Game 1s seldom change the big picture in as playoff series, and this one is no exception.

Amaré Stoudemire pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds on Sunday night.� (NBAE Photos)

The expectation before this Western Conference semifinal match up started was that it would be your basic titanic struggle between two talented teams so evenly matched that a couple of shots here and a couple of calls there would make the difference in each game..

And that’s the way Game 1 went down, and that’s the way the series still shapes up.

Alas, in Game 1 the couple of shots and the couple of calls went a little more there than here, and thus the home court advantage has been shipped back to San Antonio. But historically that doesn’t really become a significant factor until Game Seven anyway, so there’ll be ample time for the Suns to get it returned to sender before then.

What this game DID do was reinforce the belief that while Steve Nash apparently won’t win this year’s MVP election, he is far and away the most valuable player in the league. So valuable that it’s not too much of a stretch to think the Suns might very well have pulled out a win had he not been forced to the sidelines by the blood rule with 54 seconds to play.

He not only makes the league’s best offense run, but has an uncanny ability to hit huge shots, like the three-pointer that tied the game at 2:23 and the two-pointer that brought the Suns that cut a four-point deficit in half at 1:13. And Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich readily acknowledged that his loss was San Antonio’s gain.

This is not to take anything away from the Spurs, who got a super performance from their own magnificent point guard, Tony Parker (32 points, 8 assists), and an overpowering one from their All Pro center, Tim Duncan (33 points, 16 rebounds). I would never put an asterisk next to win of their wins. You have to admire their execution and poise.

As for the Suns, given that Amaré Stoudemire was in early foul trouble and hit only 6 of 19 shots, it is a tribute to Nash and their other weapons that they were right there in the final minute.

Actually, in some ways Amaré’s third foul near the end of the first half may have been even more damaging than Nash’s injury near the end of the fourth period. The Suns were up by six when he and Duncan went down in a heap. It looked to me like Duncan had pulled Amaré down on top of him (an old John Havlicek trick) but that’s not the way it looked to the officials.

The call not only slapped the handcuffs on Amaré’s defense the rest of the night (which by the way had held Duncan without a field goal in the first period), but halted the Suns in mid momentum and deprived them of any chance to build on their lead. As it was, it was down to two at halftime, and shrunk to one when assistant coach Marc Iavaroni was hit with a technical before the start of the third period.

But as the players say, it is what it is, and you can file the call in the “we’ll never know that would have happened if …” file along with Nash’s bleeding episode.

Amaré, by the way, still had 20 points and 13 rebounds. And you have to think that if the Suns can come this close without the best of him you really have to like their chances the rest of the way. At least I do.

One of the things that kept this game so close, by the way, was that San Antonio’s 14-plus rebound edge was offset by the Suns’ plus-8 turnover edge. And you have to give the Suns’ defense some credit for the 15 San Antonio turnovers leading to 16 points.

The bottom line: I still like the Suns in more than five but less than seven.