The Suns tried their best to outlast the Mavericks on Sunday, swapping out 40 percent of their starting lineup to try to put the right pieces in place in an effort to begin an improbable run to the postseason. Phoenix played well early, but Dallas made the right adjustments defensively, and got huge fourth quarters from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to pull away late, 91-83.
Kidd, in particular, sealed this one for Dallas. He was perfect in the final period, going 3 of 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the free throw line in eight critical minutes, delivering perhaps the knockout blow to a Suns team that has been on the ropes for much of the latter part of the season.
We’ll get to Kidd’s heroics in a moment. But the game was far from a foregone conclusion in Dallas’ favor, and in fact, it was one the Suns controlled for most of the evening.
Phoenix shook up its starting lineup on Sunday, replacing the ineffective Robin Lopez and Vince Carter with super-producers from the bench, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley. Gortat was playing with his nose heavily taped, after fracturing it during Friday’s loss to the Hornets, but it certainly didn’t affect his play. Gortat finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, which effectively cancelled out Tyson Chandler’s 16 points and 18 rebounds for Dallas. Dudley finished with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
Suns head coach Alvin Gentry clearly pushed the right buttons in making these lineup changes. But the team couldn’t overcome its worst three-point shooting performance since 2004, going just 1 for 16 from downtown after averaging 12.5 makes from distance over its last four games. (Ironically, the one three-pointer that the Suns did make? It came from Vince Carter.) Dallas, meanwhile, connected on 10 of its 26 attempts from beyond the arc, none bigger than the two that Kidd hit late in the fourth with the game in the balance.
With the game tied at 83 and just over a minute and a half remaining, Kidd personally ended it with an 8-0 scoring run to put this one in the win column for Dallas. He hit a three as the shot clock expired after getting it late in the possession from J.J. Barea, then drained another one on his team’s very next possession with 44 seconds left that effectively sealed it. Both were extremely tough shots.
“That first three he hit beat the clock by a tenth of a second,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “His level of concentration to step into that shot and hit all net, it’s phenomenal. And then the other one, Dirk just got in a bad way, he circled around, gave him an outlet, and there’s no tougher shot in basketball than a three-point shot if you’re right-handed and moving to your left, kind of circling around. Those were two phenomenal shots.”
Kidd had a slightly different perspective.
“I had no choice when J.J. gave me the ball with one second left on the shot clock,” Kidd joked. “So that helped, because I didn’t have to think about it.”
Phoenix led by as many as 12 in the early going, as Steve Nash and Gortat repeatedly shredded the Mavericks on the pick and roll. Rodrigue Beaubois started for Dallas, and he looked absolutely lost defensively, as Nash found Gortat again and again wide open at the rim. The first quarter ended with seven assists for Nash, 12 points for Gortat, and a frustrated Dallas squad that managed to shoot just 20 percent from the field in the period.
As the game went on, though, Dallas’ defense adjusted, and locked down to hold the Suns to just 34 second-half points. They sent two guys at Nash consistently to force the ball out of his hands, and the Suns had trouble taking advantage of their mismatches in isolation situations offensively.
Still, things were tight to start the fourth, with the Suns clinging to a two-point lead. That’s when Terry stepped in, and made up for his 2 of 10 shooting in the first three quarters with 10 straight Mavericks points early in the fourth. Terry got it started for Dallas offensively in the period, and Kidd was there to finish it.
While the Suns talked of their playoff hopes being all but lost, the Mavericks were energized by their second road win in as many nights. Both games featured slow starts, however, which is something Kidd spoke to afterward.
“Well, I don’t want to blame it on age,” Kidd said with a smile, and with a few gray hairs noticeably poking through a couple of days worth of stubble on his face. “We sometimes are spoiled in the sense of having a deep team, and we get off to a slow start. But we feel that if we just keep coming, the tide will turn.”