How does this happen? The Suns allow the Clippers to shoot 59 per cent -- and win, quite comfortably, 130-123.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy has the well, duh line of the night: "The tempo wasn't exactly what we needed." And this is priceless, from ESPN's Marc Stein, on the state of mind of the two-time MVP:
He was honestly more angst-ridden at the morning shootaround about the just-released roster of England's World Cup soccer team -- and the controversial
selection of an untested teenager named Theo Walcott over Jermain Defoe from Nash's beloved Tottenham Hotspur -- than the state of his tender ankle or the pressure of living up to the MVP statuette he collected from Commissioner Stern in a pre-game ceremony.
MATT YORK/AP Yeah, the trophy's great but did you see England's World Cup roster?
My notes are brief and to the point. It's all Nash, who went out on the tender ankle and ran the anchor leg in a track meet. Here's the Suns' offence inside of the final nine minutes:
Nash screen and roll, drives, fouled, makes two (101-99).
Nash driving layup, miss.
Nash scr/roll, to Diaw driving layup (103-101).
Nash scr/roll, to Diaw, fouled Brand in post on double. Diaw drive on Kaman (in for Brand -- why, Mike?) and layup (105-101).
Nash scr/roll, gets Kaman in switch (Mike, uh ... about that Brand substitution), eyes get real wide, baseline opens up like Ali Baba's tomb, drive baseline and pass to Marion, fouled, makes two (Suns in bonus now) (107-101).
Nash pen., Barbosa pops out weakside -- Ross doesn't follow him, cheating toward the middle because of Nash -- open 3 (110-103).
Nash pullup jumper vs Livingston, Clippers timeout, 5 1/2 minutes left (112-103).
So in a shade over three minutes, Suns score on five straight possessions in a variety of different ways that all started with the same idea. After the timeout, they scored on two more -- a Raja Bell driving layup, and a Bell three off great ball movement that began with (surprise) a screen and roll.
The Suns suckered the Clippers into playing at their tempo, and in the fourth quarter's final nine minutes Phoenix scored on 13 of 17 possessions. Against that kind of efficiency, hell, 59 per cent isn't near enough, you have to shoot lights-out. The Suns do this with a bench that's two deep (and in early foul trouble during a less efficient first half for them). Everyone gets involved. But it all starts with Nash.
One more snapshot: Final minute of third quarter, Maggette has ball for Clippers on the fast break and he's going in to make it a five-point Clippers lead -- but he's called for travelling. Nash at the other end immediately puts 'em into screen and roll, Livingston yields and there's no help, Nash gets a layup. After another Clippers turnover created by Marion overplaying the entry pass, Nash drives deep and kicks out to Diaw, pitch to Bell in the corner for an open 3. So in the final 40 seconds, it's a seven-point turnaround, the Clippers trailing by two instead of up by five.
I thought this was a seven-game series to the Suns, and it still may be. But as opening statements go, this was emphatic.
Nets open with huge run, blow Heat out of the gym, Vince Carter continues to roll and Pat Riley is still perhaps a genius. And this from Three Things We Learned about the Nets: "John Thomas was not backing down from Shaquille O'Neal."
Wait one minute. John Thomas? The John Thomas?