Dallas Mavericks 98, Phoenix Suns 89 — Swimming upstream


For one night, the Suns and Mavericks played a game of inches. It wasn’t that the Mavs dominated the Suns in any one aspect of the game, and the problem in an 98-89 loss for Phoenix wasn’t any single matchup or deficiency.

Instead, Dallas was simply better by a slight margin all-around. Instead of swimming upstream against a torrential, incessant current, Steve Nash and company were rowing in an injury-riddled canoe — but with an oar made of sugar. After all, there were quite a few sweet spots, even if the final tally was bitter.

Nash came out with his hair on fire, scoring five points and dishing three assists in the first five and half minutes of the game. Channing Frye, who’s suffering from a case of the misses on his long field goal attempts so far this season, equaled Nash’s scoring total over the same time, and it looked as if the Suns would be able to hang with the Mavericks.

That optimism was short-lived, however, as the Phoenix offense came apart in the second quarter. Managing only seven shots in the paint and forced to the perimeter for most of their field goals, the Suns scored 16 points and found themselves trailing by eight going into halftime. While the offense rebounded in the third quarter, Dallas caught fire themselves in the third quarter, behind a strong strech by its star, Dirk Nowitzki, and a backbreaking buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jason Terry to end the quarter.

As Nash said in discussing the Mavericks’ offensive execution against the Suns defense, “We’re putting a lot of pressure on our offense. We haven’t made as many shots as we’re accustomed to.”

Terry continued to bury the Suns in the fourth, dropping another three triples. Coach Alvin Gentry said after the game that he doesn’t really consider Terry, who doesn’t start, a bench player, and he’s absolutely right. Terry is as much a bench player as Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat were last year.

Speaking of Gortat, he had a bit of a breakout game, shooting 66 percent from the floor on 15 shots (tallying 22 points total), though his total rebound rate was only 13.3 percent. He grabbed 10 rebounds, but that was a product of the number of misses and his 38 minutes.

The minutes alone are encouraging, however, as it seems to indicate that Gortat is starting to feel a little more comfortable with his thumb injury and able to stay on the floor as a result. Robin Lopez, whose performance has fluctuated fairly widely in relief of Gortat over the past several games, saw only 10 minutes; he grabbed no rebounds.

Dudley’s night was hit-and-miss. He was his usual active self, particularly on the defensive end — where the Suns as a whole exhibited an encouraging amount of effort, even if the results were wanting — but shot 4 of 13 from the field. Many of those misses were a result of Dudley being used as a release valve late in the shot clock, however, low-percentage shots that someone has to take.

The NBA’s friendlier version of Stadtler and Waldorf, Nash and Grant Hill, had classic nights of their own, if not quite vintage. After getting off to his hot start, Nash finished the night shooting the ball well – a 60 percent TS% that could have been higher were it not for the Suns facing such a large deficit in the fourth and Nash missing several 3s in an attempt to bring the team back — and he dished 12 assists, only his second double-double of the season.* One of the missed triples was a wide-open corner three, but that was the only glaring deficiency in a performance akin to those Nash is accustomed.

*A factoid that’s admittedly skewed by the fact that Nash’s minutes have been limited in two losses that were well in hand — for the other team, that is — with at least a quarter of play left and the Suns inability to finish and put the ball in the basket. In such a compressed season, resting Nash on such nights is a pretty good idea.

Hill was in Nowitzki’s jersey on the defensive end whenever the two were on the court together, and he managed to fool Dallas defenders into thinking he was a three-point threat with pump-fake dribble-drives from the perimeter, scoring on several looks after getting Mavericks into the air, Top Gun-style, and on a nifty step-through in the second quarter that Suns broadcaster Tom Leander described as similar to a move by Nowitzki. Hill’s ability to get to the middle of the floor for easy looks is all the more impressive when one considers that he’s yet to knock down a three on the year; he went 0-for-1 from deep tonight. He and Hakim Warrick did a fair job holding Nowitzki to 20 points on 17 shots, but Terry’s triples, combined with Lamar Odom’s 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals off the bench, rendered the work put into defending Dirk null.

In the end, the Mavericks were just slightly better each time down the floor than the Suns were. There was no massive rupture to the canoe, no waterfall to desperately avoid. The Suns simply were fighting against the tide with an oar that slowly dissolved each time down the floor. When the final buzzer sounded, they were left clutching nothing but a loss and, once again, floating backward.

And 1

  • Rookie Markieff Morris cooled off in this game, only scoring four points in 17 minutes. He did grab five rebounds, however, continuing his strong showing on the boards. His limited minutes were more a product of Gentry continuing to play the starters, especially as the Suns made a run in the fourth quarter, than poor play on his part. Expect him to continue to play a big role for the team.
  • Former Sun Shawn Marion played as if he had something to prove to his old squad, getting into the lane for his patented, ugly floater-hook shot and grabbing seven boards — 6 offensive. Though several were his own misses, he was active in the paint amongst the Phoenix bigs and seemed to relish his opportunities.
  • Another former Sun, Jason Kidd, did what he does, controlling the game while hardly scoring at all. Kidd had three points on six shots (!) in 28 minutes, but he orchestrated the offense (zero turnovers, three assists, and several passes that led to the open man down the line) and did his best to fight over screens and harass Nash on defense.
  • The Suns play four of their next five games at home, split up by a road game on Tuesday at the Lakers. None of those games are on a back-to-back. The Suns will need all the rest they can get before they embark on a five-game road trip after that initial five-game stretch against the Spurs, Bulls, Knicks, Celtics and Mavs.