It was a nice gesture—but nothing like the get-well present his teammates sent.
With Shawn Marion leading a strong outside game, Amare Stoudemire taking care of everything inside and Steve Nash putting it all together, Phoenix beat the Dallas Mavericks 119-102 on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in their second-round series. Game 4 is Sunday night.
“We got one for Joe,” said Nash, who had 27 points and 17 assists. “We stuck together and got behind one another. We’re a resilient team.”
Johnson didn’t make the trip because of an eye injury in Game 2 that led to surgery Thursday. He’s definitely out through Game 4 on Sunday night, and his teammates seemed unsure whether their third-leading scorer will even be back in the postseason.
The Suns weren’t sure how they’d fare without Johnson, partly because they’d never played without him since he was acquired three years ago. The first try was impressive.
Marion, who was 7-of-17 on 3s in the previous six postseason games, made up for the absence of Johnson’s deep shooting by going 5-of-7 from behind the arc and scoring 21 points. Quentin Richardson scored all 12 of his points on 3s, and Phoenix was 11-of-22 on 3s as a team.
Nash looked for his shot more, too, scoring his most points this postseason and handing out his most assists ever in the playoffs.
Stoudemire didn’t change. He was as unstoppable as he’s been all series, putting up 37 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. He was so tenacious in the second quarter that he sent several Mavs backpedaling on basket-shaking dunks, and was constantly hearing “Calm down!” from teammates and coach Mike D’Antoni when he became too aggressive.
“I came out wanting to set a tone, let them know we’re here to play,” said Stoudemire, who became the first Phoenix player to score at least 30 points in three straight playoff games.
Despite everything that clicked for Phoenix, Dallas was within 97-96 with 5:50 to go.
The Mavs then missed their next seven shots and allowed a 15-0 run that started with consecutive 3s by Marion and Richardson and included a left-handed hook shot by Nash over his good buddy, Dirk Nowitzki, near the end. Before the spurt was over, fans were booing and heading for the exits.
Dallas coach Avery Johnson was most upset that his team didn’t make it to the foul line in the fourth quarter. He also could’ve been upset by their 3-point shooting, 1-of-18, with the only make a momentum-builder from Jerry Stackhouse at the end of the third quarter.
Nowitzki had 21 points and 13 rebounds, but shot 8-for-24 with several misses during the game-deciding drought. He started 3-of-12 and never found his stroke.
“We don’t have anybody that can play physical with Stoudemire,” Johnson said. “Every time (Dampier) gets in trouble we have to go small, so hopefully he can stay out of foul trouble.”
Stoudemire was really hyped up after a brief rest early in the second quarter, returning with Dallas on an 8-0 run following a 27-27 tie and making two straight basket-shaking dunks over Finley and Stackhouse.
Stoudemire went at Dampier next, drawing his third foul and sending him to the bench with 9:03 left in the half.
Stoudemire kept it up on defense. He got a technical foul for slapping away Finley’s arms when he pointed at Stoudemire, suggesting a foul should’ve been called on him. He later swatted a scooping layup by Nowitzki into the front row and also had to be pulled away from getting into Josh Howard’s face after fouling him.
“We’re throwing everything we can at him,” Stackhouse said. “He’s a load down there.”
Johnson’s absence forced D’Antoni to stick with his starters for at least 41 minutes each. Jim Jackson, who replaced Johnson in the starting lineup, had 17 points and eight rebounds. The bench contributed just five points, all from Leandro Barbosa.
“We are going to keep running,” D’Antoni said. “Our guys will regenerate somehow. Steve Nash will get some IVs and be ready to roll.”
Avery Johnson got a technical for arguing that a foul called on Walter McCarty should’ve been on Stoudemire. Although it was changed, the tech stuck. The Mavs later got a 3-pointer by Nash changed to a 2. Replays showed both changes were accurate. … For the third time in five playoff games, the Mavs set a new attendance record. The crowd of 20,896 topped the previous best by two.