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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Punch-drunk Nash knocks out Spurs

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Steve Nash's right eye was swollen shut. He had six stitches beneath a bandage on his eyebrow, while the purplish lump was darkening another shade.

And that fourth quarter?

"I couldn't see anything," Nash said.

One good eye was plenty.

Nash scored 10 of his 20 points while his eye gradually shut more and more in the fourth, and the Phoenix Suns swept the San Antonio Spurs from the Western Conference semifinals with a 107-101 win Sunday night. It was long-awaited redemption for the Suns, who had been booted from the playoff by the Spurs four times since 2003.

"That was ugly," Phoenix forward Channing Frye said, walking off the court.

He wasn't talking about Nash's eye, though it would've fit. Nash was accidentally struck by one of Tim Duncan's elbows in the third quarter and briefly went to the locker room.

Nash came back with an ice pack on his eye when he finally returned to the court. Even then, it wasn't back into the game right away — first he lay on the court with the ice still on his head.

"He looked like Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini,' " Suns forward Grant Hill said. "It forced him to focus 'cuz he was shooting out of one eye."

It was reminiscent of the 2007 West semifinals, when Nash had his nose sliced open when he and Tony Parker collided head-to-head in Game 1. The gash in Nash's nose bled profusely, and the Suns went on to lose the series.

Not this time.

"Obviously I'm very sad and very mad that we lost, but at the same time I'm happy for Nash and (Amare) Stoudemire," Parker said. "Because every year they played hard against us and it never went their way. This year, it went their way."

Stoudemire led Phoenix with 29 points. He is the only Suns player who was on each of those Spurs-ousted teams over the last seven years, but rather than rejoice, Stoudemire coolly walked off the court.

The Suns still have work to do.

They'll either play the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz in the West finals. The Lakers lead that series 3-0, and no team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from that deficit to win.

Add these Spurs to that list.

"We thought from our past experience that we could do some things to control the series, but they just outplayed us," Duncan said. "All in all, they just outplayed us."

Parker scored 22 points to lead the Spurs, who were swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Celtics 97, Cavaliers 87

In Boston, Rajon Rondo had 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists, and the Celtics beat Cleveland to even the Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.

Still sometimes overlooked among Boston's other All-Stars, Rondo is the reason his team is two wins away from knocking off the East's No. 1 seed.

"I think it starts with Rondo. He's kind of the engine that really gets them going," Cavs star LeBron James said. "He does everything for them. His performance was unbelievable.

"Rondo was definitely the difference maker."

Rondo had a playoff career high in rebounds and matched his best scoring night in his fourth postseason triple-double. He played 47 minutes with some of his bigger-name teammates in foul trouble, and fans serenaded him with the chants as he knocked down a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left.

"He was absolutely sensational tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.

Rondo became the third player in playoff history to have at least 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Oscar Robertson had 32 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists in 1963, and Wilt Chamberlain had 29 points, 36 rebounds and 13 assists in 1967.

Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett scored 18 apiece for the Celtics, who rebounded from the worst home playoff loss in franchise history and ensured they'll get at least one more game at home. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Cleveland before the series returns to Boston on Thursday night.

James scored 22 points — only one more than he had in the first quarter of Game 3 — and seemed frustrated during a seven-turnover performance. Shaquille O'Neal added 17 points, his high for this postseason, but was on the bench when the Celtics blew by the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter.

"Boston was more aggressive and we have to try and do it for 48 minutes," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "The most aggressive team is going to win."

Tony Allen scored a playoff career-high 15 points in 26 spirited minutes off the bench for the Celtics, helping spell the foul-plagued Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Pierce continued to struggle, managing only nine points in 31 minutes, but Rondo made sure he wasn't missed.

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