as the Phoenix forward drove to the basket. As Thomas headed to the free throw line, he walked through a group of Mavericks, and he and Terry exchanged shoves. Both players were assessed technicals.

"It's just a situation where we're standing together and he walks right through us," said Terry, who had been suspended for one game for throwing a punch in the second round against San Antonio. "Hey, stuff happens in a game. It's the Western Conference finals and guys are going to do whatever it takes.

"That was just a situation where it was kind of edgy. The momentum was shifting either way. They benefited from it more than we did."

Actually, the altercation sparked the Mavericks. They trailed by 10 points after Thomas made his free throws but pulled to 52-47 at the half. Including a 12-2 burst at the start of the third quarter, Dallas outscored the Suns 17-2 after the technicals were assessed.

In each of the series' first three games, the Mavericks have trailed at halftime but rallied to lead in the fourth quarter. In Game 1 they let the Suns come back to win, but in the past two games Dallas has outscored Phoenix by a combined 106-82 after intermission.

That gap indicates that the Mavericks are adjusting to the Suns' up-tempo style, and that Phoenix has been unable to cope.

Phoenix had 13 assists in Game 3 after averaging 23.5 the first two games. The Suns did not record a steal Sunday night, which was a big reason why they were held to four fast-break points (Dallas had 14).

When the Suns don't run, they're done. The Mavericks sense that, which is why they've committed to hustling back on defense.

"We still had some malfunctions, and they just didn't make some of their shots," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. "Sometimes stats are a little bit misleading. We think, compared to Game 1, which was pretty bad, our transition defense has improved, but it wasn't flawless."

Throughout their 54-win season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Suns have maintained that they don't worry about their opponents' strategy, and that they can dictate the pace whenever they want.

They still believe that, even though the Mavericks have proved them wrong in the last two games.

"We're not working the ball," Nash said. "We're kind of just falling asleep at the wheel. We're not playing our style."