<
>

Suns use fourth-quarter run to pull away for victory

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers wanted to waltz. Phoenix came to boogie.

In the end, the Suns had their way in a 130-123 victory, outscoring the Clippers 74-62 in the second half in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series on Monday night.

"Tempo wasn't exactly what we needed," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.

Steve Nash, presented with the MVP trophy by commissioner David Stern before the game, had 31 points and 12 assists, and the Suns pulled away over a five-minute stretch of the fourth quarter.

Shawn Marion had 20 points and 15 rebounds, including 10-of-10 free throws for the Suns, who were 24-of-25 at the line. Raja Bell added 22 points, Boris Diaw 19 and Leandro Barbosa 17 for a Phoenix team playing 48 hours after eliminating that other team from Los Angeles, the Lakers, in seven games.

"We weren't tired," Bell said. "We felt good."

Elton Brand scored 40 on 18-of-22 shooting, but scored only two in the final 8:33 for the Clippers, who hadn't played in a week since beating Denver in five games for their first playoff series triumph in 30 years.

"It must be a difficult loss for Elton," Nash said. "He was phenomenal. I thought he was trying to get them to change the MVP at halftime."

Sam Cassell added 28 points and Corey Maggette 20.

Dunleavy said before the game that the score needed to be in the 90s for his team to win. Both teams had passed that by the end of the third quarter.

Los Angeles shot 59 percent and still couldn't keep up with the Suns, who shot 55 percent. Phoenix has averaged 122 points in winning its last four playoff games after falling behind the Lakers 3-1.

"To get the tempo in our favor, we really need to limit our quick shots," Brand said. "That is their game plan. It can't be fool's gold. We need to take it down and run our plays."

Brand's dunk with 8:33 to go tied the game for the last time at 101. Diaw scored the next four on a driving layup and a running, 10-foot bank shot to trigger an 11-2 run that gave Phoenix a 112-103 lead on Nash's 17-footer with 5:35 remaining.

Dunleavy gave Brand a minute on the bench early in the outburst, and neither the big forward nor his teammates could recover.

"I was hoping he would be out a little longer," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Once in a while he has to catch his breath, I would hope, but he was terrific."

The surge reached 19-6 on Nash's 3-pointer that made it 120-107 with 2:56 left.

Cassell kept the Clippers in it, and his layup cut the lead to 122-115 with 1:45 to go. But Nash converted a three-point play with a minute left, and the game was over.

The Clippers outscored the Suns 16-2 over the final four minutes of the first half to go up 61-56 at the break. Phoenix didn't have a field goal in the last 4:10 as its usually high-powered offense turned stagnant.

Brand scored 23 in the first half on 10-for-13 shooting.

The Suns scored nine in a row to go up 68-65 on Marion's stuff with 8:49 left in the third. Dunleavy called a timeout, and Cassell scored nine in a 13-2 run that put Los Angeles back on top, 78-70, with 6:18 to go in the quarter.

The Suns rallied and Bell's 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds to go in the third put Phoenix ahead 93-91 entering the fourth quarter.

Game notes
Brand is the 13th player to score at least 40 points against Phoenix in the playoffs. ... Marion celebrated his 28th birthday Sunday and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni turned 55 on Monday. ... Marion drew a technical after he was called for his third foul with 29 seconds left in the first half. ... Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has attended the last two playoff games in Phoenix, accompanying Jerry Colangelo, the Suns' chairman and former owner. Colangelo is head of USA Basketball and Krzyzewski is the U.S. head coach for this year's world championships and the 2008 Olympics.