Now was that SO hard?
Well, as a matter of fact yes. Certainly a lot harder than the final score would indicate. And arguably harder than it should have been for a team with the league’s best offense and most improved defense. (Of course, the flaw in this “argument” is that there is no easy way to beat the Spurs.)
So in spite of building 14 point leads in each half and getting a first-period performance for the ages out of Steve Nash it wasn’t all that surprising that the Suns still had to execute flawlessly at both ends of the court in the last four minutes to finally nail this one down.
Much of their success is based on running off “stops”, and the defense and fastbreak meshed powerfully in the early going, and almost perfectly in the last four minutes after the Spurs climbed out of their second double-digit hole to close to within one, setting up transition points with four stops in the next five San Antonio possessions to go on a 7-2 run.
Fittingly, it was Jason Richardson who hammered the final nail in the Spurs’ coffin with a three at 1:23 that pushed the lead back up to eight. “Fittingly”, because J.R. has come up huge in the postseason while shredding the label that was stamped on the luggage he brought to Phoenix, which read “Disappears in fourth period”.
But while Richardson’s jumper was the last word, it was Nash’s 17-point first-period that really wrote story. But while 17’s a big number no matter how you look at it, the way he did it was even more table-setting it — namely reading the San Antonio defensive game plan like he, not Greg Popovich, drew it up.
When you combine Steve’s uncanny ability to squeeze through even the heaviest traffic with an even more uncanny ability to make decisions on the run to “take” whatever the defense has decided to give (and when you face as many weapons as the Suns have you have to give something) you get…well, five lay-ups.
Nash went to the bench for his scheduled break in the second period and Popovich went back to the drawing board at halftime, but Nash still finished with 33 points and 10 assists.
Watching a well-rested Nash at his best is a treat to be treasured, and in that first 12 minutes all of his virtuosity was on display. It’s like watching Picasso paint on a particularly good day (hey, I knew Pablo and…)
Coach Alvin also had a pretty good game himself, using his bench and his timeouts well, and taking pains before hand to emphasize that the Suns should not be haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past against the Spurs. I’m not sure the Suns have ever had a coach who has the wisdom to know exactly where the line between coaching and over -coaching is, and has enough belief in himself and his players to never cross it.
All in all, a good start for the Suns, although hardly one in which any “messages” were sent or received. In fact, “they” will say all the Suns really did was hold serve, and not all that convincingly at that. And for once “they” have a point. And in any case, I’ve always felt that while Game Five (or obviously Game Seven) may well be the most decisive one, Game Two that indicates what “kind” of a series it’s going to be.
However, whatever that kind turns out to be, frankly, for all their accomplishments, at this stage in their highly decorated careers, there is no was on paper these Spurs should be able to hang with the Suns more than five games, six at the most. That’s on paper!
But as that noted biologist Sir Charles Barkley has observed, the Spurs are a lot like cockroaches, who of course hold all records for species survival. “They’re like roaches,” said Sir Charles. “You can’t kill ‘em.”
So I don’t look for them to go all that quietly into that good night. But go they surely will.
The bottom line: On the agony/ecstasy scale this series is off the charts. What greater agony could there be for Suns fans than losing to the REAL Evil Empire again? And what greater ecstasy than finally overthrowing the Empire? (Okay, maybe beating the Lakers in the Western Finals, which is looking more and more doable as the Lakers flail and flounder and flail there way through their half of the bracket.)