Ailing Bell, struggling Suns eliminated

Updated: June 4, 2006, 1:08 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Suns guard Raja Bell played the last three games of the Western Conference finals on one leg.

The Suns lost two of them, including a 102-93 season-ending loss to Dallas in Game 6 on Saturday night.

Raja Bell
Bell

"It's pretty disappointing, man," said Bell, who partially tore his left calf. "What can you do? You go out and you give it your best, and if it's not good enough, you've got to accept the fact that you gave it your best."

Bell scored six points in 35 minutes on a pair of 3-pointers in the final 28 seconds. He went 2-for-6 from the floor -- all from beyond the arc. He finished with more fouls (5) than rebounds (2) and assists (2) combined.

Bell's injury, in a Game 1 victory, served as a snapshot of the Suns' short-handed season. Before it even began, they lost star forward Amare Stoudemire to knee surgery. He played only three games.

Then Kurt Thomas, brought in to provide defense and rebounding, broke his foot, missing the last 29 games of the regular season. He appeared in one playoff game.

Without Stoudemire, many doubted that the Suns would even make the playoffs. But they stormed to the Pacific Division title, then beat both Los Angeles teams in stirring seven-game series before falling to the Mavericks. Phoenix lasted one game longer than a year ago, when it lost to eventual NBA champion San Antonio in a five-game Western Conference finals.

But in the end, the injuries took their toll, sapping the Suns' depth. They looked like a tired team late in their four losses to the Mavericks.

The Suns led at halftime in five of the six games.

"To lose in the second half, I don't know if you can pin it all on fatigue, but I think it would also be ignorant not to say it played a part," point guard Steve Nash said. "They were deeper than us, that's for sure."

During the regular season, and in the playoffs, the Suns compensated for the loss of Stoudemire and Thomas by going withsmaller, faster lineups. But they had no answer when Bell, an emotional leader, got hurt.

Throughout the playoffs, the Suns have followed Bell's lead.

When he is playing well, they usually win.

When Bell doesn't play well -- or play at all -- they usually lose.

Bell injured his calf in the Suns' Game 1 win at Dallas. After Bell sat out Games 2 and 3 -- both losses -- he returned to give the Suns an emotional lift in a Game 4 victory that tied the series at 2.

But Bell was never the same after that, and perhaps not coincidentally, neither were the Suns.

"Raja [is] probably the most courageous guy I've ever seen, and he was playing on half a leg," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He just didn't have the pop that maybe would have helped. Maybe not."

Bell refused to blame his injury for his poor shooting.

"I'm not going to blame my leg," he said. "I had good looks at the basket tonight and I missed a lot of shots. My leg didn't have anything to do with it."

The Suns didn't need Bell early in the game, when their shots were falling and all was right in their run-and-gun world. They needed him as an 18-point lead melted away.

Leading 64-51 midway through the third quarter, the Suns stood back and watched the Mavs go on a 19-4 run.

During one stretch that began late in the third quarter, the Suns went 6:11 without scoring a point. The Suns' lowest moment may have come in the first minute of the fourth quarter, when they were called for a shot clock violation, a rarity for a team that typically needs only a few seconds to find an open man.

The Suns spent much of the second half looking for someone to give them a lift. That's usually Bell's role, but not on this night.

It's hard to say whether the series would have ended differently if Bell had not been hurt. But without Bell to provide an emotional spark, the Suns had no answer for the Mavs.

"I'm not going to say that's the reason we got beat," D'Antoni said. "But we would have played better if he was feeling better."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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