DALLAS -- When the second overtime began in a game that already had plenty of thrills, Amare Stoudemire was ready to settle things.
So he went to the basket. Hard.
Between points and fouls that got Dallas Mavericks starters disqualified, Stoudemire's strong start got the Phoenix Suns going toward a 129-127 victory Wednesday night in a tense, thrilling game between the league's two best teams.
"He's a great finisher," marveled teammate Steve Nash. "That was quite a performance."
Stoudemire had 41 points and 10 rebounds, and Nash played like a two-time MVP down the stretch. He scored 10 points in the final minute of regulation, capped by a tying 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left. He finished with 32 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds.
Jerry Stackhouse scored 33 points, his most in three season with Dallas, and Dirk Nowitzki added 30 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. He had eight points and seven rebounds in the third quarter, when the Mavs turned what had been a 16-point deficit into a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Phoenix rallied by opening the fourth by making eight straight shots and 10 of 12. While that set up Nash's great finish, four missed free throws by Dallas -- including two by Nowitzki -- were equally important.
The Mavericks remained shaky at the start of overtime, then Jason Terry scored five points in the final 48 second, including a long 3 over Nash with 4.5 seconds to go that forced another period.
Phoenix controlled the second OT, but it took a missed 8-footer by Nowitzki as time expired to secure a win that ended Dallas' 23-game home winning streak and tightened the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.
"This was a big game. We aren't going to try to downplay it," Stackhouse said. "Those were the best two teams in the West. It was a little disappointing not to get the win but we'll bounce back."
The Suns won their sixth straight and 11th in 12 games, moving them within 2½ games of the Mavericks for the best record in the league.
"We're 2½ and they have to come to our place, but they might not lose two more the rest of the season," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Dallas seemed like a lock for the top spot just a few days ago, when a 17-game winning streak prompted talk of 70 wins for the season.
But now the Mavs have dropped consecutive games for the first time since their 0-4 start. This was their first home loss since Dec. 7.
"If our guys can string together some stops and if I do a better job of getting them in a better position to make sure they can be more successful, then we can get it turned around," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.
The Suns have 18 games left and the Mavs have 19. The clubs meet again April 1 in Phoenix, with the Dallas leading the season series 2-1.
The top seed in the West is worth much more than bragging rights. In addition to the home-court advantage in every round, there's also a better draw; whichever team doesn't get No. 1 likely will be on course to meet the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
No wonder both teams played as if this was more than just another game.
"That was a playoff atmosphere," Stoudemire said. "Both teams played with high intensity. Both teams were in it until the end. We definitely wanted to win but we also want to improve."
By game's end, these weren't the same Mavericks.
The calls that got Howard and Dampier tossed were booed loudly by a season-high crowd of 20,525. Then Nowitzki got a technical foul for arguing a non-call. Stackhouse had a bigger beef about a missed foul soon after -- but didn't dare say anything.
When Nowitzki's last try missed and he wound up on the ground, a building that had been buzzing all night went eerily silent, as if no one was sure it was really over. Then there were some boos at officials, with Mavs owner Mark Cuban seemingly making a hurried exit.
Terry had 27 points, five assists, five rebounds -- and five turnovers, including one in the final half-minute of the second overtime. Howard scored 19 points and Dampier had eight points with 11 rebounds; amazingly, all were on the offensive end.
Stoudemire made 16 of 19 shots. His dominance inside reminded the Suns how badly they could've used him against Dallas in the Western Conference finals last year.
"He was unstoppable," D'Antoni said. "He had a little sore back, a little muscle cramp or something in the first half. ... But, man, did he rise to the occasion in the fourth quarter."
So did Nash and Nowitzki, the good friends, former teammates and MVP front-runners.
The game ended with Nash rebounding Nowitzki's miss. Overall, though, both made plenty of big plays and had their share of regrettable ones.
There were several 1-on-1 matchups, too, with Nowitzki getting the best of them in the overtimes. Earlier, Nash scooped a left-handed layup around the big German, prompting Nowitzki to tell officials he was elbowed. Nowitzki later smiled as he recommended a technical foul against Nash for complaining about a non-call.
Midway through the fourth, Nowitzki dribbled around Nash and no one else was between him and the basket, so he sped up and threw down a dunk about as hard as he ever does.
|Steve Nash takes charge in overtime as the Suns prove too strong for host Dallas. (AP)|
|Phoenix (50-14) «||32||28||16||35||9||9||129|
|PHO:A. Stoudemire 41 Pts
PHO:S. Marion 12 Reb
PHO:S. Nash 16 Ast
|DAL:J. Stackhouse 33 Pts
DAL:D. Nowitzki 16 Reb
DAL:D. Nowitzki 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|R. Bell, SG||53||5-11||0-0||3||3||4||11|
|S. Nash, PG||48||11-25||8-8||8||16||2||32|
|S. Marion, SF||48||7-12||0-0||12||1||4||15|
|A. Stoudemire, C||45||16-19||9-12||10||1||4||41|
|B. Diaw, SF||20||2-5||0-0||0||2||4||4|
|L. Barbosa, PG||37||5-11||7-10||1||3||6||17|
|J. Jones, SF||26||3-5||0-0||1||0||2||9|
|K. Thomas, PF||13||0-0||0-0||3||0||0||0|
|E. Piatkowski, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Rose, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Marks, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Jones, SF||Did Not Play|
|P. Burke, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Banks, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|D. Nowitzki, PF||57||11-28||8-12||16||6||2||30|
|J. Terry, PG||55||10-20||2-2||5||5||4||27|
|J. Howard, SF||45||7-19||5-8||9||2||6||19|
|E. Dampier, C||26||4-10||0-0||11||0||6||8|
|D. Harris, PG||6||0-1||2-2||1||0||2||2|
|J. Stackhouse, SF||42||12-20||4-5||0||2||2||33|
|G. Buckner, SG||26||1-2||1-1||1||0||4||3|
|D. Diop, C||16||2-4||1-1||7||1||0||5|
|A. Croshere, PF||13||0-0||0-0||5||0||2||0|
|J. Barea, PG||3||0-0||0-0||0||2||1||0|
|D. George, SF||Did Not Play|
|D. Mbenga, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Ager, SG||Did Not Play|
|P. Mensah-Bonsu, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|