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Friday, May 19, 2006

"You Gotta Love It": Clippers Force a Seventh Game Versus the Suns

The Phoenix Suns will need to win a seventh game for the second series in a row in order to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The L.A. Clippers defeated the Suns 118-106 on Thursday night in the Staples Center. Elton Brand led the Clippers with 30 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots but, as Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni pointed out in his postgame remarks, what killed the Suns were the numbers put up by Corey Maggette (25 points, eight rebounds, 7-8 field goal shooting, 9-9 free throw shooting) and Quinton Ross (career high 18 points on 9-14 field goal shooting). Shawn Marion had another strong game for the Suns (34 points, nine rebounds, six steals), Leandro Barbosa came off the bench to score 25 points and Steve Nash had 17 points and 11 assists.

Sam Cassell contributed 15 points and eight assists and is thrilled to have the opportunity to play in a seventh game. "You gotta love it," he repeatedly told ESPN's Mark Jones after the game, adding that the Clippers have figured out how to beat Phoenix and are confident about their chances to win the seventh game. We'll see about that because, as I've mentioned here more than once, game sevens on the road in the NBA are usually death.

Steve Nash has struggled in the past few games. His shooting has been off target and he has had difficulties on defense as well. ESPN's Scottie Pippen declared after game six that Nash has been exposed for not being worthy of his two MVP awards. I would not have voted for Nash for MVP last year or this year but I am reluctant to place too much emphasis on these recent games, either. Nash is legitimately an All-NBA caliber player and such players have a tendency to bounce back strongly after subpar performances. Don't forget that Tim Duncan struggled in the middle of last year's Finals and received a lot of criticism before coming through in game seven and winning his third Finals MVP. It is important to not write the final analysis of a series before the series is over. This reminds me of the classic Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe showdown in the 1980 Wimbledon. McEnroe won a thrilling fourth set tiebreaker 18-16 but Borg recovered from that setback to play an almost flawless fifth set and win the match. Years later Borg was interviewed about that match and the epic tiebreaker; he calmly noted that the fifth set--the one that actually decided the match--was the real story, not the fourth set tiebreaker. Game seven, which will decide the Suns-Clippers series, is the real story and only after that game is over can we fairly evaluate the performance of Nash--or any other player--in this series.

I picked the Suns to win this series and I still believe that they will prevail in game seven. The Lakers battled the Suns for six games but could not find the wherewithal to even be competitive in game seven. Brand and Cassell will not allow the Clippers to melt down in game seven like the Lakers did but the Suns will resume running and gunning when they return to Phoenix and they will win an exciting, high scoring and close game seven.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:25 AM

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