Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs – Game 3

 

Friday, April 25, 2008
9:58 pm
Stefan Swiat

If the Suns are going to make a comeback, they are going to have to do so with contributions from their main three role players: Barbosa, Bell and Diaw.

When two out of the three of those guys score 15 points or more, the Suns are 17-2. LB has hit for 20 points already, whereas Diaw only has six and Bell has two. One of those guys are going to have to get hot and make the defense pay for when they collapse on STAT, Shaq and Nash.

Nash, who was quiet the first half, became more aggressive in the third before going out of the game for his usual fourth-quarter rest. Look for him to attack voraciously when he re-enters the contest.

It’s do or die time Suns fans… [Read more...]

Two Down

After the first two games of the Suns/Spurs series, this playoff beard needs to be a rally beard.

Here’s how I have spent my playoffs thus far: For Saturday’s Game 1, I was in an Urgent Care facility in central Phoenix, having arrived in town Thursday with a 102-degree fever and severe chills. It was right around the time the physician’s assistant diagnosed me with acute bronchitis that I checked my Blackberry and saw the final score of the game (Inexplicably, the television in the lobby was tuned to the Disney Channel).

For Game 2, I was again home in Los Angeles, stretched out on my couch, having consumed a giant bowl of matzoball soup for lunch, feeling a smidge better, certain that a Suns victory in Game 2 would push me ‘round the corner toward full recovery. Two and a half hours later, the Suns were in an 0-2 hole, and I was doubting the curative powers of “Jewish penicillin.”

Now, the situation – neither the Suns nor my own – isn’t fatal. Teams are supposed to win at home, and that’s all the Spurs have done. They’ve taken care of business on their own floor, and now the Suns are on their way back to the Valley to see if they can’t do the same. The Spurs deserve a good deal of credit – the Suns had them in deep holes in both games, and the defending champs showed the grit and resolve that’s won them so many trophies over the years. In short, they played like champions when they most needed to.

But oh, the chances the Suns squandered! The leads that got away…The easy baskets given up in the paint…The uncharacteristic mental lapses…The turnovers at the most inopportune times…The missed free throws down the stretch…It’s enough to make you want to throw a matzoball through your flat screen.

The Suns had all of their big men in foul trouble in Game 1, and still they were right there. Tim Duncan riddled them for forty points and fifteen rebounds, and still, the Suns were right there. In front of a hostile crowd and facing years of playoff heartbreak, the Suns were right there. And they couldn’t close the deal.

In Game 2, the Suns had the specter of Game 1 looming over their shoulder, and they came out roaring. They played the first half with heart, focus and intensity. They commanded the tempo, the big men played aggressively, cautiously, but above all, effectively. Once again, the Suns were right there. And again, they couldn’t close the deal.

If only NBA games had no halftime. The Spurs stormed back in the third quarter. The Suns couldn’t see, let alone find, the bottom of the net. The lead dwindled, then vanished. Suns fans around the world watched in agony as San Antonio sprinted out to the front. Suns fans around the world tore their hair out when the Spurs went to the Haq-a-Shaq in an effort to extend their lead – a perfectly legal strategy that Shaq defused by calmly hitting his charity shots under extreme duress (and may I say here that Shaq has been everything a Suns fan could have ever hoped). Suns fans moved to the edges of their seats when the Suns made a final run. They were right there.

And once again, the game slipped away.

What’s a poor, ailing, beard-growing Suns fan to do in the face of such repeated frustration?

There’s only one answer, the same answer Suns fans have told themselves since this franchise began forty years ago: Back the team even harder. Back them as they tug on the knee pads and go play Games 3 and 4. Take care of the home court. Send this back to San Antonio with the series reduced to a best-of-three, with two of those games in Texas. Where the Suns have been before. Where they know they can win.

The fat lady has not sung yet. But the Suns have to stop trying to hand her the microphone.

What Went Wrong in Game 2?

 

In the case of the Suns tonight, I think it was mostly all mental. As former Yankee great Yogi Berra once said, “90 percent of the game is half-mental.”

<
STAT and Co. lost their focus in the third period.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ok, but you get my drift. When you are in the playoffs, teams cannot lose focus for a second. They can’t rest on their laurels against any team, let alone against the defending champions… and maybe the most mentally tough team in the league.

Now a lot of fans don’t like to hear that. They want to hear that their squad was merely outrebounded or that they didn’t get enough bench production. You know, something that has a nice, pretty bow wrapped around it.

But tonight, that wasn’t the case. The Suns’ mission was to start the game off hot, which they did. Then at halftime, they relaxed. And then they came out and played the third period, but never stopped relaxing.

The Spurs, on the other hand, came out on a crusade to recapture the lead. If I had to guess, Coach Popovich probably told them that he wanted them to head into the fourth with the lead, and the team rallied behind that one thought. [Read more...]

Going Home

I’ve got a mound of work waiting for me when I reconnect to the Internet on the ground, but for the moment I’m looking out the window wrestling with a strange feeling.

For the first time in my life, I’m glad to be leaving Texas.

My conversion to a Phoenix Suns fan is nearly complete. I know ahead of us is a long day of listening to people worry about the Suns’ chances but looking around this cabin, I find comfort in the team I’ve followed all season.

There are no hanging heads or pointing fingers. The same group that was playing cards on the way to San Antonio is enjoyng the same game on the red eye back home. DVD players are still lit up with the latest movie releases and every few minutes a laugh will cut through the flight noise. Panic? No thanks.

The Spurs did what the Spurs have done for years – find a way to win. In Game 1 they used a comeback fueled by big shots. In Game 2, it was hack-a-Shaq and oppessive defense. It’s nothing new.

But now we’re headed to the place where the Suns have their own bag of tricks. It’s time for the Suns to do what they did __ in the regular season. Defend their home.

I can already hear some of you saying, “But the Spurs are too hard to beat.”

Tell that to the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. The group of veteren stars (sound familiar?) fell down 0-2 to the defending NBA champion Spurs (sound very familiar?) and headed back to the Staples center where they decided the Spurs would get no closer to the trophy.

Tell that to the 2005 Detroit Pistons. They also stumbled out of the gate in San Antonio and flew to Detroit with their backs against an 0-2 wall. They answered the challenge and evened things up with two convincing wins.

Oh yeah, and tell that to the 2008 Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs – Game 2

 

Saturday, April 22, 2008
10:52 pm
Jeramie McPeek

The locker room is never a fun place to be after demoralizing losses like tonight’s. The last thing the players feel like doing after getting soundly beaten is answer questions asking why?

Why did you collapse in the third quarter after such a strong first half?

Why did Parker and Ginobili go off?

Why were you struggling with your shot, Leandro?

Why did you not play down the stretch, Grant? [Read more...]

It's Just a Building…Right?

The AT&T Center has caused a lot of pain for the visiting teams.

I’ve explored every level and I assure you that there is no death star being constructed in a secret room. It’s just a building… or is it?

The Suns’ playoff opener goes down as one of the most thrilling games in recent memory, but it was just par for the course for an arena that has haunted opponents since 2003. Shaquille O’Neal has been around long enough to know the history. When asked about his foul trouble in Game 1 Shaq said, “I’m used to things like that happening in this building. We’ve just got to find a way to continue playing.”

Other Suns remember all too well “The Incident” in Game 4 last year when a fourth-quarter flagrant foul sent Steve Nash to the floor and the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets also know what it’s like to draw the wrath of the the building. Twice they opened the playoffs with a win on the Spurs’ home court and both times that was their only win of the playoffs.

The AT&T Center has seen the Spurs crowned champions twice (’03 and ’05) and it will pull out every trick in the book to see it again. Tim Duncan hits a clutch three-pointer in the closing seconds? Only in that arena.

But not so fast. Before we run and hide from the mysterious power of that building, let’s remember that it has turned on the Spurs in the past. In the 2004 playoffs, the Spurs hosted Game 5 in their semi-final series against the Lakers. With the series tied 2-2, the pivotal game went down to the wire and the Spurs, thanks to an incredible shot by Tim Duncan, had the lead with 0 seconds remaining. Actually, there was 0.4 seconds remaining. I was in the building for Derek Fisher’s miraculous shot that crushed the Spurs spirit and for the first time I tasted the bitterness that building has fed to so many opponents over the years.

The Suns have a chance to harness the power of the AT&T Center and give the Spurs a taste of their own medicine once again. They were a Tim Duncan three-pointer away from winning Game 1 and as Shaq famously remarked back in 2004, “One lucky shot deserves another.”

If that’s true, we’re due.

The Big What If

Will Tim Duncan’s three-point shot be another “what if” in Suns history?
(NBAE Photos)

What if Cedric Ceballos hadn’t been hurt during the ’93 Finals? What if Phoenix hadn’t blown successive 2-0 leads on Houston during the Rockets back-to-back championship runs in ’94 & ’95? What if Joe Johnson hadn’t had his face rearranged by Jerry Stackhouse in ’05? What if Raja Bell hadn’t had a freak calf tear against the Mavs in ’06? What if the Suns would have had a full roster for Game 5 vs the Spurs last postseason?

Although most Suns fans refer to these examples as statements rather than questions, Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss is another example of how history repeats itself – another emotionally gripping game full of big What Ifs. Watching Tim Duncan hit that 3-pointer (did I really just write that?) to send Game 1 into double-OT was beyond surreal. I guess the Shooting Stars competition during All-Star weekend paid off. Duncan practiced the 3-point shot enough to carry his San Antonio team to victory in that event . . . and it carried over. We can add his to the litany of 3-point playoff daggers the Suns have endured (Mario Elie in ’95, Bowen in game 5 last year . . . .)

Cubs fans are generally seen as the most tortured in sports, now celebrating (is that the right term?) their 100th season since they last hoisted a championship trophy on the north side. But that franchise has been a mess from a baseball standpoint most of the last century. How often over the course of their dry spell have they put a team on the field that has fans saying, “this team is a legitimate contender?” Maybe, MAYBE 10 of those 100 seasons. As a Chicago native who spent his share of afternoons at Wrigley Field, I can tell you this: that’s not a suffering fan base, just a bunch of lemmings that love to have a good time at the ballpark. [Read more...]

Suns Still Standing Despite Spurs' Heavyweight Punches

“That’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen in all my years in the NBA” Those were the words of ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy during the telecast Sunday in LA between the Lakers and Nuggets. He of course was referring to the double over-time thriller in game one between the Suns and Spurs.

Steve Nash has willed his team to victories in the past and will do it again in this series.
(NBAE Photos)

It was a bitter, painful loss for the Suns, but I look at it as an encouraging game for Phoenix. It was a heavyweight fight, with the Spurs throwing all their punches, but the opponent, the Suns, are still standing and are ready for round two.

I don’t think the Spurs can play any better, but the Suns can, and Ithink they will! How many times will Duncan hit such a big three point shot, or will the Suns get in as much foul trouble early? I question if the Spurs have enough fire-power, if they can score enough points to win the series.

The series features two of the best big men to ever play the game in Duncan and Shaq. They are bigger that life. Each man wants a coveted 5th ring. Duncan may be the best power-forward to ever play the game,but how many 40 point games does he have in him? Shaq, one of the mostdominating big men of all-time, doesn’t need to have such an outrageous game, as he has a better supporting cast. The Spurs have no answer for Amar’e. He can dominate. He is the best player on the floor. As VanGundy put it, “He just has to think he is the best.” Steve Nash has willed his team to victories in the past and I believe it’s going to happen again! He is too good to be denied a first round series win. Grant Hill will continue to get healthier, Diaw and Barbosa will bring crucial bench points and Raja will get under Ginobili’s skin.

It’s just the Suns time. It’s their time because this series is deeply personal. It’s about settling a score! Bring on round-two!

The View From the Studio Is Cushy


STAT and Co. were just one play away.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As I was pondering how I was going to wrap up the game, I bitterly watched ESPN’s studio show with my face in a glossed-over stupor. As I revisited Duncan’s secret 3-point talents, Michael Finley’s gritty 3-ball and Manu Ginobili’s lefty drive, I began to consider how much damage I could do with a baseball bat to my television. But then, before I could find a pitch to hit, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith started yapping on the screen.

It was with such irony that I found myself, unusually indignant, listening to perhaps the angriest commentator in professional sports. Why he is so mad, I will never know. He can talk about whatever he wants, he has no stake in the teams he talks about and he makes nearly a million dollars a year; sounds like a rough gig. [Read more...]

Suns/Spurs Set to Square Off

 


Just cut me Mick.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

But isn’t that the way it’s being spun? The media is pumping up the first-round duel as a sure-to-be slugfest between a popular team and another that is perceived as getting away with murder last season. Ok, maybe just assault.

While every Suns fans thinks of the Spurs as the team that first bloodied and then hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table, they also get away with a lot because they are pressuring opponents from the tip-off. [Read more...]