Some things are harder to explain than others. For instance, the Suns hang their hats on out-shooting, out-running, and out-assisting the opposition, but they were outdone in all three categories this night.
You could, as they say, look it up. It’s right there in the stat sheet. The shooting percentages were 51 and 42 percent, the fast break tally 13-8, and the assist count was 28-19— all in San Antonio’s favor. So how in the world explain the 110-102 victory that put the Suns up two-nil in the series?
Easily, once Coach Alvin explained who these Suns REALLY are in his postgame remarks, namely and to wit, “A finesse team that plays hard.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, although goodness knows I’ve spent the last three months and three hundred thousand words trying.
That’s EXACTLY who these Suns are.
And while everybody has known about the finesse part for the last five years, the notion they play, especially on defense and the boards, is only beginning to seep into the minds of the national cognoscenti. A few more games like this and they’ll start thinking of thee Suns as a blue collar bunch that can shoot a little.
Coach Alvin didn’t stop with the team’s identity either. The man was on such a roll that he was able to sum up the millions of words being written and spoken about this triumph in just one— grit. This was as gritty a win as we’ve ever had,’ he said.
And the numbers back him up. The Suns actually won this game with a kamikaze charge on the offensive boards led by Jared Dudley, and some tremendous defense, keyed again by some by Grant Hill’s tenacious work of on Manu Ginobili. The key stats here were Phoenix’s 11-point edge in second chance points and Ginobili’s 11 points on 2 for 8 shooting
In fact, San Antonio coach Greg Popovich went so far as to credit Dudley with turning the game around with his second period rebounding, and the numbers back him up. The Suns had come out of the first period down eight, and were actually being outplayed by a bigger margin than that. Worse yet, their shooting, which usually keeps them close in such circumstances, was off by nearly 20 per cent.
But enter Dudley-do-right to the rescue.
“I thought he changed the whole game,” said Pop. “He came in and was a monster. He was committed to the boards, and it was infectious.”
Just so! And don’t let the total numbers fool you. Dudley’s line shows “only” six rebounds and a modest 11 points. But that doesn’t begin to measure how the true measure his contribution. His real value is HOW and when he compiled those numbers. And it wasn’t just rebounds. The Suns also outhustled the Spurs for loose balls (which is like outswimming Shamu) in that pivotal stretch.
Dudley wasn’t the only significant contributor off the most effective bench in the West. Channing Fry dropped five treys on the Spurs, and all told the Suns bought enough time so that Gentry was able to afford the luxury of resting Steve Nash the first six minutes of the fourth period.
And it didn’t hurt that the Suns eventually rediscovered the finesse part of their persona, nailing 8 of their last12 threes and shooting 56 per cent in the fourth period, or that Stoudemire delivered a gusty 23 points and 11 rebounds, or that the other two members on “The Big Three”, Nash and Jason Richardson chipped in19 points apiece.
The bottom line: There was a time, most of the time the last few years in fact, when the Suns couldn’t win games like this, especially in the playoffs. But that was when they were just a finesse team.