Wednesday , May , 31 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Suns rout Mavs to even Western Conference finals

Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) – Leandro Barbosa poured in 24 points to lead a
balanced Phoenix attack and Raja Bell had a solid defensive effort in his
return, as the Suns shut down Dirk Nowitzki to pound Dallas, 106-86 to even
the Western Conference finals after four games.

Steve Nash had 21 points and seven assists and Boris Diaw contributed 20
points and nine rebounds, but it was the energetic return of Bell that set the
tone for the Suns.

“It was a big game for us. We couldn’t afford to go down 1-3 and go back to
Dallas,” Bell said. “We dodged a bullet in the first round with the Lakers and
didn’t want to have to do that again.”

Nowitzki, who came into the game averaging 28.4 points in the playoffs, was
limited to a season-low 11 on 3-of-13 shooting.

“You can’t ever really take full credit for shutting out a player like Dirk,”
Nash said. “There’s nights out there for all great players and we were lucky
that tonight was one of those.”

Bell had missed the last two games of the series with a left calf injury, and
even though he had only nine points, it was his defensive prowess that helped
carry the Suns.

“His toughness, those are the kinds of things that transcend even what he does
to the balance of our team and the rhythm of our team and everyone’s roles
going back intact,” Nash said of Bell. “It’s night and day, what he means just
intangibly rather than what he does tangibly.”

Shawn Marion ended with 15 points and eight boards for Phoenix, which used a
huge second half run to pull away. The Suns shot 54.4 percent from the field,
including a 10-for-13 effort from Barbosa.

Dallas’ Josh Howard scored 16 points, but tweaked his left ankle in the fourth
quarter. Jason Terry and Adrian Griffin each added 13 points for the
Mavericks, who suffered a setback in their quest to reach the NBA Finals for
the first time in franchise history.

“We just didn’t have it. We were not there mentally or physically,” Mavericks
head coach Avery Johnson said. “We came down here and we were fortunate to get
Game 3. We’re still in good shape.”

Dallas held the Suns to 88 points in a Game 3 victory Sunday night in Phoenix,
but the Mavericks didn’t have an answer for the solid defense of Bell and the
up-tempo style.

“They double-teamed me and got the ball out of my hands some,” Nowitzki said.
“I still have to be more aggressive and still look for my game. If it’s not
there, just swing it, make my teammates better.”

Game 5 will be played in Dallas on Thursday.

Terry’s three-pointer with just under four minutes left in the third brought
the Mavs within 67-65, but the Suns blazed through Dallas’ defense through the
end of the period into the fourth. It was a 29-6 run that put the Mavericks
away.

Bell’s jumper started the run, which turned into seven straight Phoenix
points. Barbosa drained a three-pointer during the run and Marion’s slam in
the final minute of the quarter expanded the Suns to a 79-67 lead going into
the fourth.

Nowitzki plowed over Bell in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, but the
foul was called on the Phoenix guard with the crowd showing its disapproval.
Nevertheless, the Suns pulled away for good in the ensuing minute, as Barbosa
drilled a three-pointer and Diaw threw down a thunderous dunk after bobbling a
pass from Marion to extend the lead to 87-69.

Another Barbosa three-pointer, followed by two foul shots from Nash moved the
Suns to a 96-71 lead midway through the fourth, at which time Phoenix head
coach Mike D’Antoni pulled the reigning league MVP from the game.

“We were tremendously active defensively,” Nash said. “Obviously, when we can
get in transition off turnovers we’re pretty tough.”

Even Kurt Thomas, who had been sidelined since late February with a stress
fracture in his right foot, saw action in the second half for Phoenix.

Nowitzki hadn’t scored less than 20 points since February 21 against the
Clippers, but his poor performance from the field contributed to Dallas’
41.8 percent clip from the floor.

Bell scored five early points during an 11-0 Phoenix run in the opening
quarter for a 12-4 lead. However, Dallas bounced back and the game was tied at
28 going into the second.

A run of 11 points extended Phoenix to a 45-34 lead with five minutes left in
the second before the Mavs closed the gap to three later in the period. The
Suns held a 51-46 edge at the half.

Dallas got within two a pair of times in the third before Phoenix’s massive
push.

Howard was hurt with 5:47 left in the game. Trying for rebounding position, he
got his leg tangled with Phoenix’s James Jones.

Game Notes

The Suns are 9-2 when scoring at least 100 points this postseason…Nash began
2-of-6 from the field, but went 6-of-7 after the slow start…Phoenix had
seven turnovers, compared to 14 for Dallas.

DAL PHO