Belated thoughts on the game

I've had two viewings, and an entire night to sleep on it, and I still don't know what to make of this game. On one hand, this was obviously a very nice win for the Suns, and it was also an instant "classic", as most double-OT games are. On the other hand, this game went through some major wild swings in both directions that seemed to be as much the result of the other team playing badly as it was whichever team on a run at the time playing well. I think Bill Walton said it best when he noted on the ESPN broadcast that "both teams have played well tonight, but not at the same time". That's certainly how it appeared from my viewpoint, right up until the two OT periods. The OT periods were like another game all unto themselves, with both teams playing maybe as well as could be expected in a 58-minute game, and the score never widening by more than five. Had the whole game been like that, this game would have undoubtedly surpassed the December New Jersey Nets game as my favorite regular season NBA game of all time. As it stands, this one definitely makes my list of all-time favorite Suns games, but I'm just not sure where it ranks on that list. For now, I'm going to say just underneath the March game last year, mostly because I actually got to see that one live.

This game, however, did teach me a lot about the Suns, and a little about the Mavericks too.

  1. The Suns are never out of ANY game against ANY team. I made a statement a while ago that the Suns could not hope to come back from a huge 4th quarter deficit against the Mavericks like they did against Indiana last month. I was wrong. It took two overtimes, and a bit of luck, but they did it! I'm still shaking my head over that Steve Nash out-of-bounds play that created a Jason Terry turnover, and helped seal the win in the second overtime. But the game ball goes to Shawn Marion for the game-saving offensive rebound that led to Steve's second-chance 3 at the end of regulation.

  2. The Suns can win close games, even against the best close-game team in the league. If you would have asked me two days ago what the Suns chances would be in a seven-game series against the Mavericks if every game came down to a single possession, I would have said "not good". In fact, I would probably have picked the Mavericks to win a one-possession game against the Suns nine times out of ten (or at least four out of seven). Not anymore. The Suns have now won two of these one-possession squeakers in less than a week.

  3. The Suns can win overtime games too. The Suns now have a winning record in overtime games this year, and are 2-0 in multiple overtime games. Amare makes all the difference between last year's string of heartbreaking overtime losses, and this year's overtime success. His ability to get to the line is huge. So is his ability to get people in foul trouble. The Mavericks probably lost this game as much as anything because they had two starters--including their best rebounder and their best defender--foul out in overtime.

  4. No matter who wins the official award, Steve Nash is the MVP. I still think Dirk will get it this year, and probably should unless Dallas completely collapses in their final 19 games. One bad game should not be the reason he doesn't get it, any more than Steve's bad game against New Jersey last year prevented him from getting it. However, that said, the difference between Steve and Dirk when it comes to MVP-worthiness is astounding, especially when they play against each other. Once again Steve kept his composure, and the rest of his team followed. In addition to the game-saving shot, he made some amazing defensive plays in crunch time, including the aforementioned steal, redeeming himself for a potentially-costly turnover by immediately taking a charge, and grabbing a HUGE rebound at the end of the second OT that prevented an opportunity for the Mavericks to tie the game. Dirk on the other hand missed two critical free throws, a potentially game-tying shot, and got a silly technical in the second OT that may have cost his team the game. Dirk has 12 technicals according to statistics, but I'm not sure those stats include the one he picked up last night. So he's right there with Amare in terms of possibly getting suspended soon.

  5. The Mavericks are even sorer losers than I thought they were. The Mavericks that came unglued in the 2005 second round, and refuse to acknowledge Miami as the better team in the 2006 finals are still lurking beneath the surface of this year's supposedly championship-ready squad. Dirk's technical and Mark Cuban's shoving the ESPN camera out of the way after the game says it all. The best way the Suns can beat these guys is to back them into a corner and let their own arrogance do the rest.

  6. Both the Suns and the Mavericks can look like champions at times--and both can look like mere wanna-be's too. This game brought out the best and the worst in both teams. For the Suns, it proved the "champion's heart" that endeared last year's team to me and millions of other fans is still very much present and accounted for in this season's Amare+KT-enabled version. That will make for one very dangerious team come playoff time, no matter how the seeds fall or who they play in any round. On the other hand, the Suns continue to struggle mightly with rebounding. Hounding the opponent into a lower-than-average shooting percentage is largely negated when you also allow them to out-rebound you 38 to 55. Especially when 27 of those are offensive rebounds that give the other team second opportunities. For the Mavericks, this game proved that they can run and gun with the best of them, play lock-down defense, and really just beat you any way you choose. People say the Suns make you "pick your poison" on the pick-and-roll, well the Mavericks make you pick your poison when it comes to style. If you want to run, they can do it. If you want to slog it out in a defensive slug-fest, they can do that too. However, that versitility also comes packaged with a few major flaws. First, they still tend to be overconfident at times, as though they think they are "entitled" to greatness. Second, being good at everything doesn't mean you are necessarily great at any one thing. The Mavericks can play the Suns way, but not as well as the Suns do. The Mavericks can play unselfishly, but it pales in comparison to the Suns, for whom it is second-nature. They can also win with defense--but not as well as the Spurs. Lastly, the Mavericks can still be bullied into losing their composure quite easily it seems. In fact, that may be their greatest weakness of all.

So overall, I would say this game was above all else, "educational". The Suns were looking at it as kind of a measuring stick to see how they stack up against the team with the best record. I'd say the answer is "pretty well". They did catch the Mavericks with two guys out due to injuries (Devean George from the get-go, Devin Harris early in the game). But I'm sure the Suns don't want to hear about that after the slew of injuries they have had to deal with, and neither do their fans. Regardless of injuries or questionable calls (and there were several--in both directions), our guys held up quite admirably to their greatest challenge of the season, and I am very proud of them for it. They just dealt the supposed best team in the league their fourth home loss of the entire season, ending a streak of 23 consecutive home wins. That's mighty impressive! The trick will be maintaining that energy for the two other games this week. But they've done it before--beating the Celtics the day after their prior 2OT victory in the middle of what eventually became a five-game road sweep--so I have no doubt at all they can do it again. One thing's for certain: The Suns are back on the radar now, and the NBA world will be watching closely.