Sunday , Jun , 04 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Mavs finally reach NBA Finals with huge rally versus Suns

Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) – An NBA Finals filled with two first-time
participants is set, as Dirk Nowitzki brought Dallas back from an early 18-
point deficit to close out the Phoenix Suns, 102-93, in Game 6 of the Western
Conference finals at US Airways Center.

Nowitzki continued his ascent to stardom with another clutch playoff
performance, dropping in 24 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, one game
after a 50-point performance that will go down as one of the greatest
individual performances in franchise history.

“Obviously I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Nowitzki.
“Obviously now you’re in the Finals, you want to get the ring, and you want to
fight for it.”

Josh Howard posted 20 points and 15 rebounds and provided much more on the
defensive end of the court, collecting three steals and continuously
frustrating Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas.

Jerry Stackhouse added 19 points and Jason Terry donated 17 for Dallas, which
won its first Game 6 since June 2, 1988 at home against the Los Angeles Lakers
in the conference finals.

The Mavericks outscored Phoenix 40-27 in the deciding fourth quarter and will
now host Miami in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, beginning Thursday. Dallas won
both contests against the Heat this season.

The NBA Finals will showcase two first-time participants for the first time
since the Baltimore Bullets squared off against the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.

The sun set on a short-handed Phoenix squad Saturday after a season that
bested reasonable expectations. Star forward Amare Stoudemire played in only
three games because of a right knee injury and Joe Johnson bolted for Atlanta
in the offseason.

However, Steve Nash put together another MVP season and the Suns pieced
together a team that reached the conference finals.

It ended Saturday despite 19 points and nine assists from Nash and a game-high
30 points and 11 rebounds from Boris Diaw. Leandro Barbosa added 14 points and
Marion posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but the Suns
tired down the stretch after using just seven players.

Phoenix was playing in its eighth conference finals, but hasn’t advanced to
the NBA Finals since falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993.

“We’ll come back tomorrow and have some team meetings and Monday we’ll get to
work and try to bring us a championship,” said Phoenix head coach Mike
D’Antoni. “We’re getting closer. We played to June 3rd this year and last year
was June 1st. We’re inching closer.”

Dallas used a 17-7 burst to break open a tie game midway through the fourth
stanza. Nowitzki drew the attention, allowing Howard, Terry and Stackhouse to
handle the bulk of the scoring during the stretch. However, the German star’s
two free throws handed the Mavericks an 89-79 advantage with 2:45 remaining.

Nash’s driving layup brought the Suns within seven, 90-83, but Howard drained
a three at the other end with 1:29 left to start the celebration.

“Again, man, this was a special night for us,” said Dallas head coach Avery
Johnson. “We were so bad in the first half and so good in the second half.
You’re talking about the tale of two halves and the way we turned it on and
from that middle of the third on into the fourth was incredible.”

Stackhouse was a large part of the fourth-quarter outburst, scoring 13 of his
19 points in the stanza.

Two hours earlier, it looked like a Game 7 was on the horizon. Phoenix
completely dominated the first period, closing it out with 11-5 run to take a
29-14 edge.

Diaw totaled 10 points, as the Suns made 11-of-18 shots in the period. Dallas,
on the other hand, shot just 28.6 percent from the floor while Nowitzki scored
just one point.

Phoenix held serve during the second quarter and led 44-26 before going into
the half with a 51-39 advantage. Diaw led all scorers with 20 points, but the
Mavericks had to feel fortunate with the deficit after missing all 10 three-
point attempts.

The Mavericks stormed back in the third, ending the period on a 17-6 run to
get within four points. Nowitzki was right in the middle of the crucial burst,
scoring 12 of the points, including two straight jumpers to end the quarter
and cut the deficit to 66-62.

Game Notes

Phoenix is 3-8 in its last two conference finals…The Suns fell to 1-7 this
postseason when scoring under 100 points…Dallas improved to 15-0 this season
when Howard scores at least 20 points…Phoenix committed 18 turnovers,
including six from Diaw…The 14 first-quarter points were the fewest scored
by the Mavericks in any quarter this postseason…Dallas made only 3-of-20
attempts from beyond the arc…Thomas and Barbosa both fouled out…Nowitzki
had three blocks.