Let's compare MVP candidate performances today:
Nowitzki: 21 points, 33% shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 assists
Nash: 23 points, 64% shooting, 3 rebounds, 11 assists
Like I said previously, this is only one game and one game does not (at least, it should not) determine who the MVP is. But in a close race, a performance against your closest competitor in the MVP race could change a few votes.
But this game didn't come down to just a competition between Nash and Nowitzki. The Suns played like a team. The Mavericks played like each wanted to try and take over the game and win it single-handedly. And that was the difference.
For some reason, the Mavericks just fell apart in the 4th quarter. Dirk Nowitzki landed on Shawn Marion's foot and after that he spent more time complaining to the refs than actually playing. That hurt the Mavericks as a team and it seems like at that point the Suns started blowing the Mavericks out.
Shawn Marion had another awesome game shooting 80% from the field, scoring 20 points and getting 8 rebounds. Amare Stoudemire shot 10-13, scoring 24 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Leandro Barbosa scored 29 points on 10-17 shooting. Even Boris Diaw had 16 points on 6-9 shooting.
On the other hand, only Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse shot over 50% for the Mavericks. They shot 45.6% as a team. They allowed the Suns to shoot 64.8% as a team. Despite all of the talk about how well the Mavericks play defense, it was the Suns who kept the Mavs from shooting well while the Suns showed that they are a team to contend with.
One important thing to note: Erick Dampier did not play in the game today and that has to be accounted for in the analysis of the game. He would have made a difference in the game and while I still think the Suns would have won, it most probably would have been closer than it was. He would have clogged up the middle a bit more and made it harder for the Suns to drive to the basket.
I think the "experts" who have already given the Mavericks the trophy may be singing a different tune tomorrow morning. I'm definitely not saying the Suns are a shoo-in for the Finals yet. They still have a long way to go. But the Mavericks have shown that they will have their hands full if they meet the Suns in the playoffs.
One thing this game proved to me, I want the Suns to meet the Mavericks in the Western Conference finals if for no other reason than the entertainment value. Obviously I think the Suns would have a better chance to get to the Finals if they don't have to go through the Mavericks but it sure would be a fun series!
(There is no game reaction on the Mavs Moneyball site yet but I imagine it will be tomorrow. I can't think they will be happy about the loss but they just got off winning 9 in a row so they shouldn't be too down about losing this game with a poor performance by their MVP and without Dampier. Check out the site later tonight or tomorrow for reactions on the Mavs side.)