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The series between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs has been marked by bumps, bruises and harsh words.
A forearm by Robert Horry to Steve Nash in the closing seconds of the Suns' 104-98 win Monday night in Game 4 escalated the tension to a whole new level.
The Suns, who trailed by as many as 11 points, had taken the lead for the first time in the second half on consecutive behind-the-back feeds from Nash to Amare Stoudemire that made it 100-97 with 32 seconds to play.
As Nash started to bring the ball up the court after Manu Ginobili missed the Spurs' fourth straight shot, Horry hit him with a forearm that knocked him into the scorers' table and had players from both teams rushing to the scene.
"I was trying to skate between him and the boards and he got me with a nice hip check," Nash said. "What can I say? It was a pretty nice check."
Horry was promptly given a flagrant foul and ejected and the Suns' Raja Bell was given a technical.
The Suns closed out the win to even their best-of-seven series with the Suns at 2-2.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Phoenix and will surely carry much of the tension that has characterized the Western Conference semifinals so far.
The incident with 18 seconds left in the game overshadowed Phoenix's late 12-1 run to close out the game.
"It was a great win, a gutsy win. They were playing extremely well that second and third quarter," Nash said. "We had a hard time stopping them. They were hitting a lot of 3s and big shots. ... Somehow we managed to hang in there and give ourselves a chance to pick up our defense, pick up our offense."
The Spurs led 97-92 with 2:22 to play on a rebound basket by Tim Duncan, their last field goal of the game.
"(The Suns) were very aggressive," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "They got to the bucket easier than they did earlier in the game. They just played very well, very aggressively down the stretch."
The Suns outscored the Spurs 32-18 in the fourth quarter.
"It says a lot about this team. We just battled all night," said Phoenix's Shawn Marion. "I think we didn't get any breaks. We just found a way to get over that hill and pull it out."
Nash and Amare Stoudemire connected on a couple of behind-the back passes for layups that gave the Suns the lead for good, the first with 53 seconds left, the second with 32 seconds to go that made it 100-97.
After Horry's ejection, a free throw by each team made it 101-98. The Suns kept possession and Nash added another free throw with 16 seconds to go.
Marion added two free throws with 7.4 seconds left.
It's possible there could be suspensions from the league for players leaving the bench after Horry fouled Nash.
Stoudemire was caught on replays well off the bench but he said he was on his way to the scorer's table to check in when the incident happened. He said he's "just a little" worried about a possible suspension.
"I was just doing what the coach told me. He told me to check in," Stoudemire said. "I just got to say my prayers tonight."
The Spurs led by as many as 11 points. They missed nine of their last 10 shots, including the last six during Phoenix' closing run.
"We've been in this situation before. We did a good job to get the lead. Late in the game we didn't do a good job," Spurs guard Bruce Bowen said. "We have to do a better job of tightening up more than anything else."
Stoudemire led the Suns with 26 points, while Nash had 24 points and 15 assists.
"Today we did it. We have to do it two more times," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Tonight, we played a little bit better and a little more desperate. We got over the hump. They're a great team."
Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and Tim Duncan had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The Spurs entered the fourth quarter leading 80-72.
Marion's dunk with 1:31 to go brought the Suns within one, and Stoudemire's first layup put the Suns up 98-97. It was their first lead since 3:38 left in the second quarter, when they were up 38-37.
Marion was largely absent offensively early on, scoring just three points heading into the final quarter. His — with 8:33 to go, followed by another basket, brought the Suns within 85-80 with 7:51 to play. Marion finished with 12 points, nine in the fourth, and 12 rebounds. Kurt Thomas had 14 points, Bell had 12 and Leandro Barbosa added 10.
"The guy was all over the place," D'Antoni said of Marion. "He came up with some good buckets. Didn't score a lot, but got 12 rebounds. He was just everywhere, everywhere."
Stoudemire, who sat much of the second half of Saturday's Game — with foul trouble, picked up his fourth and fifth fouls just four seconds apart in the fourth quarter. He went to the bench with 6:54 left in the game.
Suns storm back to beat Spurs as late foul ratchets up tension
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