With Nowitzki off his game, Mavs stumble against Suns

Updated: May 31, 2006, 11:14 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Phoenix guard Steve Nash said the Suns had a simple plan to stop Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki on Tuesday night.

 Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki

"We just decided before the game that we were going to shut him out," Nash said, chuckling.

The Suns didn't do that, but they did the next best thing, limiting the Mavericks' leading scorer to a season-low 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field in a 106-86 victory. Phoenix tied the series at 2-2 with Game 5 Thursday night in Dallas.

Nowitzki had averaged 28.7 points in his first seven games against the Suns this season. The Suns had no answer for Nowitzki's arcing, fallaway jumpers. But as Dallas tried to move within one victory of its first NBA Finals trip, Nowitzki suddenly lost his range.

Through three quarters Tuesday night, Nowitzki had as many personal fouls (two) as field goals. He was 2-for-11 from the field, 1-for-10 from inside the 3-point arc.

"They did a good job once I got the ball and spun," Nowitzki said. "They double-teamed me and they got the ball out of my hands some."

If the Mavericks hope to regain control of the series, they'll need more from Nowitzki, who led them with 26.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season.

"I still have to be more aggressive and still look for my game," Nowitzki said. "And if it's not there, just swing [the ball], make my teammates better."

Nowitzki's stats stood out. But there was plenty of blame to go around on a night the Mavericks shot 42 percent from the field and committed 14 turnovers, one more than they had in their two series victories combined.

Guard Devin Harris called Nowitzki "our heart and soul."

"When he has a tough game, it's up to other guys to step it up," Harris said.

No one did Tuesday night. Nowitzki said he was surprised by the Mavericks' flat performance.

"It's obviously a little disappointing," Nowitzki said. "In the playoffs, especially, in the Western Conference finals, nothing is going to be given to you or handed to you. You've got to go out and take it. And it looked like we were a little -- we were happy with the split and that's obviously disappointing the way we came out."

Nowitzki had led the Mavericks in scoring and rebounding in their two series victories. In Game 2, he scored 30 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. He followed that with a 28-point, 17-rebound performance in Game 3 as the Mavericks grabbed a 2-1 series lead.

But he never found his rhythm Tuesday night. Nowitzki's worst moment came early in the fourth quarter, when 6-foot-8 Boris Diaw dunked over him, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw to give the Suns an 82-67 lead.

Moments later, Nowitzki collided with Raja Bell. Bell was called for a foul that set off Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who drew a technical foul.

Nowitzki, a 90.1 percent free-throw shooter this season, strode to the line -- and clanged his shot off rim.

Nash, a former teammate who has remained close to Nowitzki, said he understood what his friend went through.

"There's nights out there for all great players, and we were lucky that tonight was one of those," Nash said.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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