Dirk drops 50 on Suns, Mavs lead 3-2 in Western Conference finals
By Paul Levine Jun 2, 2006, 8:48 GMT
Dallas Mavericks Forward Dirk Nowitzki attempts a layup during the second half of game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Finals at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas Thursday, 01 June 2006. Nowitzki left the game with 50 points as Dallas won 117-101. EPA/REX C. CURRY
Los Angeles - Dirk Nowitzki torched the Phoenix Suns. The German juggernaut exploded for 22 of his playoff career-high 50 points in the final quarter, and the Dallas Mavericks set visiting Suns 117-101 in game five Thursday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
'Dirk was unbelievable, we couldn't stop him,' Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. 'I don't expect him to score 50, but it doesn't amaze me. He's seven feet and probably shoots the ball better than anybody on the planet. He's just did everything right tonight.'
Nowitzki made 14-of-26 field goals, including five-of-six from behind the three-point arc, converted 17-of-18 free throws and grabbed 12 rebounds en route to set a Dallas playoff record.
Ironically, it came after a career personal post-season low 11- point effort on a dismal 3-of-13 shooting in a 106-86 blowout loss in game four two nights earlier.
'In the last game I never really found my rhythm, but tonight I wanted to be aggressive and keep attacking, no matter what happened,' Nowitzki said. 'I didn't want to force a whole lot like I did in game four, so I just tried to take whatever they gave me. Obviously, it worked a lot better today than it did in game four.'
In front of a wildly cheering supportive sold out crowd at the American Airlines Centre, Nowitzki put on a dominating one-man show. The five-time all-star forward displayed his full repertoire, burying an array of soft jumpers, and driving layups.
'Dirk was huge for us,' teammate Jerry Stackhouse said. 'The numbers speak for themselves. We knew he'd respond, but to get 50 points in a game like this in such a dramatic fashion.'
Josh Howard netted 23 points and Stackhouse had 16 off the bench for Dallas, which outscored the Suns 35-20 in the decisive fourth quarter.
Dallas has two chances to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, beginning with game six Saturday at Phoenix.
'We're one game away from doing something that this franchise has never done before,' Stackhouse said. 'Hopefully, we can bring that energy that we need. That's what it really comes down to. It's about the team that's going to make the extra effort that's going to move on.'
Streaky-shooting Tim Thomas led Phoenix with a playoff career-high 26 points, including 18 on six three-pointers. Steve Nash had 20 points and 11 assists, while Shawn Marion finished with 20 and 10 rebounds.
'Dirk was outstanding,' said Nash of the exceptional effort by his former teammate and still close friend. 'I don't think he missed very often. He was tremendous.'
The Suns will look to regroup and avoid elimination on Saturday night.
'We had a shot at in the third quarter and we just couldn't hold the lead,' D'antoni said. 'It's 3-2. We go back to Phoenix and have to hold serve and see if Dirk can do it again.'
Phoenix fell into an early 14-point hole but got their up-tempo game in gear and pulled to within 58-55 at halftime.
The Suns caught and took a 77-70 advantage behind Thomas, who had 12 points, including three triples in the period. Nowitzki responded by scoring seven points in a 12-4 closing run, giving the Mavericks an 82-81 edge heading into the final frame.
After two free throws by Brazil's Leandro Barbosa pulled the Suns within 89-88 with 9:08 left to play, Nowitzki took over and the Mavericks pulled away.
He reeled off Dallas' next 15 points, pushing the lead to 104-93 with five minutes left. A tip-in gave him 47 points and his three- pointer with just under two minutes remaining made it an even 50 as the crowd roared their approval.
'When we were down by seven I saw the season slipping away,' Nowitzki said. 'Everybody just realized we don't want this to be over yet. I said we need to get some stops.
'I'll shoot the ball, I'll drive the ball whatever we need to get this win. We came together as a team and played some good defence and ran away with it.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur