No matter what Shawn Marion does he frequently gets overshadowed and underpraised in Suns’ wins, and more often than not is charged with contributory underachievement in Suns losses. And that’s not just my opinion. It’s his too.


But there was no denying him in this “must” win.


Although Amaré Stoudemire had 27 points and Steve Nash had 16 assists, while Marion had only five points and one assist, the superb shackle job he did on Tony Parker was the key to the Suns’ defense. And on a night when it took the Suns’ vaunted offensive almost three periods to even warm (it never got really hot), the defense was definitely the key to squaring the series.


Kurt Thomas also deserves high marks for his yeoman work on Tim Duncan (good call, Coach Mike), but just as it was inability to control Parker that cost the Suns Game 1, it was Marion’s ability to do so that got them Game 2.


Parker scored 32 points and had eights assists in Game 1 on Sunday, and even more importantly, his ability to pretty much go wherever he wanted and do whatever he wanted to seemed to take a lot of energy out of the Suns.


But Marion, the most versatile defender in the NBA no matter how the coaches and writers voted, was able to keep Parker from slashing to the basket, and also bother him enough outside to cool off his hot shooting hand. As a result, Tony P. managed only 13 points and three assists on Tuesday night, and never really was that much of a factor.


All in all, with Raja Bell helping throttle frequent Suns’ tormentor Manu Ginobili, and indeed just about everybody pitching in, this may have been one of the best defensive efforts in a playoff game ever by a team that’s not even supposed to be able to spell defense, let alone play it.


That’s never been true, of course. And if it had been last night the Suns would be heading to Texas down 0-2. When you only hit 26 percent of your shots in the first period and still are down only six you’ve got to be doing a lot right at the other end. (Actually, the Suns came within one 10th of a second of being down only four, but after a replay check officials ruled Parker had been fouled with .1 tick still on the clock, and Tony converted two free throws).


“I thought WE were supposed to be the defensive team,” lamented San Antonio coach Greg Popovich, “but they made us look like novices in that regard.”


Just so! And just as ironical as the best offensive team in the league beating the best defense team in the league with defense was the fact the Suns actually outworked and wore down the Spurs.


“We can play better on offense,” said D’Antoni. “Much better. But we were really good defensively, and it all started with Shawn and Kurt.”


When you get right down to it, this was precisely the kind of game (and against precisely the kind of team) the Suns weren’t supposed to be able to win (beat) because their highly entertaining style just wouldn’t work on the postseason stage.


While the standard spin at this point is that this is only one game, the margin of defeat is irrelevant, the Spurs got what they came for, etc, and thus the series now stands 1-to-1 in their favor. But I’m not buying it.


Oh, I buy the margin of defeat part. But I think the fact the Suns proved just how well they can play defense, and how well they adjusted at both ends of the court is very significant.


That’s why I like them even more to win the series now than I did before it started.

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