SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash controlled the game when it mattered most, making big shots and finding open teammates in the fourth quarter with the game in doubt.
It's a trait the veteran All-Star point guard has exhibited throughout his NBA career, and he did it one more time Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings.
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It was a key victory for Phoenix, which is trying to move up in the standings with 13 games remaining, including six of the next seven on the road.
The Suns won their second straight and third in four games to move over the .500 mark (27-26) for only the third time this season.
The Suns moved within 1½ games of Houston for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff berth.
"We know every game is critical," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "You have to treat every game like a playoff game. This group understands that urgency."
It was Nash helping to push the lead to double digits in the fourth quarter when the Kings kept hanging around, hoping they could get a win on a night when they didn't play well.
Sacramento even had a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter that didn't last long.
After getting a rest for the first half of the fourth quarter, Nash entered the game with 6:25 remaining and was key in a 12-2 run that put Phoenix ahead 101-90.
He made a 3-pointer and followed with an off-balance shot in the lane. A basket by Channing Frye gave the Suns an 11-point lead with 4:05 remaining.
Nash had seven points and three assists in the fourth. Nash also got Phoenix back on track in the second quarter when it squandered much of its 17-point lead but managed to go into halftime ahead by eight, thanks in part to Nash.
"I wouldn't call it a good win, but it was one we needed," said Jared Dudley, who scored 15 points. "They kept making runs at us and twice Steve Nash had to step in and come to the rescue and bail us out."
The Suns won despite the play of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored a career-high 41 points and had 12 rebounds for the Kings, who have lost three of four.
Cousins said Nash was the difference-maker.
"All the credit goes to Steve. He's an incredible player and he knows how to run his team. He sits on the sidelines, rests up a little bit, and then comes back in to [get] you. He doesn't take a lot of shots until the end of the game. He's a tough matchup."
Matched up most of the game against Gortat, Cousins made 16 of 25 shots, had five offensive rebounds and added two assists.
"He's good because he doesn't care," Gortat said. "He doesn't care if he turns the ball over, doesn't care if he misses on a bad shot, he just keeps playing. He's really talented. I got frustrated early and he got going and had confidence all game. I did a terrible job on him."
Redd scored three quick baskets to begin the fourth quarter, stretching the Suns' lead to 87-82 with just under 10 minutes left. But three straight baskets by Cousins pulled Sacramento within 89-88.
"We knew we were going to get their best basketball," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "We have to look at games like this as our playoffs."
The Suns maintained the lead in the third quarter despite having no answer for Cousins. The Kings' center had 13 points and eight rebounds, yet Sacramento still trailed 79-78 heading the fourth.
Nash began looking for his shot more in the third quarter when he had seven points and three assists for Phoenix, which was outscored 27-20.
Gortat had 13 points and eight rebounds in a first-half matchup with Cousins. The Suns led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter and took a 59-51 advantage into halftime.
|The Suns' Steve Nash scores 18 points and distributes a game-high 12 assists in their win against the Kings. (US Presswire)|
|Phoenix (27-26) «||29||30||20||30||109|
|PHO:M. Gortat 20 Pts
PHO:M. Gortat 10 Reb
PHO:S. Nash 12 Ast
|SAC:D. Cousins 41 Pts
SAC:D. Cousins 12 Reb
SAC:I. Thomas 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|J. Dudley, SF||37||5-9||4-5||6||3||2||15|
|C. Frye, C||34||6-16||3-3||6||0||3||15|
|S. Nash, PG||33||7-12||2-2||6||12||2||18|
|M. Gortat, PF||32||7-11||6-7||10||0||6||20|
|S. Brown, PG||32||5-14||1-2||5||2||1||12|
|M. Redd, SG||16||7-14||1-1||1||1||1||16|
|S. Telfair, PG||15||0-3||2-2||2||2||1||2|
|J. Childress, SF||14||2-5||0-0||3||2||2||4|
|R. Lopez, C||14||1-3||4-4||5||1||2||6|
|M. Morris, PF||14||0-3||1-2||2||0||3||1|
|G. Hill, SF||Did Not Play|
|H. Warrick, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Price, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|I. Thomas, PG||39||8-13||8-11||3||7||3||25|
|D. Cousins, C||38||16-25||9-14||12||2||4||41|
|T. Evans, PG||33||4-13||0-1||6||4||4||8|
|J. Thompson, PF||17||1-4||0-0||4||0||4||2|
|D. Greene, SF||13||0-1||0-0||1||0||4||0|
|T. Williams, SG||31||7-10||2-4||6||5||2||16|
|C. Hayes, PF||28||1-7||0-0||7||0||1||2|
|T. Outlaw, SF||18||1-3||2-2||1||0||0||4|
|J. Fredette, PG||13||0-6||0-0||1||1||1||0|
|H. Whiteside, C||10||1-2||0-0||2||0||1||2|
|J. Salmons, SF||Did Not Play|
|F. Garcia, SG||Did Not Play|
|M. Thornton, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Honeycutt, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|