(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

You’ve got to hand it to the Spurs. Heck, you might as well, because they’re going to take it anyway.

I know it’s almost as politically incorrect to say anything nice about the Spurs in these parts as it is to defend David Stern (I said ALMOST), but instead of repeating the mantra that the Suns always find ways to keep losing these games it’s time to focus on how the Spurs always seem to find ways to keep winning them.

You have to go all the way back to the Red Holzman/Willis Reed Knicks to find a groups that plays with as much poise, discipline, defense, unity, and variety of weapons as this San Antonio team has over so many seasons. And I don’t know how far back you have to go to find a player who so quietly dominates games as Tim Duncan (so it must have been before my time).

Seldom has The Big Fundamental been a more appropriate nickname in sports. Not that Duncan was the big story Thursday night, but then, by the numbers he almost never is. True, 20 points and 15 rebounds isn’t exactly chopped liver, but it’s the way everything flows through him at both ends of the court that make him larger than any stats.

Nobody appreciates Duncan more than Terry Porter, but when it came time to sum up the latest loss to the Spurs he said, “We simply couldn’t control Ginobili”. That would be Manu Ginobili, who ranks right up there in Planet Orange’s MIP list (Most Infuriating Person) as His Commissionership himself.

And last night Ginobili, who is sort of a loose canon that shoots straight, went on a 30-point, 9 rebound, 3 assist, 2 steal spree that included a perfect 18-for-18 at the free throw line. And he finished his night’s work by drawing a double team that freed Tony Parker for a wide open 22-footer with 53 seconds left that sealed the Suns’ doom (which prompts the thought maybe Suns fans should try rattling him with cheers rather than jeers).

Although it may not make it any easier for the natives to swallow, this was one heckuva basketball game, what with the teams seldom more than five points apart, with 14 ties and 13 lead changes.

Amare Stoudemire, with a dazzling assortment of dunks and midrange jumpers, led the Suns with 28 points, and Steve Nash moved past Coach Terry on the NBA career assist ladder with 18.  And the Suns, who have been plagued with turnovers all year, were almost flawless in that department. In fact, in the first half they were flawless, with zero turnovers, and had only two through three periods.

But alas, the law of averages and/or the Spurs notorious lockdown defense caught up with them in the fatal fourth, when they had five leading to 10 points vs. none and none for the Spurs.

The Spurs went to the line a whopping 44 times, and a curious decision to put defensive specialist Bruce Bowen on the line backfired when he hit went 5-for-5 in the fourth period.  And Bowen, as is his wont, gave Nash some grief down the stretch.

But why spoil a perfectly fine basketball game with nitpicks about strategy and late defensive lapses? Like I said, I came to praise the Spurs, not bury the Suns. (And it’s time you did too).

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