The View From Phoenix: Setting Suns

Usac_medium

As most of you probably know by now, yours truly was in attendance last night when the Spurs faced off against the Suns in hostile territory. I'm not sure how much I can really add to what davis and Stampler have already given you in terms of rehashing the game, but my hope is to give a different perspective on the game. You know, the kind of perspective one gets from being there when the Spurs are in the enemy's lair.

Follow me into the beyond for more.

The Experience

So, a couple weeks ago, I put a bug in jrw's ear about possibly going to this game with the Spurs' blessing. Since I live in the Phoenix area, I usually pay special attention to the dates that the Spurs come here to play, and thought it would be really cool to get in as a "media member". Well, jrw said he thought it could be done, and contacted the Spurs media folks about it. After feeling like the whole situation was in limbo right up until gameday, the deal was finally decided on with a little help even coming from our former fearless leader, Wayne: I would get tickets in the section allocated to Spurs personnel for the friends/families/whoever they want to give tickets to. All manner of thanks go to jrw, Wayne, and the Spurs for making that happen - it ended up being a great experience.

Pregame

Last year, I made it to a Spurs game out here, a game which the Spurs lost, and wasn't close for most of the time. Since it was the first game between the two teams last year, the fans in Phoenix were not yet aware of their team's ability to cause massive matchup issues for the 2009-10 Spurs. The arena was fairly quiet(by arena standards), even during the pregame intros. Not so much last night. Since they apparently don't recognize Spurs fans if they aren't wearing the jerseys(sorry, folks - I was failing trying to be somewhat professional), the arena staff gave me the same orange Suns towel that they were giving everyone else. I don't need yer stinkin' towel, Suns.

The fans were really, really into it, including the Suns fans sitting next to me who were apparently friends with Chip Engelland(again, it was the Spurs allocated ticket area). Good thing they were to my left, or else I might have hearing problems in my good ear now. As an aside, I have no idea if I'm right on this or not, but I think one of David Robinson's kids may have been sitting in the row in front of me, because I swear the guy I saw was the spitting image of David. What they would be doing at an away game, I don't know, but I thought that was pretty cool.

First Half

The Suns got out to an early lead, thanks to an ugly turnoverfest at the outset of the game. On the very first possession of the game, Manu got down around the low block, and tried to get a pass to either Tony or RJ(I don't remember which one it was) out on the wing, but the pass was anticipated by Grant Hill, who took it the other way. Not an auspicious start to the game, and there would be 9 more turnovers in the first quarter. Despite that ridiculous number of giveaways, and despite trailing for most of the period, the Spurs actually led by one at the end of the first quarter. Seeing that their team only had 22 points at the end of the quarter, many of the Suns fans near me were visibly concerned about their team's prospects for the evening.

A sort of creepy thing happened during the time between quarters, when Cedric Ceballos(the official arena host) was doing some sort of contest, and starting talking to the random fan that was picked for the contest in an almost Barry White-like low, sensuous voice. I could tell the lady wasn't too thrilled about it, because I saw her shoulders tense up, and she started looking nervously from side to side. Aaaaawwwwkkkkwwwaaaarrrrdddd. Later, when they did the contest again for another lady, Ced was talking like he normally does. So yeah, that was pretty weird.

The second quarter was a crazy back-and-forth affair, punctuated by Manu Ginobili and Goran Dragic seemingly dueling by scoring on alternating possessions for a couple of minutes. Here's the NBA.com version of the mini-duel:

Ginobili Running Bank shot: Made (7 PTS) 07:51
[SAS 32-34]
07:31
[PHX 36-32]
Warrick Dunk Shot: Made (6 PTS) Assist: Dragic (3 AST)
Ginobili Jump Shot: Made (9 PTS) 07:16
[SAS 34-36]
07:07
[PHX 38-34]
Dragic Driving Layup Shot: Made (8 PTS)
Ginobili Jump Shot: Made (11 PTS) 06:53
[SAS 36-38]

Nobody could stop the Dragon last night, and I'm glad Gentry didn't decide to play the two-PG lineup that killed us so much last year. Garrett Temple's bad night started when he was asked to check Dragic, who kept running him hard into screens. BTW, if we thought Hill defense on screen-and-rolls was bad, it's because we hadn't seen Temple try - other than that, Temple looked good. Not forcing things, playing very solid one-on-one D, but those screens nullified his efforts every time. When Parker and Nash came back in, things settled down, mainly because Nash couldn't make those impossible jumpers he normally does to save his life... in the first half. The Spurs took the lead with a few minutes left, but never pushed the lead above 3, and ended the half tied at 50.

Second Half

The third quarter started with a massive defensive failure leaving Turkoglu open for 3. Luckily for us, he missed. But, we still didn't score for about a minute and a half. It was at that point the Spurs started running the offense through one Tim Duncan, and he got into a rhythm at both ends of the floor. He continually made the Suns pay by making shots, and finding his teammates in the right places to make something happen. After all, he's Timmy. During this stretch, Timmy and Blair locked down all the rebounds, keeping the Suns from having any second chances at the rim. By the time I realized how quiet the crowd had become, the Spurs were up 11. Then, 3-pointers happened. First Frye, then Nash, then Richardson, with a heavy dose of Hakim Warrick in between, and the lead was back down to two by the end of the third quarter. If this had happened during the playoff series last year(which it did), I would have had a sinking feeling in my stomach, knowing that terrible things were going to happen to the Spurs in the 4th quarter. But, something felt different last night. It just seemed as if the Suns had been trying their hardest to put us away all night to that point, and they just couldn't. And to be completely honest, the Suns may have never grabbed the momentum they closed that quarter with were it not for some, errr, totally awesome officiating.

Visual Approximation of my applause for the officials

I honestly didn't know who would step up heading into the fourth quarter, but I had the feeling someone was going to put the Spurs over the top. I had no idea how dramatic it would be. Fittingly, the quarter began with a made jumper from Richard Jefferson. That was followed by a 3 from Grant Hill. Then, Tiago Splitter made a layup, which was followed by another 3, from Richardson this time. At that point, the arena was going insane, neither team was backing down or wilting under the pressure, and everyone knew this game was going to have an exciting finish. There was more back and forth, with some great offense run by both teams, until Josh Childress made a nifty reverse move to get away from Splitter's outstretched arms for a layup that put the Suns up 95-94.

[Suns fans may want to stop reading here]

What happened next, you probably already know. I was starting to worry that things might not end the way I wanted them to, until, at the 7 minute mark, James Anderson found RJ in the corner for 3. Richard is KILLING that corner shot this year, and I have the utmost confidence in him when he takes it. Last year, in the playoffs, the Suns sagged off of RJ, daring him to take threes. RJ's confidence in the longball was shot by that point, and the Suns' defensive strategy paid off. This year, RJ is not even freaking human. Remember when I said up above about acting professional? Didn't pan out. When Tony found RJ in the corner on the very next possession I jumped out of my seat. When Anderson found him open in the same AGAIN on the possession after that, I completely lost it. Jumping up and down and screaming, fist pumping as if I had anything to do with it. The Suns fans in the suite behind my row were not amused, to say the least. I didn't care. The Spur-hatred of Suns fans sustains my existence.

The Suns reeled off a 9-0 run after RJ's bombing campaign, (and RJ even travelled to give them the ball back on their last score of the run) but by that point I knew the Spurs were going to win. The Suns were up 3 when Dice got Warrick to bite on a pump-fake from midrange, and sank both free throws. Then Manu found RJ on consecutive possessions - first in that same left corner for another dagger, then driving to the rim, where he drew the foul and sank both freebies with under 46 seconds left. GAME.

Oh, but the best part was after. Walking through the corridors outside of the main concourse, then in the courtyard outside, and all the way back to the parking garage, I noticed the look of dismay on the faces of Suns fans. It was as if the FSM had just touched me with his noodly appendage. I couldn't stop smiling, which made their looks of dismay turn into looks of disgust. And, at least for one night, everything was right with the world again.

Player Impressions

James Anderson: Missed one defensive assignment badly, and Richardson sunk a three. Other than that, James was solid on both ends, and seems to be fitting in with the others quite nicely.

DeJuan Blair: I'd imagine the Beast would probably like to start this season over from scratch. He shot 2-6 in this game, and had one terrible turnover where he looked up and still didn't realize that the ref in the corner was not his teammate, and threw the ball away.

Tim Duncan: Old Man Duncan is still pretty good, eh? It didn't matter where Timmy played tonight - high post, low post, everywhere he went he made things happen. He also exploited the lack of size in the Phoenix frontcourt to get a lot of his 25 points and 17 boards. 6 Turnovers is ugly, though, and led the team. That's not normal for Timmy, but it's a disturbing trend so far this season.

Alonzo Gee: Gee got to play defense on the Suns final possession of the first half, and the ball didn't even make it to the side of the floor he was on. It's a pity - I wanted him to make something happen and force more playing time.

Manu Ginobili: Manu had an off night. I know his stats don't make it look that way, but I saw Manu get lost a few times... on offense, which is unheard of. There just weren't an abundance of holy-crap-I-love-Manu plays last night, the way there usually are. I'll still take 18, 5, and 3 from him any day, but the intangibles didn't seem to be there.

George Hill: Wasn't even behind the Spurs bench. Maybe he stayed at the hotel or something. I asked Andrew from 48MoH what he thought, and he said it was probably because George didn't bring any formal wear in anticipation of sitting out. That's as good a guess as any, I suppose.

Richard M11g Jefferson: I'm speechless at how RJ is playing this season so far. I thought he was due for a letdown game, and he comes out and lights the net on fire instead. I wouldn't bet against this man anytime soon.

Antonio McDyess: Dice played a really smart game. Good positioning on defense, good decisions on offense(3 assists). He got burned by Warrick a couple times, but returned the favor more than once. And that jumper is just as silky smooth as ever.

Gary Neal: The Nail wasn't really a factor in this game, and I barely noticed his presence, except for the fact that he was the defacto PG for a couple of possessions while Parker and Temple were both out.

Tony Parker: Tony looked good tonight. He was giving good effort on defense, and was largely responsible for Nash's poor shooting, even though he got called for some cheap, stupid fouls. On offense, he didn't have a lot of points or assists, but he was making good decisions with the ball for the most part. I especially smiled when I saw him passing the ball on fast breaks.

Bobby Simmons: Simmons was really feeling it in the pre-game warm ups. He couldn't miss. But I can't really complain about Pop not using him against the speedy Suns. DNP-CD.

Tiago Splitter: Tiago looked very good out there for the second straight game. He got a typical "rookie treatment" foul call almost immediately after checking in, but I am very impressed by how much ground he covers on defense. Tiago owns the painted area on defense. He can help by stopping guard penetration, and still recover quickly enough to stop his man from getting an easy bucket. The Suns wised up late in the game, and ran plays to make him switch to Frye so he wouldn't be near the paint anymore. That's right, the Suns ran their offense specifically to take Tiago out of the play. That's a hell of a compliment.

Garrett Temple: GT did an outstanding job of cutting off Nash's inside passing lanes, and in one-on-one situations. He needs to learn that it's OK to follow his man around a screen, though. He was taken out of way too many defensive possessions by a simple screen. Offensively, he was nothing special, but didn't hurt us.

Anyway, I had a ton of fun at the game, and can't wait to do it all over again. Thanks for reading, if you actually made it all the way to the end.

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