Diaw, Nash Help Suns Stun Mavs in Game 1

Dallas's Dirk Nowitzki looks for a foul call as he hits the floor. Nowitzki scored 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting.
Dallas's Dirk Nowitzki looks for a foul call as he hits the floor. Nowitzki scored 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting. (By Ronald Martinez -- Getty Images)
By Jaime Aron
Associated Press
Thursday, May 25, 2006

DALLAS, May 24 -- With Steve Nash picking up where he left off against his former team in the 2005 postseason and Boris Diaw filling the role of Amare Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns erased a late nine-point deficit and beat the Mavericks, 121-118, Wednesday night in a thrilling, fast-paced start to the Western Conference finals.

Nash scored 10 of his 27 points in the final 3 minutes 26 seconds, then set up Shawn Marion on a go-ahead basket with 43 seconds left. After Dallas regained the lead on a jumper by Devin Harris with 4.8 seconds to go, Diaw nailed a turnaround seven-footer with a half-second remaining on a play originally designed for Nash.

"I saw their bench basically yelling out exactly what was going to happen, so I was like, 'Okay, Plan B,' " Nash said. "I was about to call timeout, but . . . Tim [Thomas] got it inside and Boris made a heck of a play."

Diaw scored a career-high 34 points, showing on a big stage why he was voted the league's most improved player and why the Suns are back in the conference finals for the second straight year despite having had Stoudemire for only three games.

"At one point there was a label on him that he was a soft, non-competitive player," Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I'm telling you he's just the opposite."

Harris scored a career-high 30 and Dirk Nowitzki had 25 points and 19 rebounds, but the Mavericks blew their late lead with a spurt of turnovers and a lack of defensive stops when they needed them the most.

"We were just bad tonight in a lot of different areas that we have to improve on in a hurry," Coach Avery Johnson said.

Dallas fans might not be able to take more of these heart-stopping finishes. The Mavericks were coming off a second-round series against San Antonio that included six games decided at the end, including Game 7 in overtime.

One consolation for the Mavericks is that they also lost the opener to the Spurs. Another is that Game 2 is in Dallas on Friday night.

For Phoenix, which ousted Dallas in the playoffs last season, this furious finish stuff is becoming fun.

The Suns lost all seven of their regular season games decided by three points or less, then dropped another early in the playoffs. But now they've won two nail-biters, having also beaten the Clippers, 94-91, in Game 3 of the previous round.

Both teams lost starters to leg injuries -- Josh Howard for Dallas (sprained right ankle) and Raja Bell (strained left calf) for Phoenix. The Suns also are concerned about Marion, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds but appeared to hurt his left ankle in the final minutes.

Howard is having an MRI exam on Thursday to determine if and when he'll return. Bell left the locker room on crutches.

"I felt it pop," he said. "It's pretty painful. But I've got to be optimistic. I want to play. We'll see how it feels in the morning."

Although both teams were coming off Game 7 wins Monday night, there was no emotional or physical letdown either way. The track meet everyone expected was off and running from the start.

It was 62-58 at halftime and both teams were making at least half their shots. They were even more accurate in the third quarter, surpassing the Game 1 scoring total from the Eastern Conference finals between Miami and Detroit before the fourth quarter even began.

Dallas went ahead for the first time with Harris leading a 13-2 run midway through the third quarter. Then a 13-0 burst at the end of the third and start of the fourth looked like it was going to be the difference, especially with the Mavericks still up 114-105 with 3:43 left.

Then, Nash decided it was time to stop distributing and start scoring.

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