INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The NBA’s top offensive team put a defensive stranglehold on the Indiana Pacers.
Steve Nash had 25 points and 11 assists and the Phoenix Suns rallied from 18 points down in the third quarter to beat the Pacers 103-92 Tuesday night. The Suns gave up just 13 points over the final 15 minutes.
“Really, we just finally woke up,” Nash said. “We were sleepwalking and couldn’t make any shots for a long stretch. We finally picked up our defense and made some shots.”
The Pacers led 77-59 with 5 minutes left in the third period but managed only one more basket the rest of that quarter and just five baskets in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Suns, meanwhile, pulled within 88-87 on a basket by Amare Stoudemire and took their first lead since the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Nash with less than 6 minutes to go. After one of seven turnovers by Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal, Nash scored again and followed with another 3-pointer as Phoenix began pulling away for good.
“We missed a lot of shots,” Nash said. “Somehow, we were able to pick up our defense, and it gave us a chance to get hot.”
The final score marked the biggest lead of the game for the Suns, who stretched their winning streak to five games.
“I’ve never seen a team that is able to play their style of game at their level,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “Nash is certainly the key guy, but they’ve got the right players around him.”
Stoudemire had 23 points and 18 rebounds and Shawn Marion added 22 points for Phoenix, which leads the NBA in scoring at 110.9 points.
O’Neal led Indiana with 28 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots and tied his career high with seven assists.
“We’ve got to play an entire game. Either you play or you don’t,” O’Neal said. “At this point of the season, I don’t have a lot of answers. We’ve got to play defense and help each other.”
“It’s disappointing, because we had a couple guys play exceptionally well,” Carlisle said. “You work so hard to get the lead, and they strike so quickly. It’s just a tough team to play.”
Twelve of O’Neal’s points came in the second quarter, then Armstrong hit three 3-pointers in a 23-6 third-quarter run that seemed to put Indiana in control.
Armstrong’s third trey and a layup and free throw by Danny Granger gave the Pacers a 73-57 lead midway through the period. Another basket by Granger gave the Pacers their biggest lead at 77-59 before Phoenix started its comeback.
The Suns finished with a 10-0 run and pulled to 79-73 going into the final period. Raja Bell hit a 3-pointer, then stole the ball and went in for a layup to cut Indiana’s lead to 79-78 in the first minute of the fourth quarter before another 3-pointer by Armstrong ended the Pacers’ freefall.
“We were much more active in the last 5 minutes,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was like they could smell the finish line and got there.
“We didn’t come out quite juiced (at the start), for whatever reason,” he said.
The Pacers, allowing at least 100 points in their fifth straight game, started strong defensively, holding Phoenix to just two baskets in its first 13 attempts and 10 points in almost 8 minutes.
Still, each time Indiana started to pull away, the Suns came right back, and two free throws each by Bell and Stoudemire tied the game at 19 at the end of the first quarter.
The Pacers got seven points in 5 minutes of relief by Ike Diogu and took a 35-29 lead midway through the second quarter, but Marion had 11 points in that period and there were eight lead changes in the final 3 minutes before before a rebound basket by O’Neal gave Indiana a 50-49 lead at halftime.
The Pacers never trailed after that until the 3-pointer by Nash put the Suns up 90-88.
The two 3-pointers by Nash were his first since he returned from a shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for four games this month. “The shoulder has been feeling pretty good and my rhythm finally was better today,” Nash said. … Coach Tony Dungy of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts sat courtside. … Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley was inactive because of a sore leg. … Before this game, the Pacers were the only team the Suns had not played this season. … Phoenix is 2-6 in Conseco Fieldhouse. … The Suns have won three straight against Indiana for the first time since 1985. … Phoenix is 14-0 on the road against Eastern Conference teams this season. A win at Philadelphia on Wednesday night would make the Suns the first team to sweep its road games against the opposite conference.