Hill said some of the characters may be the same, but this isn’t the same Suns-Spurs series of the past.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

One of the most interesting aspects of sports is that it provides a stage for beliefs to be tested. The second-round series between the Suns and Spurs sets the backdrop for one of the greatest age-old questions to be pondered: does the supernatural exist in sports?

When you think about all of the scientific analysis and number-crunching that goes into professional sports now, it seems that relying on the supernatural has become passé. But on the other hand, it’s also important to note what they say about war: you never find any atheists in a foxhole.

When passions and emotions run high, people tend to open their minds more to supernatural explanations. It’s ingrained in our psyches.

It’s ingrained in our culture. Especially when you can’t find an explanation of why something out-of-the-ordinary keeps occurring.

For example, let’s take the Suns-Spurs recent playoff history. Since 2003, the Spurs have eliminated the Suns all four times they’ve met in the postseason.

In 2005, future All-Star Joe Johnson fractured a bone in his face and was unable to contribute mightily against the Spurs that series. That was followed by the infamous Robert Horry hip-check of Steve Nash that led to the suspensions of Suns Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw in 2007.

Alnd who could forget Nash being forced out of Game 1 with a bloody nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding, forcing him to remain on the bench as his team’s chances slipped away without him in crunch time? Then in 2008, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan drilled a heart-breaking three-pointer, his only one of the season, to force overtime and earn an eventual Game 1 victory in their first-round series.

To add insult to injury, the Spurs’ Roger Mason drained a three-pointer as time expired to beat the Suns in Phoenix on Christmas Day. Could this all be a coincidence?

Or is it a series of small mishaps that always happen against one team at the worst times? The Suns aren’t buying the idea of a curse.

“I don’t believe in curses,” Nash stated. “Did we have a few bad breaks? Yeah. But not cursed.”

Stoudemire, who first faced the Spurs when they had David Robinson anchoring the middle in 2003, also doesn’t buy into the “curse theory,” he just believes that the Spurs were a better team. STAT says that the Suns may have had personnel with more talent, but the Spurs were the better team.

“They’ve been a better team over the years,” the All-Star forward said. “They’ve been better prepared and they’ve been smarter. That’s the way they’ve won.”

In his eight seasons in the league, STAT has never sent the Spurs packing for the summer, despite statistically feasting on them in the postseason. In 2004-05, Stoudemire averaged 37 points a game against them.

From 1992 to 2000, the Suns and Spurs met five times in the postseason, with the Suns prevailing three of those times. So if there was a curse, it would’ve had to been implemented somewhere between 2000 and 2003.

But after poring over player transactions and possible incidents that may have happeded between the two franchises, my research was inconclusive in discovering an event that may have triggered the creation of a curse. But what did happen that could explain everything was that in 1997, San Antonio drafted Tim Duncan, arguably the best low-post player of the last decade.

So before anyone asks, “Hey smart guy, what happened in 2000 when the Suns beat the Spurs?”

I’ll tell you. Duncan missed that series with a torn meniscus.

So you see, it’s not a curse. It’s just Tim freaking Duncan.

Not to mention a bunch of assassins that love to step up in crunch time, execute to perfection in the half-court and capitalize better than anyone on other teams’ mistakes.

“You always have to pay attention to detail, especially when you’re playing against these guys,” Stoudemire said. “I’ve played against them so many times I know what they’re capable of and what they can do.

“When it comes down to the fourth quarter, we can’t make no mistakes. As you guys saw on Christmas Day (last year), we made a mistake and Roger Mason hits a three in the corner. A few years before that, we made a mistake and Robert Horry hits a three and then Tim Duncan hit one (in 2008).”

The message out of the Suns’ camp is that most of the players from those playoff battles have moved on.
From their point of view, it’s a whole new matchup.

“They’re a different team and so are we,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “We don’t talk about (Bruce) Bowen or Robert Horry or any of that stuff because the bottom line is that this is first time that we’re playing these guys in a playoff series. We’ve got plenty of guys that haven’t even been around in those series.”

Nash agrees with his coach.

“Of course we have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve accomplished,” Nash said. “But there’s very few players left from either team from those series gone by. All the incidents that happened, some of my teammates are like, ‘Really? That happened?’”

But it always seems, that even the perception of the curse, there has to be an event that sends the tide in an opposite direction. In 2004, the “Curse of the Bambino” was reversed between the Red Sox and the Yankees when Boston, which was down 3-0 in the series and trailing in the ninth inning, was able to get hot against Mariano Rivera, the most dominating closer of all-time.

If the Suns were to reverse their perceived curse against San Antonio, it would have to overcome a past weakness that the Spurs once exploited. Maybe something like out-defending a team known for defense?

Which is something that’s not outside of the Suns’ wheelhouse.

“We might have some of the same players but we’re a different personality and we think they’re a different personality,” Suns forward Grant Hill said. “We’re a mentally tougher team, we’re a team that figures out ways to win, we’re not afraid to call different people’s number. We’re not afraid to get stops when we need to. Whatever that is, that’s who we’re becoming and that’s who we are.”

It’s convenient to blame the boogeyman for your mistakes or cry when you fail that it wasn’t your destiny to succeed. But being accountable is how you re-write those wrongs.

The Suns, who have tediously worked every day to improve their defense, have quietly begun to receive national attention and respect for what was once known as their Achilles’ heel. Grant Hill even went as far as to say it was “another weapon” in their arsenal that they now rely upon.

This season, the Suns have defeated the Spurs twice. Their only loss came in San Antonio, when Jason Richardson missed a dunk during crunch time to send the Suns’ hopes for a sweep spiraling.

My response is: so what if a two-time dunk champion blew a wide-open, breakaway dunk to give the Spurs the win. I’m telling you, it had nothing to do with a curse.

It was probably just the wind.

  • Beau

    If it is a curse, i just hope it doesnt take 86 years to be reversed…

  • JOHN SERPE

    Okay, the Spurs beat Dallas. Was it an upset, are they back to the old dominate Spurs. I don’t think so. How about every great team or fighter has that one last big outing usually against a bitter rival. Couple that with the fact Dallas always has problems with the first round remember the Warriors? Kenny Smith and Webber can pick San Antonio all night, Suns have an edge in the starting five and a much better bench. That leaves us with the curse. Not to worry, I have it covered this year. Sent away to an aunt in the old country for the antidote, already applied it to my Suns jersey. No need to thank me, just enjoy the next (five) games of this round, left some for LA.

  • Beau

    Don’t know if its a curse or not, but if it is I just hope i doesn’t take 86 years to be reversed….

  • Elliot

    Mental toughness is what the suns need at this juction. They have to prove that they are tougher mentaly, and try not to be too excited when they are taking the lead. because the spurs would always try to make a run no matter how far behind they find themselves. I have a feeling that if the suns wins this series, they will go ahead to win the finals against the lakers. This is going to be an acid test for alvin gentry, and he needs to try his best not to be out coached, he should be smart about time-outs.

  • Eric

    The wind? Do you mean the breeze created by the who spurs team crying foul?

  • Tanim

    With the exception of 2007 (when there were two unfortunate situations in the playoffs), there seems to be just one bizarre play each season that works against the Suns. Maybe (Hopefully) Richardson’s blown dunk assumed that role this season…

  • Vivek

    Hello Stef

    Nice article; I do wish to remind you about Popp’s craftiness. The scheme he orchestrated to render Shaq ineffective in 2008 albeit distasteful but still completely caught the Suns offgaurd.

  • David Huang

    It is payback time!
    Torch the spurs,
    Do not get mad when they play dirty.
    The Suns Go!Go!Go!

  • David

    They still have Ginobli, Parker and Duncan.

  • TOM WEAVER

    Steve needs to borrow a goalie mask from the Phoenix Coyote’s to protect his face from the Spurs players and it will be a 4-0 series…..

  • http://www.nba.com Julian SPURS

    GO SPURS GO!
    SUNS WILL BE OUT IN NO MORE THEN 6!
    THIS IS NO CURSE, JUST THE AFTERMATH OF A DYNASTY AT WORK
    GO SPURS GO!!!!!
    GO SPURS GO!!!!!
    PUT OUT THE SUNS!

  • Jorge from San Antonio

    I smell fear in these pages.I do also see some healthy rationality though. As for the dirty Spurs, they are the cleanest team in the NBA. They also do more for our community than any other team does in theirs. You don’t see our players in the news with handcuffs on. Anyway, first it was DIrk the Jerk now the Suns. Its no curse but your bubble we will burst. Spurs in 6. GO SPURS GO!

  • Blake Phoenix

    I think there is a curse!! I hate admitting that but nothing can account for the terrible luck we have had against the spurs. We always seem to be a step behind and the Spurs always seem to capitalize at the right times. I do not think this year will be any different, I think the spurs will get lucky like they do every year we play them and win the series. I dont like saying the Suns will lose but after watching the spurs completely dismantle the mavs it scares me to the core. George hill is playing at a level Steve Nash can only dream of. Tim Duncan may be older but it hurts my heart to say that he will most definitely be able to contain Amare. The only thing going for the us is the unbelievable play of Richardson and I truly think he will continue his high level of play. Yet the biggest factor against us is that Steve Nash is absolutely one of the best players to ever play the game. The long arms of george hill are going to wreak havoc but I hope they can pull it off Go SUNS!!!

  • Shane

    After Game 3, now what ye “wise” Jorge? I smell your fear now :-)

  • Brydon

    3-0! What’s up Spurs fans? :D