Sometimes it comes down to simple execution.
For all the best laid plans of Jeff Hornacek, the Phoenix Suns were out-executed by the Dallas Mavericks down the stretch as the Mavericks clinched a playoff spot.
Dallas trailed by as much as thirteen, 69-56, midway through the third quarter, before embarking on a huge run fuelled by Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter.
Despite the work put in by that trio, a fourth Maverick would come up with the most important play of the game. Brandon Wright was a force inside and on the glass all game, mopping up whatever misses came his way and turning away three shots, one a transition swat that had the American Airlines Center on it’s feet while the third pretty much sealed the game, forcing Phoenix to foul again while down two.
Monta Ellis would lead all scorers with 37 points on 15-23 shooting as he was able to pick and choose his shots wisely, taking whatever the Suns defense gave him. Nowitzki added 23 points (albeit on 8-15 shooting) to go with his 8 rebounds.
Vince Carter may not have lit up the box score (4-13 shooting for 10 points) but he constantly worked harder than his match-up and made life tough for whoever was opposite him.
Although Ellis converted back-to-back threes, it was Carter’s dive over the photographers sitting baseline to retrieve a loose ball that got the crowd going, ultimately setting up Ellis’ second triple.
While the Suns were content to score on the break and from mid-range, Dallas were busy hustling their way to just enough points to keep their noses ahead.
Nowitzki got of to a slow start before heating up in the second half, hitting back-to-back threes himself that appeared to blow the game open before Phoenix dragged themselves close in the final minutes.
Dirk’s struggles in this game were largely thanks to terrific game-planning by Jeff Hornacek. Dirk was allowed to establish his post position but as soon as he caught the ball after dribbling or turned his back to the basket, a second defender arrived to force the pass.
Nowitzki time and again had to force difficult skip passes, fraught with even more danger thanks to Bledsoe and Dragic’s brilliant defensive awareness in the passing lanes. The strategy was effective enough that it made Dirk a non-factor through the first 30 minutes of the game.
Channing Frye knocked down his first five three-point attempts of the game including three in the first few minutes as Phoenix opened were able to open up an early lead.
However, the theme of the night would be Phoenix making too many mistakes through a combination of sloppy play and youth inexperience. Dallas’ roster boasts a core of players who have been around the league for decades and it showed as the game tightened up down the stretch.
Eric Bledsoe finished with 29 points on an efficient 11-15 shooting but didn;t have the answer for Monta Ellis when it really mattered. Dragic, coming back from an ankle injury that held him out of the last couple of games, posted 13 points on a difficult 6-18 shooting night.
The win secured Dallas’ return to the playoffs after missing out 12 months ago. The Memphis Grizzlies can now clinch a spot alongside them by beating the Suns on Monday night. The Suns will need to win their remaining two games (vs Memphis on Monday, Sacramento on Wednesday) and hope the Grizzlies finish 1-2 or worse.