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Suns Expert Reveals Nash 'Secrets' and Ending the Debate on Horry's Hipcheck

Fraternizing with the Enemy: Wil Cantrell & JRW Talk Spurs at Suns

So, it's Fraternizing time again! I always look forward to chatting with our fellow SBNation bloggers about the upcoming matchups, and this time, we have a brand new partner in crime: Wil Cantrell with our friends over at Bright Side of the Sun. He actually kicked this one off, so I'll start right away with his first question. Theirs is a two-parter, with the first half of it here, the second half here. As always, feel free to travel over to join their comments, but be sure to -- stay classy San Diego Antonio.

The Valley of the Sun

Wil Cantrell:

How do you in the big TX feel about the Phoenix Suns? Do you think with all of the recent Spurs domination (exception being THE SWEEP) that there really still is a rivalry?

J.R. Wilco:

Oh the rivalry question again. Some months ago, we had a big cross-blog conversation in the comments between Pounding the Rock, Bright Side of the Sun and Silver Screen and Roll -- it was an impromptu thing and PtR hosted. It was all surrounding a post or two about rivalries that started quite harmlessly, but by the end there seemed to have been quite a few wounds opened and I think everybody got a bit raw about it.

I will say that I have a huge amount of respect for the Suns franchise in general and Steve Nash in particular, and there once was a time when nobody scared me like the Phoenix Suns. When the series between Phoenix and San Antonio ended in 2007, everything after it was a letdown. Maybe not everybody else felt the way that I did but going into that series I really had no idea how the Spurs could win it. I wasn't expecting them to lose I just didn't know how they could win. And once they did, the Jazz and the Cavaliers were mere speed bumps on the way to the championship. I mean that as clearly as I can possibly say it. When the Spurs were done with the Suns they won eight of their next nine games. Talk about anticlimactic!

Then there was the 2008 first-round series which honestly I don't even have the energy to go into right now. Just the first game alone would require at least another 500 words to do it justice. Did you know that the '08 series against you guys was when Manu's ankle was hurt? Did you know that he hasn't been healthy in the postseason since then? Well he hasn't:

  1. 2008 left ankle
  2. 2009 right ankle
  3. 2010 broken nose (thank you, Dirk)
  4. 2011 broken arm (thank you, Oh! Phoenix Suns) in the last game of the regular season.

I like to say that the last time Manu was healthy all the way through the playoffs the Spurs won the championship, but of course it's way more complicated than that.

And to finally get around to your answer. The definition of a rivalry is something that both teams have the chance to win. And for so long, as you said, it was nothing more than Spurs domination. Then when you guys finally did beat us, it was a sweep and wasn't really competitive at all. Now that would have triggered the beginning of a rivalry if Phx had held up its end of the bargain, and made it to the playoffs again the next year. When you failed to do that, honestly I felt a little like you dropped off the radar. But I'm guessing that all it would take to turn that back on would be one more playoff series between the two teams. You never know though, it could happen with a single intense, playoff-atmosphere, regular-season game.

Understanding that it's been years since he's played in Phoenix, and the Spurs system today is so far removed from the 7SoL offense he played in for you guys -- what do you think Spurs fans will get (good and bad) out of Boris Diaw?

Wil Cantrell:

Alvin Gentry called Boris Diaw one of the smartest top two or three players he's ever coached, and that says a lot. As fans we never doubted that he was gifted, we just wondered where his head was at at times. We watched him pass up wide open 2 footers to pass out to the wing. We saw the guy not show up, play with zero energy, forget what boxing out was, and then smile about it, thus earning him the nickname "Doris." However, when the guy was focused, he could be a great play maker, match up 1-5, and hit shots from all over the floor. If anyone can keep this guy focused, Pops would be the man.

How in the world have you guys done it? Is Pop that good or what? I haven't watched many Spurs games, but Duncan seems to be on the downward side of his career Manu has had a bunch of injuries as has Parker.

J.R. Wilco:

That is the $64 question for sure. And it's one that everybody wants to know the answer to. I guess it's a bit like my question about Steve and his secret to longevity and the mystery of his amazingly high percentage shooting, combined with his utter command of an offense and ability to generate assists out of thin air.

But with Pop I suppose it's way more systemic and a lot less individually spectacular. He somehow has the ability to see matchups and possibilities where no one else does. At the beginning of last year when he converted the team from a defensive juggernaut into an offensive force while deemphasizing Duncan's role as a low post presence, it was like having owned a Hummer for 10+ years, and leaving the house to go to work one morning and finding a Ferrari parked in your driveway. These things simply do not happen. Jerry Sloan didn't remake the Jazz when he lost Karl Malone and John Stockton. He kept his thumbprint on every aspect of the team and continued to find players who would be able to fit that system until he eventually fell out of touch with DeRon, and decided that he just didn't want to coach no more. That's the way crotchety old coaches are supposed to behave themselves.

But that's just not Pop. In addition to being an inbounds-play-drawing-up-wizard, he continuously develops schemes to put his players in positions to succeed, regardless of their size or relative talent level. It truly is a wonder to behold, and while watching the game of basketball played well is one of the joys of life -- the truth is that following coach Pop day in, day out throughout the season is just about the most enjoyable part of running my blog.

In a lot of ways even though the franchises have gone in different directions after their last meeting in the playoffs (the sweep) I think there are still some similarities. We both have stars that are generally treated by the media as though they shouldn't be able to continue to do what they obviously can still do. Dealing with this generally causes Spurs fans to bristle, how do Phoenix fans handle the Suns' treatment by the media? (Especially since, it always appeared to Spurs fans, that you guys were the media darlings.)

Wil Cantrell:

Media darlings? Hahaha, thats good. I think the Suns got a ton of press during the D'Antoni years for scoring a lot of points and playing fast, which was fun for everyone. But ever since D'Antoni left, the Suns are never given a chance. In 2010, not many of the so-called experts chose the Suns to even make the playoffs, yet they made it to the WCF. And once Stoudemire left, it got even worse. Now it's at the stage where no one really cares about the Suns unless they are talking about Steve Nash retiring or being traded. Personally, I think most of us know Nash well enough that if he says he doesn't want to go, he means it. The same goes with Grant Hill. Nevertheless, the media knows better, right? I think you get where I'm going here. Our guys wrote tons of stories proclaiming Nash trade rumors were pointless, he's not going anywhere. We're all pretty sick of it.

Who is the biggest unsung hero on the Spurs? Talk about what he does for the team?

J.R. Wilco:

Okay now this one is quite difficult because you're asking me to list way too many people on this year's team. If memory serves, we have eight different guys who've led the team in scoring so far this season, and following the Spurs is a nightly situation of wondering who is going to come up big this time. With the way that Pop focuses so much on keeping the team and players well rested, any game could see any player held out for any reason at all. You might've heard that Duncan was listed as a DNP for Sunday's game against Philadelphia with the reason of "Old." Yes, Timmeh was too old to play that night. And that's what the box score actually said.

But if you forced me to name just one guy I suppose I have to say Kawhi Leonard. He is a rookie and he's only 20 years old. But he is one of the main reasons that the Spurs defense is starting to look like something approaching the elite defenses of old San Antonio. His outside shot keeps improving (he was not a very good shooter in college) and his handle is getting pretty decent to the point where he has the green light to grab a rebound and just take off down the court on his own one-man-fast-break, which until recently had only been the bailiwick of Tony Parker. And he's even started to attack the basket after a pump fake at a three pointer, a play that he finished over Serge Ibaka with a monster slam the last time the Spurs played Oklahoma City. His arms are so long and he is so quick that he can guard his man and the passing lane at the same time. He's not quite to Bruce Bowen's level, but he can already do things that Bruce never could and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up there before too long.

I saw a stat the other day said Nash's offenses for the last 10 years were either # 1 or 2 in offensive efficiency. You may be tired of this question but, how does he DO that? And with those guys?

Wil Cantrell:

First off, Nash is in fantastic shape. For him to be playing at his age is one thing. But to be playing as effective as he is, well that's a testament to how well he takes care of himself coupled with being a very smart player. In simple terms, he knows his teammates, he knows where they will be on the floor, he knows where he needs to get them the ball in order for them to have a chance at success. Lastly, he knows his opponents. He knows what they are going to do before they do it. It's amazing, but he IS the Suns. There may be one or two other guys in the league (and I don't know who, I'm estimating) that could take Nash's place on the Suns have the success he has had running the team. Take Nash away, the Suns are easy in the bottom five of the league. No exaggerations.

And has Duncan spoken of retirement? Are you all nervous about what happens when he leaves? Also, a friend of mine were discussing the Suns "rebuilding." I started thinking about it, and I realized that if you don't clearly "nuke" your team or trade your best player, it's never actually clear when a rebuild takes place. The Suns brass have stated they don't have the stomach to go New Jersey or Cleveland and endure several awful years. How do you think the Spurs ownership views change?

J.R. Wilco:

There're a number of us who were very, very nervous about what was going to happen at the end of this season when his contract expired. But he put all of those fears to rest pretty quickly at the beginning of the season and I don't know that any Spurs fan who really follows the team closely still has any doubts about him coming back to play next year.

That is a truly fascinating question about ownership's views, and I would have answered it entirely differently if we had done this exchange at the beginning of the season or the end of the last. But with the addition of Steven Jackson and Boris and with the way Leonard is playing as well as how Tiago Splitter has gotten so comfortable in the Spurs system; the emergence of Danny Green as an streaky all-around threat, it's entirely possible that there will be a smooth transition from the end of the Duncan era into ... well, whatever era's next. I know that you always have to have a star, but Parker is only 29 years old and if there is anything that this year has taught us it is that Tony can be "The Guy" on a contending team. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but at this point that's what I'm going with. Also it keeps me from having to put on my "what's ownership thinking" cap, which fits way too tight and always gives me a headache.

Yes it's another Nash question: the popular perception of Steve is that he doesn't play defense. What is the BSotS's official point of view on this subject? Feel free to give me the boilerplate. I feel certain that one exists.

Wil Cantrell:

Nash is an underrated defender. Again, he uses his head. He doesn't have the speed and athleticism of some of the younger point guards in the league, but he has the experience to know where these guys are going and where they will be so he can beat them to a spot and take a charge.

How long do you think Popovich continues to coach? Do you see him being a FO guy when he finishes?

J.R. Wilco:

Leading up to last year, Pop had always said that he would retire 15 minutes aftert Duncan did, but he has since backtracked on that statement and I would not be surprised to see him go for another five or six years. He seems to be enjoying himself, and he said that he'll keep going as long as the passion to do it remains. Watch him on the sidelines tonight for any displays of passion and you probably won't be disappointed.

Okay I know Marcin Gortat is awesome, but assume I know nothing else about the rest of your team. What/who can I be watching out for when they play the Spurs?

Wil Cantrell:

The Suns are obviously playing better since the All Star break. The big thing is that the starters have held steady while the bench has finally gelled. Look for Jared Dudley to prove he can go for 20+, play quality defense, and pick up some boards. He's an underrated 2 guard with a lot of smarts and energy. Grant Hill will be matched on your best offensive player 1-4. His defense stifles nearly everyone in the league, exceptions being Kobe and LeBron. Hill runs the floor, hits anything from 5 to 18 feet out, and finishes. Channing Frye has had an awful shooting year overall, but he can get hot in a hurry and take over a game. He's also figured out how to stay on the floor when his shot isn't falling by D'ing up and hitting the boards. The Suns second unit isn't all that impressive, individually, but they have taken on the role of playing tough defense, scrapping, and finally hitting some shots. Shannon Brown has stepped up, as has Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd has had a few nice games, and Robin Lopez has been fairly steady of late.

Bonus question....Many of us still haven't forgotten the Nash/Horry incident. I don't mean to bring up the past but I've never spoken to a Spurs fan about it. Do you think it was dirty? An accident? Help us move on!

J.R. Wilco:

So, we're ending with the Horry hipcheck on Nash in 2007, are we? Ok, here goes.

At the time it happened. I thought that Horry had gotten him pretty good, and I was concerned that Nash was in danger of being hurt pretty badly. I don't know how many San Antonio fans feel this way but I have a huge fear of opposing players being hurt while playing against the Spurs. Of course it's inevitable and it happens to every team, but I just have this strange feeling that there will be this huge backlash against the Spurs for some kind of normal basketball play. So that moment really hit on an apprehension that I have always had.

But after some time went by and I watched the replay over a few times, it seemed to me that after Nash landed, he added some additional flailing to the end of his dismount, in order to make the most of it for the refs. (I've seen interviews with Steve where he admitted as much.) While this served to make it appear to be a more flagrant hit than it actually was, of course it also meant that his teammates rose to his defense with more urgency than they would have, had he not sold the foul so well.

Here's the point at which I should reiterate that Horry absolutely fouled him intentionally. But I do not believe that it was done with any intent to injure and I didn't see it as a dirty play then or now. Rob was certainly frustrated, and there's no way he would've done that if the Spurs were about to win the game, but I don't think he was wanting to knock Steve out of the game or series. The way I remember it, is that with that last rebound and pass out to Nash, the game was sewn up for you guys, and Steve was still going streaking down the court to score again. I'm not saying that it was completely indefensible, but certainly understandable, to give a bump in that situation.

I'm probably taking extra time in describing my position on this because I don't want to be misunderstood, but I want to state that I do not condone any attempts to ever foul with the intention to injure other players -- or to foul recklessly to the point that a players are put in dangerous positions needlessly. That said, I don't think that play is an example of that, or of Horry out headhunting, or of some elaborate scheme to get your players suspended from the next game. While all of those kind of Machiavellian conspiracy theories are certainly interesting, and some quite compelling, I just don't see any of them being true.

Wil Cantrell:

At the time I was enraged as most Suns fans were. We couldn't believe it happened, Horry was a scumbag, and the subsequent suspensions only added salt in the wounds.

But over time I have a slightly different view point. I still think the shot was unnecessary. And as far as Nash flailing and accentuating the hit, it could have been the case. I haven't heard Nash admit to that, but perhaps that is the case. But you know what, I give props to the Spurs for playing a physical game. The Suns have always have the "soft" label, and it was especially true in that series and the majority of the 7SOL era. That team was built to score, not to play defense or rebound and battle it out down low. The Spurs on the other hand had an assemblage of quality role players who knew why they were on the squad. Horry did was he was paid to do, Nash didn't end up in the hospital, so even though we can argue all day long whether it was dirty or unnecessary, the fact is it worked-Diaw and Amare were stupid for getting up, and the Suns coaching staff didn't do enough to prevent the ensuing events.

Look, I'll admit, the Spurs won that series and owned the Suns for a that period of time because they were the better team. There's no avoiding the truth. With that said, the sweep in 2010 was super-sweet. Whether we qualify the Suns/Spurs as a rivalry or not means little, most Suns fans will always hate the Spurs for the Horry incident, but I think a lot of the hatred is based on frustration of not being able to climb Mt. San Antone.

We MUST respect the organization. You all have stability in the front office for the most part, and quality people in the right places. Steve Kerr attempted to emulate the Spurs model out in Phoenix and it failed miserably. It would have taken many years to rebuild the franchise into a "Spurs in the desert," but Robert Sarver didn't have the chops for it.

J.R. Wilco:

Great to hear your take on that part. I know it's not easy to revisit that stuff.

Thanks a ton for doing this with me, Wil. Good luck to you guys over the rest of the season. I hope PHX makes the playoffs and who knows? Maybe our teams have another epic series left in them.