Phoenix Suns 96, Dallas Mavericks 94 -- Breaking the cycle

Jared Dudley (right) had a career-high three blocks, including one on a Vince Carter (left) layup. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns turned the tables on their typical storyline this season and stopped an eight-game losing streak to the Dallas Mavericks in a 96-94 victory at home on Thursday night. Jared Dudley scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Steve Nash balanced a slow first half with a hot third quarter to add 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Phoenix’s starters played the Mavs to a draw in the first quarter, led by a quick start by Channing Frye (who would fade and finished the night 2-for-8 from the field) and a relentless pounding from Marcin Gortat, who had eight points in the quarter. The question at that point, as in most Suns games, became whether the bench could keep the game close enough while the starters rested.

Unfortunately, the answer was — initially — a resounding “no.” Dallas opened up a nine-point lead at the half. Former Sun Vince Carter had 13 points in the first two quarters.

Carter hit another basket on the first possession of the second half, at which point Alvin Gentry decided that he’d seen enough. He switched Grant Hill onto Carter, even though it meant having Frye guard Dirk Nowitzki. The move had predictable results — Carter missed his next two field goal attempts, but Nowitzki made his next two, followed by a Carter three with 6:46 to go in the third to give the Mavericks an 11-point lead.

But then the Suns caught fire. They only missed two shots for the rest of the quarter, a Dudley free throw included. With Phoenix down eight late in the third, Dudley got his hands on a loose ball during a sloppy Suns possession and made the right decision to pull it out to the top of the key, get the ball in Nash’s hands and reset the possession. Nash hit Grant Hill for an in rhythm 19-foot jumper, and Dallas took a timeout. It was to little avail, by the end of three, Phoenix had mounted a 13-point comeback to take a 78-76 lead.

Once again, the outcome of the game came down to how the bench would perform. The Suns showed how much they wanted this win (they’re now in shouting distance of the playoffs, but don’t get excited yet) by leaving Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill in to start the fourth, alongside Hakim Warrick, Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown. That lineup extended the lead to five and forced another Dallas timeout.

Shortly thereafter, Phoenix took advantage of Dallas center Brendan Haywood’s absence (out with a left ankle sprain) to get extended minutes for Warrick and Frye together in a smaller lineup. Then the Suns got the breathing room they needed from two unlikely sources. Telfair drilled a three with just under eight minutes to go, and Brown followed it up with a smashing offensive putback to make it a 10-point Phoenix lead. They kept the Mavericks at bay until Nash and Hill re-entered the game. With 2:46 to go, the Suns led by nine.

And the Mavericks decided this game would be more fun if it came down to the wire. Jason Kidd hit a three. The Suns committed a couple of turnovers; Dudley missed a three; Dirk hit a 14-footer — and suddenly it was a four-point game. What looked like a Gortat and-1 instead turned out to be an offensive foul (Gortat pushed off against Nowitzki and, in doing so, hit him in the mouth). Then Nowitzki made a layup to make it a one possession game. Hill, somehow, missed two free throws that could have made it a four-point lead.

On the ensuing Dallas possession, Rodrigue Beaubois got two shots to tie the game, but couldn’t hit either. The second was a wide-open 18-footer that was just long. It was more dramatic than a Suns fan would like, but it’s a win.

Markieff Morris gets plenty of rest, Dirk gets banged up, former Suns

  • Warrick’s increased minutes tonight meant Morris spent plenty of time on the bench; he played only three minutes. Whether that was due to fatigue or matchup exploitation, he could likely use the rest as he continues to play games well past the number that he did in a college season.
  • In addition to getting hit in the face by Gortat, Nowitzki banged his left thigh on Hill’s knee and came up limping. He initially stayed in the game but eventually checked out. He stretched out along the baseline — Nash-style — and came back into the game in short order. Judging by the Dallas comeback, I think he’ll be OK. He ended the night tied with Dudley and Carter for the game high with 18 points.
  • Facing the Mavs always means a bevy of ex-Suns. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter have a combined 38,367 minutes in a Phoenix uniform. That’s almost 1,066 games at a 36 minutes per game clip.

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