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Y! Sports: Nash makes the Suns shine
Derek Fisher: Playoff picks
Taking advantage of a switching Dallas Mavericks defense, Diaw consistently cut to the hoop on the Suns' patented screen-and-roll plays and posted up smaller defenders to score at will on Wednesday. The league's Most Improved Player award winner poured in 34 points, including the game-winning jump hook with 0.5 seconds left, as Phoenix stole Game 1 from Dallas with a late rush for a 121-118 victory.
The Suns outscored the Mavs 16-4 in the final 3:10, rallying behind Diaw and the brilliant play of Steve Nash. The two combined to run screen-and-rolls all night, as the Mavericks decided to defend them much like the Spurs did in last year's Western Conference finals.
Last season, with Nash and Amare Stoudemire running the play, San Antonio decided not to offer much help from other players to avoid giving up open three-pointers. As a result, both Nash and Stoudemire scored with ease – Stoudemire averaging 37 points and Nash 23 in the series – but the strategy worked for the Spurs, who won the series in five games, because Phoenix never was able to get going from long range.
Being a Gregg Popovich disciple, Avery Johnson decided on a similar strategy of not letting the Suns bury them with threes. Mavericks players on the weak side of the floor stayed with their men, not rotating to help on the inside when Diaw had his mismatches. That resulted in the Suns attempting only 15 three-pointers and making five. (They set NBA records this season in both three-point makes and attempts, averaging about a 10-for-26 clip per game).
But Diaw had his way all night, and he aggressively attacked the rim, making 13 of 23 shots and 8 of 10 free throws. His swinging jump hook over Jerry Stackhouse with a half-second remaining capped a brilliant night for him.
BEST PLAYER ON THE LOSING SIDE
Devin Harris – The second-year speedster from Wisconsin had it going all night, racing past Phoenix's defense for 30 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 4.8 seconds to go. Harris regained the confidence that had eluded him at the end of the San Antonio series, making 12 of 17 shots. Part of Dallas' strategy for wearing down Steve Nash is to not only pick him up full court defensively, but to also go at him on offense. Harris attacked Nash on high screens and consistently found his way into the paint for driving hoops. The Suns also left him open on the perimeter at times, employing a strategy that focused on Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry while forcing Harris to beat them with jump shots. He almost did, and if it hadn't been for Diaw's shot at the end, Harris would have been the hero.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Mavericks beat Phoenix in points in the paint 74-72. Consider that in the regular season, each team averaged 37 points in the paint per game. But with Dallas employing its "no threes" strategy, Diaw and Nash found little resistance in the lane. And at the other end, the Mavs pounded the Suns with penetration and 18 offensive rebounds, including eight from Nowitzki.
QUESTION OF THE NIGHT
How long will Raja Bell and Josh Howard be out? Each was injured in Game 1, Bell with a strained calf and Howard with a sprained ankle. Bell's injury appears to be worse, as he told TNT's Craig Sager that he felt his calf "pop." Howard appeared to turn his ankle six minutes into the game and never returned. Howard's defensive versatility was missed, particularly with Diaw scoring so well inside. Bell is the Suns' best perimeter defender, and if Phoenix is without him, Leandro Barbosa will move into the starting lineup. That would severely hurt the Suns' already thin bench.
VIEWERS GUIDE FOR THURSDAY
Game 2: Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons – Can the Pistons regain the form that won them 64 games? Detroit appears to have lost the edge with which it played most of the season. Following last year's Game 7 loss in the Finals to San Antonio – plus the strange departure of Larry Brown – the Pistons appeared to be on a mission from the beginning of the season. They outhustled, outworked and outplayed everyone, dominating the NBA. But now the Pistons look lifeless. They're not running and they're not scoring. Rasheed Wallace is a shell of himself, and Chauncey Billups isn't playing with his usual swagger. Detroit is losing confidence for some reason. Miami, meanwhile, is heading the other direction. The Heat are playing their best ball of the season, and a win in Game 2 on Thursday, will put them in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference finals.