DALLAS - The Suns have given the Mavericks a matchup problem: How do they take away the Suns’ record-setting 3-point game while still covering Boris Diaw inside?
Score the Mavs 1-for-2 in this tricky business and 0-1 in this Western Conference finals.
Sure, they limited the Suns to 5-for-15 from long range.
But Diaw countered when he saw huge openings inside.
He hit 13 of 23 shots for a career-high 34 points, including the shot of his life, a 10-footer from the right side over Jerry Stackhouse.
The shot, which nestled through the nets with .5 seconds left, created the kind of silence among Dallas fans known only by astronauts on the moon.
It gave the Suns a 119-118 lead and the win. (Tim Thomas knocked down two free throws with .2 seconds left for the final 121-118 margin.) The play was designed as a backdoor pass to Steve Nash, a play the Suns had run only “two or three times during the season,” Diaw said.
But Diaw said one of the Mavericks’ many assistant coaches spotted what was coming and called out “Nash. . . backdoor!” So this throw-in from last year’s Joe Johnson trade found himself with the ball in the biggest spot he’d ever faced.
“With the seconds running down, I had to take the shot,” Diaw said.
Moments earlier, the exceedingly humble Diaw spent much time apologizing for one of his misses.
With 23 seconds left, he threw up an 8-foot runner that was blocked by Keith Van Horn.
The Mavs’ Devin Harris then hit a 16-footer to grab the lead away from the Suns one final time, 118-117, with 4.8 seconds left.
“He kept saying, ‘That’s my fault, that’s my fault,’ ” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said.
The Suns coach, handed a postgame stat sheet, nearly fell over when he saw Diaw’s numbers.
“Thirty-four? I had no idea,” said D’Antoni, who said he usually has at least a vague idea of the scoring totals.
“I’d have said 14.”
That would be about Diaw’s average of 13.3 during the season. But Diaw, as they sometimes say in the NBA, “jumped his stat line.”
The Suns’ do-everything big man pointed to the Mavs’ strategy of “staying home” on the Suns’ 3-point shooters.
“That’s why I had so many openings inside,” he said. “They didn’t want to help that much.”
Certainly, Stackhouse didn’t get any help on Diaw in the game’s final five seconds.
Stackhouse said he had been guarding Tim Thomas, but the Dallas coaches directed Dirk Nowitzki to guard Thomas inbounding the ball.
“We had to kind of a scramble,” Stackhouse said, and he ended up taking Diaw just to the right of the lane. “Diaw made a great shot, a turnaround pump fake. I have to shake his hand.”
As for the next game, Diaw said, “We have to do the same thing. I think it’s up to them to adjust.”