Phoenix Suns 110, San Antonio Spurs 113
San Antonio began the fourth quarter of this afternoon’s game against Phoenix with a three point lead. Over the next 12 minutes, the Spurs did not make too many defensive stops; Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, and Jason Richardson all scored with ease. Luckily the Suns aren’t exactly known for their lockdown defense either, and the Spurs were able to maintain their lead, even build on it slightly, as the quarter progressed.
With 1:16 left in the game, Manu Ginobili hit two free throws and put the Spurs back up by four, the margin by which they led most of the quarter. After Amare muscled his way through a double team and made a layup, the Spurs were hoping to working their way back to a two possession game when a George Hill pass was stolen by Jared Dudley. Dudley immediately looked up the court and fed the ball to a streaking Richardson, who had a few feet on the closest defender and looked poised to make the highlight reel.
Richardson made the highlight reel, alright, but for the wrong reasons. The two-time dunk champion slammed the ball off the back of the rim and the rebound was corralled by Ginobili, who had trailed Richardson up the floor. The game was far from over– the next 40 seconds would see a little heroism and some unexpected errors from members of both teams –but that play defined the Spurs 113-110 victory over the Suns this afternoon.
The Spurs would score six more points before the game was over, the Suns five. The Spurs points all came from free throws. The most memorable of those were the two made by George Hill, who quietly absorbed some trash talk from Amare Stoudemire and then proceeded to let his work at the charity stripe speak for him. The Spurs almost missed an opportunity to take the final two, when Tim Duncan made an ill-advised in-bounds pass from half court back towards the Suns basket with just over 3 seconds left in the game. The pass was nearly intercepted by Grant Hill, but Manu managed to gather the ball and was immediately fouled.
On the previous play Steve Nash had hit a 27-foot, fading 3-pointer, pulling the Suns back within one. But after Manu made both free throws, Nash passed up a 3-point shot with under two seconds left and instead shuttled the ball to Channing Frye, who was unable to get off a 2-point jumpshot before the buzzer sounded. The pass made no sense: the clock was about to expire and the Suns were down by three. A two, even a wide-open one, did them absolutely no good. Both Frye and Nash deserve some of the blame. Frye was clearly supposed to setup along the 3-point line, while Nash should have recognized he was out of position and take the shot himself. Either way, Frye’s shot came after the buzzer and the Spurs escaped with the win.
This is may be the first game all season that I can honestly say Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, and Antonio McDyess all played well.
Ginobili continued to play at the high level we have seen him operate at in recent games. He had an unremarkable day from the field (5-13) but his clutch free throw shooting and court generalship were priceless during the game’s closing minutes.
Parker started the game aggressively, a times recapturing the quickness he’s had a hard time sustaining this year. He had an efficient 6-11 day from the floor, but didn’t see any minutes during the games closing stretch- Pop chose to go with a Manu Ginobili/George Hill backcourt instead. There have been other moments this season when Parker has been on the bench at the end of a tight game, but it’s just as likely that Popovich was being conservative with his minutes because of Parker’s recent injury troubles.
Robin Lopez bothered Tim Duncan during the first quarter, but as the contest wore on, the four-time NBA champion took the sophomore to school. Duncan nailed bank shots from the wing and attacked the basket with either hand, finishing the game with a workmanlike 21 points and 10 rebounds. Like any win over a quality opponent, success begins and ends with the reliable, quiet dominance of Tim Duncan.
Jefferson played what may have been his best game of the season. It’s certainly one of the best games he’s played against a playoff caliber opponent. While on offense he played with a clear head and an aggressive attitude. He attacked the rim consistently and productively, either finishing with strength or drawing contact, sometimes both. He showed a little something extra on the defensive end, hustling through his rotations and even recording a clean block against Amare Stoudemire at one point.
But of the five former all-stars on the Spurs, my favorite performance came from Antonio McDyess. During the third quarter, McDyess hyper-extended his left knee while coming down hard after a missed put back. He was helped off the floor and back to the locker room. Unexpectedly, he not only returned to the bench but came back into the game with around 9 minutes left in the third. McDyess then proceeded to nail three of the four 18-footers he loves to take but has struggled to hit consistently this season. It’s not exactly McDyess’ Willis Reed moment, but it makes for a charming subplot.
McDyess’ return to the game after his hyperextension also reveals something interesting about the current mindset of Gregg Popovich. Earlier this week, Pop said he was going to play Richard Jefferson at three almost exclusively. In other words, we were going to see far less of the small that has become so controversial. But when McDyess went down it momentarily threw a wrench into the rotational scheme Pop had etched out for the game, and instead of inserting Bonner, who saw the court briefly at the end of the first, into the lineup, Pop chose to go small to finish the third.
But as soon as McDyess was ready, he was immediately inserted back into the lineup. Pop did not leave Jefferson at the four any longer than was necessary and, except for the closing moments of the game when the Suns had four shooters on the floor, he chose to deploy a lineup with two traditional bigs from then on. Despite the brief lapse back into small ball during the third, McDyess’ post-hyperextension court time suggests that Popovich may be seriously committed to working within a more traditional frontcourt framework.
A two-time dunk champion missing a wide open dunk to tie the game. A misguided pass by one of the most cerebral big men in the history of the NBA. An even more misguided pass by one of the game’s most inventive point guards. And an injury-riddled big who returns to the game after being helped off the floor.
It’s as unlikely an ending to an NBA game as any of us could have imagined. And yet, when someone writes a history of the rivalry between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs, it won’t even be close to the book’s strangest chapter.