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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Suns' Valiant Effort Sans Stoudemire, Diaw Falls Short

Without the services of the suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, the Phoenix Suns needed to play with tremendous energy and they needed a superstar level performance from two-time MVP Steve Nash. The Suns certainly put forth a valiant effort, leading for most of the game but, when push came to shove, Nash was very good, not outstanding, and he did not do much in the fourth quarter as the Suns fell just short. The Spurs made a late run to win 88-85. Manu Ginobili had 26 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, tying his career-high for points in a quarter of a playoff game; Ginobili also pulled down 10 rebounds. Tim Duncan added 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots. He was the dominant figure in the game, even though he only scored two points in the final quarter: the Suns were forced to double-team Duncan to slow him down and that opened up the court for Ginobili and the other Spurs. Shawn Marion led the Suns with 24 points and 17 rebounds but he only had two points and six rebounds in the second half. Nash had 19 points and 12 assists but shot just 6-19 from the field; he shot 1-8 from the field in the fourth quarter.

San Antonio took a 9-4 lead to start the game but TNT's Steve Kerr put it best: "Both teams look a little off kilter." By necessity, the Suns shortened their rotation and used a small, quick lineup. They were able to push the ball and get into the open court, closing the quarter with a a 20-4 run. Marion did most of the damage, scoring 11 points in the first quarter. The Spurs went through a stretch in which they missed nine straight shots and trailed 24-13 at the end of the period; the 13 points is their lowest output in any quarter, regular season or playoffs, this season.

Things got even worse for the Spurs in the second quarter as the Suns built a 40-24 lead. At that point, Nash had three points and five assists. He certainly contributed to the Suns' success but the star at that juncture was Marion, who had poured in 18 points--three of his field goals were assisted by Nash but he was also producing a lot on his own and grabbing a ton of rebounds. The Spurs steadied themselves a bit after that and rallied to trail 44-33 at halftime.

The Spurs chipped away during the third quarter, getting as close as four points, but the Suns still led 62-56 going into the fourth quarter. Raja Bell made a three pointer and Kurt Thomas made two free throws to put Phoenix up 67-56 with 10:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Spurs answered by scoring seven straight points, a run ended by two Marion free throws. Phoenix seemed to have withstood San Antonio's best shot and still led 79-71 at the 5:18 mark. From that point on, the Spurs showed their championship level poise, outscoring the Suns 14-6. Nash made two free throws and had one assist during that critical phase of the game, shooting 0-5 from the field and fouling Ginobili while he shot a three pointer. Ginobili made all three free throws to cut the margin to 79-77 Phoenix and the Spurs tied the score on their next possession. Meanwhile, while Nash faded during that 5:18, Duncan made two free throws, blocked three shots--one of them by Nash--and attracted double teams that helped other Spurs to get open; that is just as valuable as when Nash passes to someone and gets an assist.

With the score tied at 81 the teams traded turnovers and missed shots before Bruce Bowen made one of his trademark corner three pointers. The Spurs' defense and free throw shooting carried the day after that. People who don't understand basketball will say that the suspensions of Stoudemire and Diaw clearly cost the Suns this game because the final score was so close. The reality is things are not that simple. If both teams had played their regular lineups from the start maybe the Spurs would not have trailed by 16 in the second quarter as they scrambled to adjust to the Suns' smaller unit--or maybe the Suns would have been up 20. The point is we will never know for sure. All we can say is that the Suns led for most of the game and had many opportunities to win--and their two-time MVP shot 1-8 from the field in the decisive fourth quarter, while the Spurs' two-time MVP drew double coverage that opened the court for his teammates, particularly Ginobili, to shine. If Nash had shot anywhere close to his normal percentage in this game, perhaps the most important one of the year for the Suns, then Phoenix probably would have won. So, everyone who wanted to shift his MVP vote from Nowitzki to Nash after round one might as well be consistent and keep right on shifting--to Duncan.

Game Six should be very interesting but it is highly unlikely that it will resemble Game Five at all; the Suns will go back to their normal lineup and the Spurs will probably be in control most of the way, like they were in Game Four. Barring a repeat of that game's unusual fourth quarter collapse, the Spurs will eliminate the Suns and move on to the Western Conference Finals.

posted by David Friedman @ 9:10 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Thursday, May 17, 2007 12:08:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

Duncan may be the overall MVP,

but the MVP of this series he aint,

and neither is Steve Nash,

Big Shot Rob claims that award.

And Barbosa is stinking it more, esp compared to Ginobli

 
At Thursday, May 17, 2007 12:35:00 PM, Blogger jmo21 said...

Marion needed to step up, but he only managed a half - you could say thats more than he managed the rest of the series!

 
At Thursday, May 17, 2007 7:31:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

suns played as well as they could yeah duncan out played nash ive rode for nash the whole time last night i rather have kobe because kobe could score 50+ what the suns needed rather than a typical nash night 19 and 12 certain games i want nash than kobe but last night i wanted kobe because in a one game scenario he so dangerous with the scoring that he could balance out missing a player like stoudamire especially what that team already has compared to what he has. nash is still great but he should of played better lucky people like him because dirk played similar and got killed in gs series. nash has shown toughness with the nose and grit with the comeback in game 4 and he will have to show that tommorow or i will remeber tht non superstar performance in game 5

 
At Thursday, May 17, 2007 7:42:00 PM, Blogger jay aych said...

Think you're a little too harsh on Nash. His shooting was not too good, but he did make a handful of nice passes off the pick/roll & had 3-4 assists in the 4th. Not too mention a big charge drawn on Parker.

And maybe your praise for Duncan is a little off-base. Not saying Duncan did not play well, and he did open the floor for his teammates during certain stretches of the game. But the Spurs went on a crucial 11-4 run between the 10:00 to 7:00 mark of the 4th when Tim was on the bench. And the Spurs hit 3 3pt. & a long-jumper without Duncan there to spread the floor. Don't forget about 2 missed freebies by Tim that could have made the game a 2-possession game late.

If anything, Duncan was more of a crucial factor on the defemsive end, where he was huge in the last 5 minutes blocking 2 shots & changing a few more.

100% agree with you on your take about certain people assuming if Amare & Diaw were there the Suns would have won this game considering it was only a 3-point game.

 
At Friday, May 18, 2007 7:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alternaviews:

Horry is hardly the MVP of the series. For one thing, we don't have a winner yet. So far, all Horry has done is get himself suspended for two games. His team won the first game without him. We'll see what happens tonight. It would be a refreshing change if people actually believed in personal responsibility and held Amare and Diaw accountable for being the only two players to leave the bench area this entire postseason despite numerous flagrant fouls in the various series. If PHX ultimately loses and if people assume that they would have won with Amare and Diaw then they are the goats for their reckless action. I had the Spurs in six from the start and still think that is how it will go and how it would have gone even if they had played in Game Five. The Suns have been more troublesome to the Spurs than I expected, though, even if the overall game score is what I predicted to this point.


JMO:

Marion is an interesting case. When he does well we are supposed to believe that this is because Nash makes everyone better (same with Diaw last year)--but when he does poorly it is apparently entirely his fault. Is it possible Nash should have gotten Marion the ball more often instead of shooting 1-8 down the stretch? You can be 100% certain that question would be asked, LOUDLY, if Kobe were on that team instead of Nash. I have yet to read or hear even one person make the suggestion that maybe Nash should have found Marion more often down the stretch. I realize that there were different matchups and strategies in the second half than the first so the question might not be entirely fair to Nash--but shouldn't it at least be asked? Why is everyone afraid to even suggest that maybe Nash did not play quite as well as a two-time MVP needed to in this game? He played well but he did not dominate the game. How would the other two-time MVPs have done in a similar situation? Well, we saw Duncan firsthand. What about Magic, MJ, Bird, Wilt, Russell? Would they have basically their regular season averages while shooting much worse than normal? Magic, as a 20 year old rookie who would not win an MVP for several more years, had 42-15-7 in Game Six of the Finals when Kareem was out. Is Amare more important to the Suns than Kareem, the 1980 MVP, was to the Lakers? I'd take young Magic--not just in that one game, but overall--over veteran Nash any day of the week.

Marcel:

Your point exactly reflects why I have always said that if Kobe were on the Suns they would do even better than they have with Nash. When the Suns are at full strength Kobe could play off of Amare like he did with Shaq. When the Suns need explosive scoring Kobe could provide that. Frankly, I don't know how teams could defend Amare and Marion inside, Kobe on one wing and then Barbosa and Bell spotting up for threes or driving opportunities. Put Kobe on that team in place of Nash and I would make them instant favorites to be the NBA champion; put Nash on the Lakers in place of Kobe and I think their win total would drop by at least 10 games (assuming that the other players participated in the same number of games that they did this year with Kobe). Nash's shooting percentage went down without Amare and it sure isn't going up if you give him Kwame, Luke and Odom in place of Amare, Marion and Jones/Diaw or Thomas.

Jay:

Yes, Nash made some nice plays and I mentioned them in my post. Is that all we expect from a two-time MVP? Some nice plays? I just think that Nash, Dirk, Kobe and Duncan should all be held to the same standard. Dirk is getting killed now and no one talks about lack of coaching adjustments, what his teammates did or didn't do versus Baron Davis, etc. Kobe gets killed whether he shoots a lot or shoots a little and the overall subpar quality of his supporting cast--decimated further by injuries--is glossed over. The Suns are good enough even without Amare and Diaw to outplay the Spurs for well over 40 minutes but Nash gets a pass when his team fades down the stretch and he is missing shots left and right. Let me be clear about something--I am not criticizing Nash; I think that he is an excellent player. I am criticizing the way that Nash is analyzed and described compared to the way that the other top three players are analyzed and described. If Dirk or Kobe played the way that Nash did in the fourth quarter of Game Five they would be killed in the media, period. There is no arguing or disputing that. Dirk just led a team to 67 wins and his whole season is supposedly invalidated because Dallas could not figure out how to guard Baron Davis or that Dirk would be better suited if Dallas ran with Golden State as opposed to pretending that Dirk is a postup player.

The Spurs did make a run with Duncan out when they went to a small lineup--but the Suns weathered that storm and rebuilt their lead, as I mentioned in the post. The dominant themes after that were Duncan's defense, Duncan drawing double teams that led to a plethora of open shots (including a Parker J, a Ginobili three and Bowen's game winning three) and Nash's inability to make a shot. If you replay Parker's late J and Bowen's three, you can clearly see the whole Suns defense sagging around Duncan. The Spurs whip the ball around and those guys are wide open to shoot because of Duncan being doubled. He gets no assist or any other stat but he made those plays possible (of course, Kobe did the same thing against the Suns in terms of drawing defenders but he had no one who could make those open shots).

Yes, Duncan's missed free throws could have potentially been big. Free throw shooting is his one weakness. That is one reason that I would take Kobe, narrowly, over him--Kobe is an excellent free throw shooter and you can give him the ball at the end of the game to create his own shot or create a shot for someone else fully confident that he will come through at the free throw line if he is fouled.

 
At Friday, May 18, 2007 2:32:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

i always said that kobe a better player than nash i said nash just made better decisions than him and the players on that team are taylor made to play with him but i think kobe good enough to fit in any team though and yeah stodamire could play off him marion could play the lamar role and turn sasha in barbosa and smush into bell and yes they win the ring

 
At Friday, May 18, 2007 4:39:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

If Nash fails to lead the Suns past the Spurs, it should be seen as a HUGE failure.

Honestly, on paper the Suns are more talented than the Spurs. They have 6 of the top 9 players on both teams. Even with Amare and Diaw out, they had 4 of the top 7 players.

Nash keeps getting so much praise as being possibly the best player in the league. Is this praise based on him being a better individual talent than anyone else? No. It's based on Nash possessing the mystical ability to "make his teammates better".


If Nash is supposed to be the best player in the league because he can "make his teammates better", he should be able to lead the Suns past the Spurs, period.

I'm tired of people heavily criticizing other superstars (Kobe, Lebron, McGrady,... even Dirk) when their teams come up short, but giving Nash a free pass.

It will be interesting to see how the media will present a Suns loss. I highly doubt Nash will get criticized remotely as much as almost any other superstar would in his place.

 
At Saturday, May 19, 2007 3:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I agree completely.

The "tainted" series idea is bogus but that will be one out that is used on Nash's behalf. I think that his late scoring burst in Game Six that happened after his team was already down 20 will also become "the stuff of legend," though if anyone else waited to produce until the game was lost it would be "stat stuffing."

Did you notice how the refs refused to give Nash a technical foul no matter how much he screamed and showed them up? The funniest thing was when he was screaming at the refs in the middle of a play late in the game and then he nailed a three pointer when the ball bounced out to him. He was so busy yelling and carrying on that I thought he wouldn't even see the ball.

 
At Saturday, May 19, 2007 5:02:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

nash did scream at the refs but comeon my man kobe complains and screams after every play if he takes and bad shot and doesnt get a foul nash makeing shots was the stuff of the legends he almost brought them back that would of ben the greatest comeback ever nash greatest player ever
no im just playing wilt is

 
At Sunday, May 20, 2007 2:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nash complains more than Kobe does and with less reasonable cause, if you watch the replays. When Kobe complains, he really has been hit, usually by two or three guys. Nash complains about marginal or no contact on plays where he threw the ball away. I haven't checked but it seems like he never gets a technical foul, either.

"The stuff of legends"? Nash makes a couple jumpers with his team down 20 and that is the "stuff of legends"? How about Isiah scoring an NBA Finals record 25 points in one quarter on a badly sprained ankle? How about Jordan scoring 35 points in one half of a Finals game? Or Jordan leading his team to victory in the "food poisoning game"? What about 42-15-7 for Magic in 1980 as a rookie? All of those performances--and many others--were not only better than Nash's but they came in the NBA Finals, a place that Nash has yet to visit without paying for a ticket.

 
At Sunday, May 20, 2007 3:42:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

nash be complainig kobe do too at a higher rate than nash it' undeniable man just look at the game fairly fam nash and kobe both complain alot to refs but kobe complains more of course nash dont compare to magic isaih or jordan sick game or 35 in the first half 63 against boston or anything else i was just jokeing he was stat stuffing he didnt play well in the last two games of the year

 
At Sunday, May 20, 2007 7:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm not going to debate about who complains more--how can we prove it?--but Kobe and Duncan sure get criticized more for whining than does Nash. Nash also complains about marginal plays, mainly when he loses the ball in the open court. Kobe and Duncan complain about being hammered when they are trying to score close to the hoop.

 

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