Former Mav completes payback in Dallas

DALLAS (AP) -- Maybe in a few seasons the Dallas Mavericks will
feel better about letting Steve Nash leave for Phoenix. Right now,
it can't hurt any worse.

The league MVP capped his phenomenal postseason against his
former team in glorious fashion Friday night, fueling a rally that
quickly wiped out a late 16-point deficit, forcing overtime by
hitting a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left, then making the 3 that
put the Suns ahead for good in a 130-126 victory that sends Phoenix
to the Western Conference finals.
"He made some unbelievable plays, not only today to win the
game, but in every game they won," said Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, who
became best friends with Nash during their six seasons together.
"I've never seen him play better than this. I think he really
wanted to show all of Dallas what we missed and he really did
Nash helped avoid a decisive seventh game by making his final
five shots. He scored eight points in the final minute of
regulation, then had seven more in overtime to finish with 39
points, 12 assists and nine rebounds -- one board shy of his second
straight triple-double.
When this tight, thrilling game and exciting, high-scoring
series was over, Nash shared a brief hug from Nowitzki. Later, Nash
thanked the Mavs and their fans for six wonderful years, although
he didn't mention team owner Mark Cuban, who came up several years
and more than $20 million shy of Phoenix in his last contract

Nash might have been too humble to rub it in, but his teammates
"They have to be crazy to let that boy go," forward Quentin Richardson said. "Thank you, Dallas! I'm glad to be on his team."

Dallas got 36 points from his replacement, Jason Terry,
including a tough 3-pointer with 3 seconds left that kept the drama
going until the final buzzer.

Yet Mavs fans will remember Nash dribbling by Terry for the open
shot that tied the game at 111 at the end of the fourth quarter,
then Terry being berated by Nowitzki after the buzzer for his lousy

Had Terry fouled Nash before he got to the 3-point line, Nash
would have gotten just two free throws. Terry also tried calling
timeout after Nash's basket, but officials didn't see it and Jerry
Stackhouse dribbled to the other end and missed a 3 at the buzzer.

Terry made a 3-pointer that gave Dallas its only lead in
overtime, 114-113. Nowitzki missed a wild, rushed 3-pointer with
about 11 seconds left that would have tied it at 126.

"We wanted to take a 3, but we wanted to take a good one,"
Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. "We probably could have gotten a
better look in that situation, but we stand behind him. It looked
good when he shot it."

Nowitzki, who finished third to Nash and Shaquille O'Neal in MVP
voting, had 28 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. It was one of
his better all-around games of the playoffs, but he slowed his own
momentum by getting frustrated at fouls that he thought should have
been called.

Drained but proud, the Suns after winning in six games will open
the next round Sunday at home against the San Antonio Spurs. They
even could have back starting guard Joe Johnson, who has been out
since Game 2 of this round with an eye injury.

The Spurs will offer an interesting defensive challenge for the
NBA's highest-scoring team of the last decade.

The Suns are trying to become the first offense-driven team to
win the title since the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers. They've
already become the first team to go from missing the playoffs one
year and making the conference finals the next since Boston and New
Jersey in 2002. The last West team to do it was Phoenix in 1989.

"This is fun for us to reach new heights," Nash said. "We've
done some special things. As far as the playoffs go, you don't get
many opportunities at this. This was a big series, but it was only
the second round."

In becoming the first team to win consecutive games this series,
Phoenix went from scoring 64 points the first 32 minutes to racking
up 66 in the final 21 minutes. And the Suns did so with Amare
Stoudemire capping a poor game by his standards (18 points, six
rebounds) by fouling out with 1:40 left in regulation.

Stoudemire had 10 points in the first quarter, then didn't even
take a shot in the second. Dallas' defense changed to contain him,
but it left open Shawn Marion and he capitalized with a playoff
career-best 38 points and 16 rebounds. Jim Jackson scored 16 and
Richardson added 11 points and 13 rebounds.

"Our mentality all year has been, if we get down we can easily
come back," Marion said. "Sixteen points is nothing for us. We
can score 16 points in a couple of minutes."

Josh Howard provided Dallas with tremendous energy early and
finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Stackhouse scored 19 and
much-maligned Erick Dampier rebounded from a basket-less Game 5 to
have 13 points and six rebounds.

Dampier was signed with much of the money the Mavs did not spend
on Nash. It wasn't just for him, though, as Dallas was in the midst
of changing from an offensive-driven club to one with more of a
defensive focus.

Getting 58 wins in their transition year, while also enduring
the change from coaching veteran Don Nelson to rookie Johnson, and
taking the league's best team this far shows that the future is
still bright -- even without Nash.

"If we kept Steve, it would have been a completely different
team," Cuban said. "And I like this team a whole lot better."

The Mavs already had overcome huge odds by wiping out an 0-2
deficit in the first round and winning a Game 7. They watched a
tape of that before this game and responded by leading 80-64 with
4:01 left in the third.

But Phoenix tied it at 86 with 9:45 to play and led 95-90 with
6:14 left. Things were only starting to get interesting then.

Game notes
The Suns last made the conference finals in 1993. ...
Dallas was 3-4 at home in the playoffs. ... Phoenix never led by
more than five points. ... The crowd of 20,915 set the franchise
record for the fifth time in seven home games this postseason.