What, there's no Spurs game tonight? I beg to differ. This 2-2 series faces the ultimate swing game in Phoenix, as the Suns look to retake the lead while the Spurs hope to recover from their first home loss of the post-season by winning their second straight in the desert. Should the Spurs end up victorious, they will look to eliminate the Suns for the fifth time eight seasons on Thursday. How did we end up here? Glad you asked.Of course I know our season is over, and no amount of Malbec I drank tonight altered that reality, But I did find myself thinking about the many small things that alter the course of a game, and how one game can alter a series. One or two made shots, one mental mistake, one coaching decision; any of these can change history, which is why the pressure of the playoffs is so great and such a joy to follow as a fan. This is not to opine that San Antonio would have or should have beaten Phoenix. That would have taken an uninjured Manu nostril, a healthy Parker elbow, an aggressive Jefferson and/or perhaps a valid Mason, Jr. I even wonder if Pop would have trusted Mailk Hairston, had he not rolled his ankle at the end of the regular season, to play some energy bench minutes in this series in place of Jefferson and Bogans. He certainly would have matched up well with the Suns' bench, provided some on-ball defense and gained experience that would be useful next season. Alas, none of this was to be. I do know that while showing themselves to be a better and healthier team, the Suns are not 4-0 better. They earned the series victory so bully for them, but the Spurs are responsible for their not winning even a single game, and one win would have provided opportunity for another, and actually placed something on the Suns they never felt after the game 1: pressure. My denial preview will review the two Spurs wins as I see them having happened, without any reach into fantasy, that would've brought us game 5. Yes, I miss the competition of these games and seeing our team play. I'm also happy to realize that we are not that far from being back in the WCF with a legit chance to advance. But improvements are for the off-season; for now, allow yourself to imagine if we had just cleaned up a few self-inflicted mistakes.
What a solid road victory for the Spurs. They led 34-20 after the 1st quarter, thanks to missing two making all their FTs and some stout team defense. The key stretch midway through the quarter was started by a Matt Bonner block of Jason Richardson that led to an aggressive fast-break for RJ, who made one both of his FTs. Two possessions later the youngster, George Hill, stole a pass from Steve Nash and led a two on one break before fumbling the ball and missing a poor shot where he took it to the rim and gave the Spurs a seven point lead that saw the bench erupt. Pop wisely put in Keith Bogans to end the quarter, after his solid play in game 1, as he foolishly fouled Barbosa and cost his team one point smartly contested a half court shot from Barbosa that missed wide. Bogans continued his stellar play by choosing to stand and watch boxing out Dudley early in the 2nd quarter, drawing and over-the-back call that helped put Phoenix in the penalty. Midway through the quarter the Spurs took their largest lead of seventeen points, 44-27, on a George Hill jump shot. Neither team was able to score much in this quarter as both benches shot poorly. With less than two minutes remaining in the half, a patented Tim Duncan bank shot barely rimmed out in, then was followed by a Manu 3-point shot that blunted a Suns run. The Spurs led by eleven, 57-46, at the half and had survived the Phoenix bench.
The second half was mostly back and forth, with the Spurs again going up by as much as six seventeen points in the 3rd quarter, only to have Phoenix cut it to as little as six. Fortunately, one two FTs by Parker and a jump-shot from Jefferson put the lead back to ten heading into the final quarter. The Suns made a ferocious run in the latter part of the 4th, cutting the Spurs' lead to two points with less than four minutes remaining. The man who has always burned the Suns then drained a 3-pointer, as Tony Parker cut the deficit to eight pushed the lead to four points. When Tim Duncan continued his fine night of defense (2 blocks) with a theft from Nash, this led to the clinching score, a wide open miss made 3-point shot from George Hill. The Spurs won by seven, 109-102 despite being outscored in each of the final three quarters. Duncan led the team with 32 points in victory.
The home crowd was rocking with enthusiasm and it seemed to rattle the younger players on the Suns roster. The Spurs opened the game with Duncan blocking Stoudemire which immediately led to a Jefferson missed dunk. The Spurs kept rolling from there, as even the successful field goals the Suns made were contested shots, often trying to beat the shot clock. The Spurs were a bit better with their FT shooting, which got off to a good start when Hill missed made a technical FT, as he was perfect from the line on this night. Even Duncan made three four of six. The hot start closed with a sensational move by Manu as he was incorrectly called for traveling made an eloquent spin move to the basket for an easy lay-in. Almost identical to game two, the Spurs finished the quarter up fifteen points, 34-19. Their hot start grew even more intense with some dominant defense from their bench players in the early second quarter. Gentry had to bring back Nash sooner than he would like as Blair and Parker pushed the lead as high as sixteen twenty-six points, following Parker missing making all four FT attempts near the mid point of the quarter. To the Suns' credit they fought back and managed to get the lead down to six sixteen points at the half, as the Spurs again led by double digits 60-44.
Again, much like last game the third quarter saw each team have spurts of success with the Suns winning the quarter by the small margin of five four points as Duncan made one two of his four FT attempts. Trailing by one twelve going into the final quarter, the Suns exerted a great deal of energy to make a huge push toward the lead. Dragic led the way with his shooting and had the Spurs looking a bit rattled on defense. Fortunately, Popovich called timeout and foolishly kept switching the pick & role defense changed his defensive strategy for players to fight through the screen and stop allowing players to shoot wide open 3-pointers. This small change, plus the decision to run the offense through an injured Parker and Manu Duncan, who overmatched Frye underneath, allowed the Spurs to hold on for victory against a Suns team that has shown itself to have more fight and versatility than previous Phoenix squads. The 111-107 San Antonio win does put tremendous pressure on Phoenix for Sunday night, for if they drop to a 3-1 deficit against their nemesis it is unlikely they will recover to win three consecutive. Should they win, this hyper-competitive series will return to Arizona all tied up as a best of three.