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Nash, Suns earn their spurs

DALLAS -- Down by 16 points late in the third quarter, the Phoenix Suns weren't worried. They knew they still hadn't hit their stride.

Then Steve Nash got them going -- all the way to the Western Conference finals.

Showing why he was the NBA MVP, Nash forced overtime on a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left, then made the three that put the Suns ahead for good in a 130-126, series-ending victory over the Dallas Mavericks Friday night.

After six seasons of trying to win a title in Dallas, Nash sent his former teammates into the offseason in a way that showed why the Suns consider themselves the team to beat. They believe their offense can't be held down forever and they made a convincing argument in Game 6 of the second-round series, scoring 66 points in the final 21 minutes after managing only 64 points in the first 32.

''Our mentality all year has been, if we get down, we can easily come back," said Shawn Marion, who had a career playoff-best 38 points and 16 rebounds. ''Sixteen points is nothing for us. We can score 16 points in a couple of minutes."

Phoenix's reward for becoming the first team to win consecutive games this series is opening the next round today at home against the San Antonio Spurs. The Suns could have back starting guard Joe Johnson, who has been out since Game 2 with an eye injury.

The Spurs will offer an interesting defensive challenge for the NBA's highest-scoring team of the last decade.

The Suns are trying to become the first offense-driven team to win the title since the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers. They've already become the first team to go from missing the playoffs one year and making the conference finals the next since Boston and New Jersey in 2002. The last West team to do it was Phoenix in 1989.

''This is fun for us to reach new heights," Nash said. ''We've done some special things."

Nash scored 8 points in the final minute of regulation Friday, then had 7 more in overtime. He hit his final five shots and finished with 39 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds -- one rebound shy of his second straight triple-double.

After the game, Nash shared a brief hug with former teammate Dirk Nowitzki. Later, Nash thanked the Mavericks and their fans for six wonderful years, saying it was ''difficult to see them go home." He never mentioned team owner Mark Cuban, who came up several years and more than $20 million shy of Phoenix in his last contract offer.

Nash might have been too humble to rub it in, but his teammates weren't.

''They have to be crazy to let that boy go," forward Quentin Richardson said. ''Thank you, Dallas! I'm glad to be on his team."

Nowitzki said he's never seen his buddy play any better.

''He made some unbelievable plays, not only today to win the game, but in every game they won," said Nowitzki, who had 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists. ''I think he really wanted to show all of Dallas what we missed and he really did that."

Dallas got 36 points from Nash's replacement, Jason Terry, including a tough 3-pointer with 3 seconds left that kept the drama going until the final buzzer.

Yet Mavs fans will remember Nash dribbling away from Terry to get open for the shot that tied the game at 111 at the end of the fourth quarter, then Terry being berated by Nowitzki after the buzzer for his lousy defense.

''We had the game won and then let Steve dribble up and hit a three," Nowitzki said.

Had Terry fouled Nash before he got to the 3-point line, Nash would have gotten just two free throws. Terry also tried calling timeout after Nash's basket, but officials didn't see it and Jerry Stackhouse dribbled to the other end and missed a three at the buzzer.

''They were just stupid mistakes that shouldn't have happened," Nowitzki added.

In overtime, Terry gave Dallas its final lead with a 3-pointer that made it 114-113. Nash answered immediately with a three and the Suns made their lead stand, despite several challenges, including a 3-point try by Nowitzki with about 11 seconds left that would have tied it at 126.

''We probably could have gotten a better look in that situation, but we stand behind him," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. ''It looked good when he shot it."

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