The Spurs lost a close Game 1 to the Suns on Monday. Losses can be tough, especially playoff losses to the Suns, but there are reasons to feel confident going into tonight's game.
First, something I meant to talk about before Monday's game but ran out of time; let's look at Phoenix's most telling thermometer, Jason Richardson. During the regular season, he averaged 17.8 ppg in wins and 11.7 ppg in losses. This point differential of 6.1 is ridiculously significant. Basically, when he is hot, the Suns are hot. To give you something comparable, Richard Jefferson owns the biggest win, loss point differential on the Spurs at 3.1. But Richard only scores 13.5 ppg in wins so his impact is even less meaningful than the 3.1 points indicate. So, if we can control Jason Richardson, we have a great chance at winning the game. Easier said than done, you might say, especially given J-Rich's production in Game 1. But if you look at Jason Richardson, his game is one that is purely offensive. Monday night, he did score 27 points, but with 0 assists and 3 turnovers. Historically, this is the kind of player that Popovich has excelled at shutting down; so let's give Pop a chance to put his defensive focus on J-Rich before we anoint the Suns.
Second, we have to talk about our boy, George. Nash is a terrible match-up for Hill for two reasons. First, Nash is too quick offensively for George to stay in front of. In addition, he has shifty, Manu-like moves that keep George on his heels. I feel that the best way to negate Steve Nash is to attack him on the offensive end, which leads me to the second reason that Nash is a poor match-up. Hill is a great spot-up shooter and attacks the basket well on the break. However, if we are talking about a relentless attacker off the dribble, Parker matches that description much better. Constantly attacking Nash will hopefully wear him out for the fourth quarter, and definitely take some of his quickness away over the course of a grueling 7 game series. I think we need to start Parker and bring Hill off the bench. I know this may seem an overreaction since it's based on one game, but Hill was destroyed defensively and his offensive game seemed to suffer from it. Furthermore, it's not just based off of one game. The Spurs have owned the Suns in its Nash era using Parker to negate Nash. Why stray from something that has clearly worked well over the years? In addition, we desperately need Hill to be productive in order to beat the Suns, and I think bringing him off the bench is the best way to optimize Hill's abilities in this series.
But now we have a problem. If we start Parker, Manu, RJ, McDyess, and Duncan, there is simply not enough ball to go around. Parker and Manu are both at their best when they have the ball in their hands, which cannot happen if we play them at the same time. In this way, we would be under-utilizing our talent if we start both. Also, our second unit would be awful unless we played one of the big three for a longer stretch than is preferable early in the game. Because of this, if we start Tony, we need to bring Manu off the bench. Basically, I am suggesting that Pop switches to our starting lineup pre-Tony's broken hand. This is all just speculation and opinion, but I think it's the way to go and would put our team in the best situation possible to win this series.
I was listening to Bill Simmons' Podcast with Ric Bucher yesterday and Simmons explained that Game 1 reaffirmed his stance that the Spurs would win the series. He said that if you were assigning grades, the Suns gave a mid 90's performance while the Spurs gave a 75, and the Spurs still almost won. This is exactly what I had been telling everyone that would listen. The Suns played about as well as they could, and the Spurs still nearly pulled out a win on the road playing fairly mediocre. Rewind to last series and think about Game 1 against Dallas. Dirk played the game of his life, just as Nash did in this Game 1, and key role players stepped up huge for Dallas, just as Richardson did for the Suns, while the Spurs seemed somewhat lackluster. In Game 2 against Dallas, things evened out, as they tend to do in basketball. If you shoot 60% from the field in the first half, expect to shoot 40% from the field in the second half. Similarly, if your team plays out of its mind in Game 1, you can expect a let down in Game 2. And conversely for the Spurs, we can expect a better performance. It's a seesaw and we should be on top in Game 2. If we control Richardson, clean up our execution and minimize offensive lapses, the Spurs should win Game 2. I think the Spurs win Game 2, convincingly.