San Antonio Spurs 108, Phoenix Suns 99: Getting by
AT&T CENTER — They can’t all be beautiful. A night after Jeff Van Gundy was on ESPN raving about the Spurs’ ball movement and how every high school basketball player in the country should watch this team, the San Antonio Spurs were forced to trudge through a 108-99 victory over the Phoenix Suns. It was one of those games where there seemed to be no difference between the two teams until a late stretch, in this case a 12-2 run in the middle of the fourth quarter, produced a flash of quality needed to get a win.
Tony Parker again led the way for the Spurs, one night after reeling off 23 points and 10 assists in a win over the Mavericks, Parker scored 31 points on 13-of-17 shooting, with seven assists and four rebounds. Parker was the lead dog during that fourth quarter stretch in which the Spurs out-classed the Suns just enough to get the victory. He made attacked the hoop, found open teammates and made plays on defense.
Parker said after the game that the Suns made an effort to take away the pick-and-roll action, which helps explain Tiago Splitter’s 5-of-11 shooting night, but that things eventually opened up in the fourth quarter. With the Suns taking away the first option (Splitter on the roll to the basket), holes appeared on the backside. One major play in the fourth quarter was when Parker came off of a pick on the right wing and found Kawhi Leonard open in the opposite corner. Parker made a perfect cross-court pass and Leonard drained the open 3-pointer, giving the Spurs an eight point lead.
While Parker continued his stellar play as of late, Spurs fans got their first glimpse of an in-rhythm Manu Ginobili in a while. Manu played almost 22 minutes of action and produced 20 points, three rebounds and three steals. While he didn’t excel in any one particular area offensively, he played an excellent two-man game with Tony Parker. On several occasions one of the pair found the other cutting backdoor and losing his defender for an open layup. It was about the only beautiful basketball on display all night, but it was especially nice because that kind of chemistry is hard to come by in an NBA where players simply don’t play together long enough to really develop it.
In our preview, we talked about how the game would likely unfold with the Spurs getting plenty of looks from the 3-point line, while the Suns would be looking at more inefficient shots. For three quarters, we were looking at the opposite of that. Phoenix was playing more like San Antonio, hitting 5-of-9 3-pointers, while the Spurs could only manage to hit 5-of-18.
The Suns were getting a lot of looks at the rim with the Spurs missing Tim Duncan on the back line, and Phoenix was taking advantage of it by getting high percentage shots or kicking out to open shooters. Jared Dudley (10-of-12 on the night for 23 points) was especially sharp at finding open spots in the corners and knocking down 3s.
In the fourth quarter, the Spurs tightened, forced Phoenix into tougher shots and finished off possessions. Stephen Jackson was especially important in the fourth quarter at crashing the boards. With Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair all playing solid minutes, the Spurs were vulnerable on the boards, so help was needed from Jackson and Kawhi Leonard. The pair combined for 12 rebounds.
Looking back at the regular season in a few months, this game won’t stick out at all. It will be forgotten as soon as most people go to sleep tonight. But being without two key cogs (Duncan and Gregg Popovich) and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, it would’ve been easy for this one to slip by the Spurs. It didn’t. San Antonio’s mental toughness was on display in the fourth quarter tonight and it can only help the Spurs in the long run.