Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudamire, left, goes up for a layup over Dallas Mavericks' Eric Dampier during the second quarter of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal game Wednesday, May 18, 2005, at America West Arena in Phoenix.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
PHOENIX If Steve Nash needed any more proof that he deserves to be MVP, his show-stopping performance Wednesday night ought to do it.
The Suns' mop-haired maestro had 34 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists his third career triple-double and first in the playoffs and Phoenix turned on the jets in a fourth-quarter outburst to beat the Dallas Mavericks 114-108.
''He's a tough little player,'' said Nash's close friend, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, ''we all know that.''
One more victory over his old team, and Nash and the Suns will advance to the Western Conference finals.
Phoenix took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinal series, with Game 6 on Friday night in Dallas. Historically, when it's a 2-2 tie, the victor in Game 5 has gone on to win the series 84 percent of the time.
''Nash played like an MVP tonight. We had no answers for him,'' Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. ''We tried everything humanly possible.''
Jim Jackson, the 13-year NBA veteran moved into the starting lineup for the injured Joe Johnson, made seven of eight shots in the fourth quarter for 15 of his 21 points. Amare Stoudemire rebounded from his 15-point performance in Game 4 with 33 points and a career-playoff high 18 rebounds 21 points and 12 rebounds in the second half. Shawn Marion added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns.
Nowitzki had 34 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, who led 55-48 at the half. Jerry Stackhouse scored 29 points off the bench. Josh Howard added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Jason Terry had 17 points.
But no one on the Mavericks could match the energy and effectiveness of Nash, who came off a 48-point, but losing, effort in Game 4. This time, he scored, and did a lot of everything else, too.
''Obviously, Nash still hurt us in the first half, but he was a monster in the second half,'' Johnson said. ''We came into tonight's game trying to cut off some of his passing angles. We did not follow the game plan, and they just shredded us, shredded us to pieces. I am so disappointed right now.''
Nash had 22 points in the second half, many over and around towering would-be defenders inside the lane, and reached a triple-double with 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
''We can accept Amare getting points in the paint,'' Stackhouse said. ''But Nash getting points in the paint is unacceptable.''
The Suns outscored the Mavericks 66-30 in the paint.
''I expected them,'' Nash said of his many open shots. ''They weren't upset with the 48 points. I was prepared to do the same thing. As one of the best shooters on the team, I have to shoot when I'm open.''
Nash was on the bench, though, for a quick breather when Jackson, acquired by the Suns after refusing to report to New Orleans following a midseason trade from Houston, took charge with three baskets in a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
''It wasn't anything mentally I told myself I needed to do,'' Jackson said. ''It just happened. You just try to get yourself involved in the game and see how it played out.''
The surge put Phoenix up 85-77 with 9:22 to go and the Mavericks never got closer than four again.
The Suns outscored the Mavericks 66-53 in the second half.
''An incredible show of heart in the second half,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. ''The first half we were kind of playing on our heels a little bit, a little tight. We took a pretty good punch from them. The second half we played our style of basketball.''
Dallas cut it to 87-83 on Terry's 17-footer with 7:30 left, but Nash's three-point play was sandwiched between baskets by Stoudemire and Jackson in a 7-0 spurt that put the Suns up 94-83 and sent the packed America West Arena crowd into delirium.
Nash led a 15-5 run that gave Phoenix a 74-69 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter. The final points of the spurt came when Howard fouled Nash on a drive, then was called for a technical for punching the ball into the stands.
Nash, who scored 15 points in the third quarter, sank all three free throws.
His 9-footer in traffic put the Suns ahead 76-71 with 2:53 to go, but the Mavericks scored the last six of the quarter, four by Nowitzki and two free throws by Stackhouse with 0.9 seconds left to take a 77-76 lead going into the fourth.
Erick Dampier, who had played well in Dallas' victories and mostly watched from the bench in foul trouble in the defeats, was 0-for-7 from the field and scored just two points, but grabbed 14 rebounds.
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