Phoenix Suns 105, San Antonio Spurs 101: Jermaine O’Neal turns back the clock
AT&T CENTER—Perhaps the most underrated non-player asset in all the NBA, the Phoenix Suns training staff has been known to work a miracle or two. Over the years they’ve held Steve Nash’s body together, patched up Grant Hill for his most durable seasons since leaving Detroit, and rejuvenated Shaq in the short time they had him.
For a night against the San Antonio Spurs, the Phoenix Suns training staff managed to turn back time.
Locked in defensively, Tim Duncan met each Jermaine O’Neal shot as a personal challenge. Duncan’s intensity was apparent in contesting each inch of ground, but the results less than favorable. Suddenly it was 2004 and O’Neal was once again a go-to option in the fourth quarter. For a night O’Neal was living proof the Suns training staff could raise the dead.
“He played great, he got the best of me,” Duncan said. “He looked great, made great moves, and finished.”
O’Neal keyed a 33-point fourth quarter for the Suns, scoring 13 points of his 22 points on 5-of-7 shooting, winning several one-on-one battles with Duncan.
It was that kind of night for the San Antonio Spurs, falling to the Suns 101-105. Though the team held a comfortable lead through most of the game, they ended the first half with 12 turnovers to 11 assists.
“The Suns played better in a lot of different areas, we didn’t play very well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Overall we made a lot of mental errors, especially on that last play on the free-throw line when [Wesley] Johnson went all the way down the court and he wasn’t picked up. That cost us the game.”
The play occurred on a string of events as unlikely as O’Neal’s fourth quarter scoring outburst. Trailing by five, the Suns Marcus Morris hit a step-back three-pointer. Duncan appeared to have the final word with a 17-foot jumper to extend the lead to four, but a Dragic jumper and a Ginobili missed free throw with less than four seconds remaining allowed the full-court pass from O’Neal to Johnson that ended in a game-tying three.
“I think we were kind of surprised that Manu missed that last free throw,” Parker said. “But they made a great play, Wesley made a big three.”
The Spurs were hardly sharp in their first game back home coming off the Rodeo Road Trip. An overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns on a random night during the regular season in which the team laid an egg and an unlikely player returned from the basketball grave is hardly cause to for panic. There are, however, some trends that merit keeping an eye on.
Though Parker had a solid game statistically, notching 22 points and eight assists to just one turnover, the fourth quarter and overtime might perpetuate the idea that you can stymie the Spurs offense by placing a longer, athletic defender on Parker.
Parker may have been efficient individually, but the Spurs offense bogged down repeatedly in the fourth quarter as Parker ran the same high pick and roll action multiple times during the same possessions trying to shake free from PJ Tucker or Wesley Johnson. Though playing through injury, he faced similar troubles against Klay Thompson against Golden State.
“Wesley Johnson’s defense on Parker was phenomenal because he could recoup from being beat and still bother him,” Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter.
Turning the Spurs five-man offense into a two-man game caused some problems in the Western Conference Finals, though it hasn’t been an issue for most of the year. Most of that has been largely due to Duncan’s resurgence and the attention that he’s merited, but tonight continued Duncan’s offensive struggles since returning from a knee injury against the Wizards.
Though he mixed in some face-up drives that have been largely absent, and got to the free throw line for eight attempts, Duncan shot just 6-for-15 from the floor. Again, it’s hardly cause for panic as the sample size is still much smaller than the Spurs season long success, but it’s a tactic that will be employed during the playoffs and worth monitoring down the stretch.