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.