Visual Evidence Why Phoenix Will Not Win the 2007 NBA ChampionshipThe San Antonio Spurs took the Phoenix Suns to the woodshed on Thursday night and administered a sound beating that is belied by the 92-85 final score. TNT's broadcast provided excellent visual evidence why the Suns will not win this year's championship: San Antonio controlled the tempo throughout the game, led by as many as 15 in the second half and held the Suns to .386 field goal shooting. Granted, the Spurs only shot .418 but the boxing cliche holds that "styles make fights" and Phoenix is not going to win too many games with those kind of point totals and shooting percentages. Tim Duncan had 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots. The only Sun who had any success guarding him was Kurt Thomas but putting him in the game then took the Suns away from the running style that they need to use to be successful on offense. The star of the game was Tony Parker, who scored a season-high 35 points on 12-22 field goal shooting. Michael Finley also had a strong game for the Spurs with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Steve Nash had 20 points, seven assists and four rebounds but he also had six turnovers and shot just 6-14 from the field. The Spurs stayed at home on the Suns' three point shooters, forcing them into a 2-11 (.182) performance.
On Sunday the Suns looked like world beaters against Dallas, the team that has the league's best record, which might lead some to conclude that the headline to this post is an extreme statement. The big difference between the Dallas game and the San Antonio game is that Dallas has all but clinched first place; the Mavericks could afford to relax. I'm not saying that they did relax and I don't mean to take anything away from Phoenix but there is no doubt that the Suns had much more at stake in that game. On the other hand, Phoenix is clinging to a small lead over San Antonio for the second seed in the West, which will decide who gets home court advantage in the likely event that these teams square off in the second round of the playoffs. Thursday's game was hugely important to both teams. Phoenix actually led 37-36 at halftime but if you understand basketball you realize that this was just fool's gold. Nash had 11 points but just two assists and the 37 points represented the Suns' lowest total for a half this season. Phoenix cannot win a game played at that pace against a team like San Antonio, so it was not surprising when the Spurs outscored the Suns 35-22 in the third quarter; they choked off Nash's driving and passing lanes, limited the Suns to one contested shot per possession, got the rebound and proceeded to get whatever shots they wanted to take at the other end of the court. Manu Ginobili's uncharacteristically poor shooting (3-11 from the field) kept the score a little closer than it would have been otherwise, but the important thing to understand is that the Spurs showed that they can slow Phoenix down and then get open shots on offense.
The Phoenix Suns deserve credit for the fine record that they will ultimately post this season but those gaudy numbers will not help them in the postseason. Playoff basketball is about executing in the half court and it will be very difficult for the Suns to do this against teams like San Antonio or Dallas--and even Utah or Houston if they end up playing either of those squads. This is part of the reason that I will never understand the rationale that led to Steve Nash's two MVP awards. Even his advocates will generally concede that he is not the league's "best" player but they speak of his "value" to his team--but if Nash is not truly able to lead a talented team past the Western Conference Finals how can he be more valuable than Dirk Nowitzki or even Tim Duncan? How was he more valuable than Shaquille O'Neal two years ago? Shaq turned the Heat into instant title contenders and the Heat won the championship last year in no small part due to the defensive attention that he attracted; the truth in that statement has been reinforced by the team's current run since his return and Wade's injury. If Nash never leads the Suns to a championship--or at least a Finals appearance--I think that history will not view his MVPs as favorably as some contemporary observers do. That is why I've always felt that the award should simply go to the best player, period. There is a Finals MVP award that recognizes great playoff performance and if Nash's value truly consists of making his team great then he should take the Suns to the Finals and win that award. Even with the Suns' much ballyhooed recent two wins against Dallas--which came too late to enable the Suns to catch the Mavericks--Phoenix has a poor record against the Western Conference's other top teams (Dallas, San Antonio, Utah). More should be expected of a team that has a former Coach of the Year, a two-time MVP, two other All-Stars, the probable Sixth Man of the Year winner and other talented players such as Raja Bell and Boris Diaw.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:01 AM