San Antonio Spurs 101, Phoenix Suns 107: The Phoenix Suns were simply a better team
AT&T Center–It was over before it began, but for a brief moment with George Hill following through on a last minute three-pointer, with Amare Stoudemire making the stereotypical Amare Stoudemire lapse, it was almost enough to stir up a flicker of hope.
That, in short, was the 2009-2010 San Antonio Spurs season. In many ways, it was over before it began. Richard Jefferson was a horrible fit from the start. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were both ailing from years of international play. And Tim Duncan was another year older.
Yet the San Antonio Spurs resolve, their closing act in the regular season, was just enough to stir up memories of ghosts past. But these were not the same Suns, and definitely not the same San Antonio Spurs. Phoenix was simply better.
“This is, like we said before the series and it really rings true, it really is different teams,” Phoenix Suns point guard Steven Nash said. “Obviously there are similar cores, but so many players are different that you can’t act like this is a continuation.”
So much of what can be written about the Phoenix Suns this series can be taken straight from the San Antonio Spurs playbook of years past. Every game mirrored the previous, differing only in which player stepped up that night.
Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic. These names stood in place of what use to be Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley. It was as if the Phoenix Suns took every slight ever inflicted upon them by the Spurs and exorcised them one by one.
Tim Duncan hit a game-ending three in one game, but was too little too late. A facial injury from the previous series stunted the momentum of one player, but it was Manu Ginobli’s nose instead of Joe Johnson’s eye socket. There were hard fouls, but they were all delivered by the Phoenix Suns. And in a final act, the Spurs drew blood from Steve Nash. Only he came back.
Eye swollen shut after catching an elbow from Tim Duncan, Steve Nash returned in the fourth quarter and delivered the final nail in the Spurs coffin. Ten points, five assists and one momentous three-pointer in the closing quarter was enough to finally put to bed Nash’s playoff demons.
“I don’t know how (the eye) didn’t keep me on the sidelines, when they finished stitching me up it closed and I couldn’t see out of it I started to think to myself, ‘of course’,” Steve Nash said. “We’d gone three and a half games clear sailing so it seems like something always happens but obviously that’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The pivotal moment, Steve Nash’s defining moment, came early in the fourth quarter with the Spurs threatening to take all the momentum. With the score tied at 77, Matt Bonner (14 points) followed a Manu Ginobili steal with his only missed shot of the game, a 3-pointer. The Suns grabbed the rebound, raced down the court and took a three-point pull-up jump shot in transition.
A six-point swing and the Phoenix Suns never looked back.
“We’ve given him a lot more stitches than that,” joked San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “I think (the win) is sweet for him. He’s a class, class, class guy.”
Tonight’s elimination game played out just like each of the previous. The San Antonio Spurs quietly got off to a sound start and appeared to be dominating while simply just running in place. If anything, the San Antonio Spurs good starts had more to do with the Suns starting one of their worst lineups–namely any that included Jarron Collins–than adjustments Gregg Popovich made.
Regarding effort and adjustments, the San Antonio Spurs and Suns were comparable in shooting percentages 47% to 46% and rebounding 42 to 37 (both in favor of the Spurs), but the Phoenix Suns hit six more three-pointers.
Shooting and spacing have been a recurring problem in this series, and in the final game if you exclude Tim Duncan’s final heave, only Manu Ginobili even attempted a three-pointer among the starting five.
Off the bench, Hill did not get off a three until his fourth quarter make, and Bonner was the only other Spurs to make an attempt (2 of 3). The lack of spacing was Kryptonite for Manu Ginobili, who had 15 points and nine assists but finished 2-11 from the field.
The Suns blitzed Manu Ginobili with length off of every screen, effectively managing the play to the point that the Spurs were almost better off isolating him.
“When you get blitzed on every pick and roll you have to find the open teammates,” Ginobili said. “If we decided to do that to Amare, he’d have to find his teammates too. I tried to do that and I think I did pretty well, but the times I had open looks I just couldn’t make it.”
Disappointing as this loss is, moving forward it appears that the Spurs model of the big three surrounded by valuable role players is not entirely broken. In many cases, all that was lacking were defenders and the corner three-pointer.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, they lost their way this season. And the Phoenix Suns found it.