DALLAS - The theory that the Suns’ relentless fast pace can’t win in the playoffs now rests in peace. Lying in an adjacent grave is another theory: That the Suns paid too much to acquire Steve Nash.
The Suns, in one of the most memorable comebacks in the franchise’s 37 years, erased a 16-point deficit, got a miracle shot from Nash in the final seconds of regulation and pulled out a thrilling 130-126 overtime win over the Mavericks.
The win, before a record crowd at American Airlines Center (most of whom were standing for the better part of the final hour or so), gave the Suns a 4-2 win in one of the NBA’s most memorable playoff series in recent years.
And that means the Suns advance to the Western Conference finals vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs were expected to be in this rarified air. The odds against the Suns at the start of the season might have been 500-1.
In congratulating the Suns, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson saluted them as well:
"They played their style of play. They stuck with their system, and it was really effective."
Nash continues to play at a level even higher than his MVP regular season.
For the game, he had 39 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
For the series, he averaged 30.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 12.0 assists.
Shawn Marion, taking the place of the foul-prone Amaré Stoudemire in the Suns’ two-man game, had maybe the best game of his career, setting career-playoff highs with 38 points and 16 rebounds.
"I got more involved, and Steve kept finding me," Marion said.
The Suns erased an 80-64 deficit late in the third quarter with runs of 13-0 and 9-0.
They led by as many as five points but couldn’t quite finish it out in regulation.
Nash got a nice bounce on a 3-pointer to give them a 106-105 lead with a minute left.
Then the Mavs’ Josh Howard cut under the hoop and scored on a reverse layup.
Marion missed a short runner, and when Dirk Nowitzki grabbed the rebound and was fouled, the Mavericks were in good shape.
Nowitzki hit both free throws for a 109-106 lead.
Then Nash found an opening and scored on a layup. The Suns put down a foul on Jerry Stackhouse, who hit two free throws for a 111-108 lead with 11.5 seconds left.
The Suns — as is their operating mode in these tense situations — didn’t call a timeout, so the Mavs would have less of a chance to figure out what to do on defense.
This worked, in spades.
The Mavs’ Jason Terry, in a non-decision that will be debated for years here, elected not to foul, giving Nash a chance to tie the game. He raced up the floor and lofted up a 25-footer.
He hit it, Stackhouse came up short on a 3-pointer, and the game went to OT.
"We didn’t want to give up a 3," Johnson said. "We’d have preferred (a foul)," but Terry "just backed up too much."
Nash said, "It’s a tough play to defend, when someone pushes the ball full speed down the court. . Going at that speed, you can get separation . . ."
"I figured I’d get a good look."
In the overtime, Nash and Marion put the Suns up, 119-114, with 2:55 left, with a pair of 3-pointers.
They bogged themselves down a bit with a couple of late fouls that stopped the clock and gave the Mavs four free throws.
But the Mavs never got to the point where they both had the ball and a deficit of less than three points.
The Mavs were down 126-123 with 13.5 seconds left and inbounded the ball to Nowitzki, who immediately spun and heaved up a 3-pointer that wasn’t close.
"We probably could have gotten a better look, but Dirk thought he had something," Johnson said.
The Suns hit enough free throws to close it out, leaving a jubilant Mike D’Antoni to call this "an unbelievable series," one the Suns coach said he’ll one day replay and enjoy (though he was too nervous to enjoy it live).
The Suns won even though they got the worst of both worlds from Stoudemire.
He often played tentatively, as if to avoid fouls.
Yet he still fouled out, while playing only 32 minutes. He had 18 points and just five rebounds and was tagged with five turnovers (he could have been called for more).
So Marion replaced him in the Suns’ vaunted two-man game.
"It’s not hard when you’ve got Steve Nash," Stoudemire said. "He’s a tremendous player who draws so much attention."
The Suns at times seemed more effective with Steven Hunter in the game, as Hunter offered consistent defensive resistance.
And though Quentin Richardson continued to struggle with his shot (4-for-13), he pulled down 13 rebounds.
BONUS SHOT: While praising the Suns, the Mavs’ Johnson pointed to himself and said, "I’m paid to win a championship. If I don’t win a championship in the next couple of years, they should get somebody else."