Turns out, a scoring error took it away. The Phoenix Suns' power forward accidentally was credited with a dunk by Boris Diaw in the fourth quarter, and the mistake wasn't corrected until after the game. He settled for 49 points, and the Suns beat the Pacers 113-103 on Wednesday night.
Stoudemire just missed his career high of 50 points, set against Portland on Jan. 2, 2005. But the scoreboard showed that he had 51 points after his second free throw with 1:08 to play.
He took the mishap in stride.
"You guys here in Indiana cheated me," he joked.
Even without a career mark, he impressed his point guard, Steve Nash. Stoudemire shot 17-for-21 from the field, made 15 free throws without a miss and had 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals.
"He was unbelievable," Nash said. "Maybe the best game I've ever seen him play."
Pacers forward Danny Granger gave Stoudemire credit for the outburst, but said there's no excuse for allowing a player to score so many points.
"He hit every jump shot and dunked on everyone," Granger said.
Diaw added 14 points for the Suns (4-1).
The Suns respected Indiana's win over defending NBA champion Boston on Saturday and expected a difficult matchup.
"We knew these guys were going to be tough after that home opener they had against Boston -- they played extremely well in that game," Phoenix coach Terry Porter said. "It was a great character win tonight."
The Suns shot 56 percent from the field to easily recover from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter.
Stoudemire had 21 points in the opening period, shooting 8-for-8 from the field while the rest of the Suns went 3-for-10. He said he knew he needed to get off to a fast start because the team played the previous night in New Jersey.
"Normally, I ease into it and try to get guys involved early," Stoudemire said. "Tonight, coming off the back-to-back -- we got somewhat of an older group -- I wanted to take it on myself to give ourselves a spark. I was able to do that and carry the load tonight to get this win."
Down 38-27 after the first quarter, the Suns rallied in the second. Raja Bell's bank shot cut Indiana's lead to three at 62-59 with 41 seconds left in the first half.
Ford responded with a floater and, after Grant Hill was called for an offensive foul, Ford hit a jumper to give the Pacers a 66-59 lead at halftime. The Pacers made nine of 14 3-pointers in the first half.
The Suns took an 86-84 lead on Leandro Barbosa's 3-pointer. Hill's layup made it 88-84 and forced the Pacers to call timeout with 1:17 left in the third quarter. The Suns held the Pacers scoreless for the final 3:13 of the third quarter and led 90-84 at the end of the period. The Pacers shot just 27 percent in the period, while Phoenix shot 67 percent.
"I just think we have to do more," Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said. "We stood around in the third period. We played a brilliant first half of offensive basketball, then we didn't even have an average third quarter."
Indiana center Jeff Foster said the Pacers stopped being aggressive early in the second half.
"It seemed like we kind of stopped going to the basket in the third quarter," he said. "We got timid. We were able to get to them early, but to their credit, they did what they do and put it to us in the second half."
Phoenix took charge early in the fourth quarter. After taking a 98-88 lead on Hill's basket, the Suns never led by fewer than five points.
Phoenix's balanced lineup made it difficult for the Pacers to commit extra bodies to defending Stoudemire.
"When you surround somebody, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't with Phoenix," O'Brien said.
Stoudemire was most pleased with his defensive effort. The Suns are trying to change their reputation as a team that scores but can't stop opponents.
"I'm trying to get us more respect from you guys (the media) and everybody else from a defensive standpoint. That's an area where I'm trying to improve and really trying to set a tone early with that."
- Phoenix C Shaquille O'Neal played only 12 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with three points and six rebounds.
- Indiana C Rasho Nesterovic (sprained right ankle) and G Mike Dunleavy (right knee) missed the game.
- Phoenix F Matt Barnes showed up for the game, but had to leave for family reasons.