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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Duncan Dominates, Spurs Eliminate Suns

Tim Duncan literally eclipsed the Suns in the paint with 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots (a career-high and franchise playoff record) as the Spurs advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a 114-106 victory. The Spurs led by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before a furious but ultimately futile run made the score more respectable. Manu Ginobili had 33 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals, shooting 11-17 from the field. Tony Parker added 30 points and five assists but shot just 11-27. Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 38 points and 12 rebounds. Steve Nash finished with 18 points and 14 assists.

Parker (11 points) and Stoudemire (eight points) got off to fast starts and the score was tied at 23 after the first quarter. Duncan's early impact was mainly felt at the defensive end; he blocked five shots in the first quarter, making it clear that the Suns would get no easy points in the paint. Neither team led by more than three points during the second quarter, with the Spurs taking a 53-51 advantage into halftime. Duncan scored 13 points in the second quarter and finished the first half with 15 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. He shot 7-12 from the field. Parker led all scorers with 21 points, while Stoudemire had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks but he shot just 6-15 from the field.

The Suns took their last lead of the game at the 6:49 mark of the third quarter after a Shawn Marion tip-in. Shortly after that, ESPN came back from a commercial break and ran a sound bite of Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni talking about the series. D'Antoni asserted that his team is "more talented" than San Antonio and "just as mentally tough." The timing of those words could not be more exquisitely ironic: Bruce Bowen and Ginobili promptly hit back to back three pointers to give the Spurs their largest lead yet, 69-61. By the end of the quarter, the "more talented" and "just as mentally tough" Suns trailed 81-67 and their two-time MVP Nash had scored exactly three points.

The Spurs led 92-72 with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter after another Ginobili jumper. Nash scored the Suns' next 10 points--and they still trailed by 16 at the 6:20 mark. A Nash jumper finally got the margin under 10 with 3:42 to go (99-90) but neither team scored in the next 1:09. The Suns crawled to within 101-94 with 2:01 left but the Spurs made enough field goals and free throws down the stretch to keep them at bay.

Nash ended up with decent numbers, mainly thanks to his scoring explosion after the game was essentially out of reach, but he was not even the best guard on the court--that would be Ginobili--let alone the best player, which was Tim Duncan. No doubt we will hear that this series was "tainted" by the suspensions of Stoudemire and Boris Diaw (who had one point in Game Six) but the Suns led for most of Game Five even without Stoudemire and Diaw and lost convincingly in Game Six with their full complement of players; anyone who uses the word "tainted" to describe the result of this series simply did not pay attention to the games. In fact, this game and this series followed the same blueprint that San Antonio used to beat Phoenix 4-1 in the 2005 playoffs: stay tight on the three point shooters, contain Nash's penetration and live with whatever Stoudemire scores. The Spurs won the lowest scoring game of the series and the highest scoring game of the series, proving that they could beat the Suns at any tempo. They strolled into Phoenix and grabbed homecourt advantage after Game One. Duncan's dominance caused the Suns to change their starting lineup and Parker's speed forced the Suns to switch Nash on to Bowen and Marion on to Parker. The real significance of Game Four is not Horry's foul and the aftermath but the fact that the Spurs dominated for 46 minutes but ended up blowing a double digit fourth quarter lead for the first time in 28 playoff games and just the third time in 58 such postseason games during Duncan's career; if not for that lapse, the Spurs would probably have won in five games just like they did in 2005. Consider what happened in Game Six: the Suns had their full team, the Spurs still did not have Horry and the Spurs built an even bigger lead than they did in Game Four--and this time they held on to it.

For three seasons we have heard about Nash's greatness, which is supposed to consist mainly of his ability to make his teammates better. His coach publicly stated, more than once, that the Suns are more talented than the Spurs. Yet, Nash failed once again to lead his team to the NBA Finals--despite owning homecourt advantage and being paired with an All-NBA First Team player (Stoudemire), an All-Star/Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Marion), the Sixth Man of the Year (Leandro Barbosa) and a member of the All-Defensive First Team (Raja Bell). Sure, Nash had 14 assists in Game Six but--other than Stoudemire, who is clearly an explosive talent who would thrive on any team--who exactly did he "make better" in the biggest game of the year for the Suns? Marion shot 5-12, Barbosa shot 5-15, Diaw shot 0-1 and Bell shot 5-9. If Nash in fact "made everyone better" during the past three regular seasons and if the Suns in fact are "more talented" than the Spurs than why did this series not even make it to a seventh game? If Kobe Bryant is denied MVP honors for not leading the Lakers to 50 wins and Dirk Nowitzki is blasted for going out in the first round after a 67 win season then how can Nash escape any criticism when his team lasts exactly one round longer than their teams did despite enjoying homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs (after Dallas' elimination) and despite playing alongside so many talented players? If he has been "making them better" all along and deserves two MVPs as a reward for that then he has to be criticized for not making them better year after year in the playoffs.

The reality, of course, is that Nash is an excellent player but he is not and never has been the best player in the NBA. That is why teams led by Duncan and Nowitzki have knocked his Suns out of the playoffs each of the past three seasons--and why Kobe Bryant almost pulled off the same thing in 2006 with so much less help around him than Nash has that it is comical to suggest that Nash is better than Bryant; put Bryant on the Suns for this series and Ginobili would no longer be the best guard on the court and the Suns would be better than they are now both offensively and defensively. Every single writer and commentator who has been saying for the past two weeks that he would switch his MVP vote this year from Nowitzki to Nash because of what happened in the first round absolutely must follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion and publicly endorse Duncan as this year's MVP; you simply cannot bash Nowitzki for losing in the first round and then completely ignore that Nash's team lost in the second round despite having homecourt advantage.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:40 AM



At Saturday, May 19, 2007 4:28:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

An excellent performance by the Spurs. I'm very impressed with their ability to play such tough defense without fouling (as Jeff Van Gundy noted).

I agree with your take on Nash's performance. One thing which I was very surprised by were his post-game comments. Despite all his whining throughout the game (maybe if he had shut up and just played earlier on the Suns would have come closer), I expected him to be gracious and make no excuses afterward. Instead, we got to hear Nash complain for several minutes about how his team had been shorthanded, how the league did them "no favors", and how their Game 5 loss will "forever haunt" them.

I have a few problems with this. First, it would be one thing if the Suns were eliminated during a game in which they were shorthanded, but they had their chance Friday to be at full strength and redeem themselves. If Nash, D'Antoni, and the rest of them feel so strongly that they were good enough to win and the suspensions prevented them, they should have proved it with a win yesterday. Second, Game 5 was really close and the Suns had a great chance to win. Nash is acting like Game 5 was out of reach from the moment the suspensions were handed out.

With these two things in mind, I think the honorable and proper thing for the Suns (and the media) to do would be to put the suspensions behind them and face what happened out on the court.

Also, Nash failed to hold his team responsible for the suspensions. He continues to insist that Horry "instigated" everything, but fails to note that Horry didn't force Amare and Diaw to leave the bench (and fails to note how his own acting may have escalated the situation).

It was disappointing to see Nash (who was probably fully aware of how much the media has been blowing up the "tainted" idea) take the low road and try to blame the loss on the suspensions as much as he could. I can't imagine any of the truly great players, past or present, doing the same. If Nash and his team were as great as people like to think, they would have used the suspensions as motivation to win Game 6, or, in case of a Game 6 loss, take the loss honorably and plan to use the next season to redeem themselves. Instead of earning redemption, they seem more interested in making excuses and saying "we'll never know".

At Saturday, May 19, 2007 4:51:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

yes duncan played better than nash and so did ginoboli but steve nash is still great it does not undermine how great he is as a basketball player but he should of played better i dont know who statrted saying he is the best in the league that is kobe bryant but to be fair david he has never had his full team when he was going up against the spurs or dallas stodamire hurt last year and this year tie the series at 2 to 2 and stoudamire not there in game 5 i got to cut him some slack beacuase of that is stodamire played in game 5 game 6 they wouldve lost anyway and probably wouldve won 7 seven so he's had bad luck. nash is not kobe he depends on others to help his stat sheet rather kobe could score 50 and would not need anybody else meaning a great game for nash is like 24 15 where a great game for kobe 65 points because he scores 50 so easily. nash should be ripped because his team did nt do as well as possible but he still the best point and he tried and he is a top 5 player in the game still good luck next year

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 1:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I didn't mention Nash's comments because I had a lot to say about the game itself but you are right that he was less than a gracious loser. There have been hard fouls and flagrant fouls in many series--J Rich's play on Okur, Baron's elbow to Fisher's head, Mikki Moore's foul on Pavlovic to name just three recent ones--but Stoudemire and Diaw were the only two knuckleheads on any playoff team this year that left the area of the bench and got suspended. If I were the Suns' owner, I'd fine them another game check in addition to whatever the NBA suspension cost them. Their actions are entirely their own responsibility and they violated a rule that everybody else in the NBA apparently knows and does not have trouble following. It is a good rule that has led to a big reduction in on court violence and I hope that the NBA does not change it because two guys out of 360+ lost their composure. D'Antoni says that his team is as mentally tough as the Spurs but mentally tough teams focus on the task at hand at all times. To the best of my knowledge, Ginobili never once complained about the play that resulted in him getting a black eye. On a somewhat related note, have you noticed that Nash's bloody nose has now been included with Bowen's kneeing him in the crotch and stepping on Amare's leg? The knee and the stepping play are one thing but Nash got a bloody nose because he leaned into Parker and headbutted him. Obviously, he did not do this on purpose but Nash initiated the contact, not Parker, and Nash was correctly whistled for the foul. No one seemed too concerned about Parker laying on the ground or about the welt that appeared on his head but when Nash started bleeding suddenly the announcers acted like it was a national emergency. Nash's cut had nothing to do with "physical play" by the Spurs and it is ridiculous that it gets lumped in with the Bowen plays.

Despite being without Amare, Phoenix still could have won Game Five if Nash and company had played better down the stretch. Then in Game Six the Suns had their full complement of players and basically got blown out--yeah, they scored some points to make it relatively close at the end but there was no way that the Spurs were going to blow two double digit fourth quarter leads in one series when they had only blown two double digit fourth quarter leads in Duncan's entire playoff career prior to this series.

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 1:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't have an issue with Nash as a player. I have said, many times, that he is a top five player. My issue is with the people who have elevated him to two-time MVP status, who say that he is "unique," the best player in the league and on par with Magic Johnson. I vehemently disagree with all of those things; he should not have won two MVPs, he is not "unique"--Stockton, Price, KJ, Tim Hardaway are four players who did similar things--and the Magic Johnson comparison is absurd. Magic was a 6-9 player who could play any position. He IS truly unique. Oscar Robertson was a great guard but he was 6-5 and could not play center; there really never has been another player like Magic and I doubt that there ever will be. That doesn't mean that Magic is necessarily the greatest ever, though he is on the short list, but he may be the most unique player--certainly much more unique than a 6-3 guard who shoots and passes very well. Those are admirable skills but even if one accepts that Nash is the best at those skill sets--I still say that Stockton for one was just as good, if not better--a player possessing those skill sets is not "unique." Jason Kidd, a point guard who rebounds like a power forward, is more "unique" than Nash--again, "unique" means rare and does not refer to skill level, though Nash is not as far ahead of Kidd as some people think.

I believe that the only way that the Suns would not have lost this series in six games is if something happened to prevent Duncan from playing--although the series could have gone five if the Spurs had closed Game Four with their usual efficiency; that, not the fouls or the "dirty play" or the suspensions, was the strangest thing we saw in the whole series: the Spurs blew a double digit fourth quarter lead for just the third time in Duncan's playoff career.

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 3:22:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

my issue with you is saying kobe mvp when his team only won 42 games and 45 games he should get it if his team wins 53+ at least have a great regular season if you gonna get knocked out in the first round just becaue kobe is the best player doesnt mean you automatically get the mvp. jordan duncan nash shaq got it because they team won 3 of them won the ring win they got the mvp nash got to 2 conference finals one without stoudamire so it's not a disgrace he got the mvp. saying kobe a great defender when he is not anymore still very good but no longer great even those of us who like kobe no that. and biggest of all knowing well kobe didnt want to play with shaq anymore he was tired of shaq getting all the credit for the 3 rings they won and people saying he only was that good because of shaq and he could never win a ring without shaq. and if ai and vince or t mac played with shaq they would of won 3 rings too. so he wanted to prove he was a number 1 option and he could lead his team to a champinship he was in a no win situation if you stay with shaq youre gonna be pippen not jordan bird or magic or shaq people will always say how good would of been without shaq. now if you leave shaq like he did every individual accomplishment 4 straight 50 point games 81 point game etc is called selfish you only care abut yourself youre not a team player etc and personally i thought apart of kobe always wanted to be the man when youre that good you probably should

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 7:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Look at what you just said: MJ, Duncan and Shaq won MVPs because they won championships. So why did Nash win MVP? Two Conference Finals? Come on, that's weak--and don't make excuses about which players were there or not there when Nash is supposed to the best player, is supposedly making everyone much better and plays on one of the most talented teams in the NBA (just ask his coach, who keeps telling everyone that).

We've been over the defense issue repeatedly. I am not the only one who says that Kobe is a very good defender; the head coaches annually vote him to the All-Defensive Team and they know a lot more about the NBA than do the people who say that Kobe does not deserve such recognition.

You know that Kobe did not want to play with Shaq and that's why the team was broken up? Really? Because that is not what the team's owner said and he's the one who signs the checks.

It's funny how you can criticize Kobe's credentials as a champion when he has three rings and Nash has none. Phoenix has some chemistry issues, too, though the media likes to keep that quiet. We'll see if they bring their whole team back next year.

Kobe's accomplishments have come in trying to help the team win. That's why he won three titles when he was on a great team and why he carried a poor team to two playoff appearances. Duncan's been on a great team and won three rings. Dirk's been on a great team and made it to the Finals. Nash has been getting more acclaim than any of these players while actually accomplishing less. That just makes no sense.

It's really so simple. If the MVP is going to go to the best player, then Kobe should have won it this year (and last year). If the MVP is going to the best player on the best regular season team, then Nowitzki is the rightful winner this year and his first round performance has nothing to do with his worthiness to win the award. People who insist that Nash deserves two MVPs and should have won Dirk's MVP this year because Nash has such an impact on team success are the ones who need to justify their assertions. Nash's statistics are worse than any of the players we are talking about (and most of the previous MVP winners)--and the bottom line regarding his team is that the Suns have as much talent as anyone but have won nothing with Nash at the helm.

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:12:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

nash won the mvp because he made them 33 games better in 2004-2005 and they got to the conference finals kevin garnett got to the conference finals dirk team won 67 and didnt get to the 2nd round they still shoulda got there mvp's. the real reason he won them becuase there were low expectations both years phoenix came off a 29 win season for injuries and other issues and they were supposed to be low 40 win team and they won 62 games and conference finals apperance nobody expected that and nash came over from dallas as just a good player and was basically not wanted anymore got 65 mil and people thought that was too much and he exceeded expectaions. the next year amare got hurt most of the experts thought the suns barely make the playoffs agian they win a suprising 54 games without him and get back to the conference finals twice the expectation for the suns both of those years was not to win a championship they were barely supposed to make the playoffs who thought the 04-05 suns was going to win the champinship at the beginning of the year who thought the 05-06 suns was going to win a championship at the begining of the year without stoudamire. this year they had everybody and the expectations was a championship and notice he didnt win the mvp because he didnt exceed expectations and dirk had a better year in the regular season. kobe was expected to win the scoring title and barely make the playoffs and they did the last two years last year I thought he deserved mvp because they won 34 games they year before 11 game improvement and there were not expected to make the playoffs and they almost won the first round series. but they gave it to nash and he had similar expectations although higher than lakers either wasnt supposed to win championship, now this year the expectations for the lakers were the same as last they suprised everybody with a 27 -14 start he was on a mvp course and then it fell apart they were 3 games worse no excuse i cant make a legit excuse for nash the game 5 situation so dont make injuries excuse for kobe i dont want to hear it they were 3 games worse than last how in the hell are you the mvp if you 3 games worse than the last year and the year before you came in fourth? what your saying makes no sense david you want to try to legitimize kobe by throwing winning out of the equation but in every individual award in a team sport nfl mvp mlb mvp heisman trophy winning is part of the equation your team has to be good as well. and if you are supposed to be not very good and you are not very good like kobe team what value is in that. and when your supposed to be just good or not very good and you have a great year and suprise people both years like phoenix and nash has done then that is value david cause statiscally nash couldnt win it only by expectaions

At Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If Nash can singlehandedly make a team 33 games better than why can't he lead that team to a home win in a pivotal Game Five? Or a road win in an elimination game in Game Six? The answer is that he did not singlehandedly make the team 33 games better.

You mention injuries and suspensions to justify Nash's failures but then say to not mention injuries regarding Kobe. That is inconsistent. What is the difference between the 27-14 Lakers and the Lakers at the end of the year? Odom, Brown and Walton were injured. Kobe played well at the beginning and tremendously down the stretch but one man cannot win by himself. Still, he showed that he was more valuable than any other player by carrying that team into the playoffs. I look at players like a scout does, not like a fan or like other writers; Bryant has no weaknesses: he can score inside or outside, makes his free throws, and handles, passes, rebounds and defends very well. All of the other great players have at least one weakness in those areas.

You are probably correct that Nash got his MVPs because the Suns exceeded expectations--but the expectations were born out of ignorance. If you go back and check, I expected more out of the Suns than you or others did, so maybe that is why I am less impressed by what Nash did. Any team that has two All-Stars (Nash and Marion) plus solid role players is going to easily make the playoffs, so why would people expect them to be in the lottery just because Amare was hurt? With all the accolades that Nash has received and with the talent on that team every year should be considered championship or bust for him but people just let him (and the Suns) off the hook.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 4:01:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

he didnt show he was more valuable by carrying a team to a 15-26 second half when it started 27-14 makes no sense they were well ahead of the clippers and goldenstate is why they made the playoffs if it was closer earlier they wouldnt of made it. you dont get the mvp because you have no weaknesses it is not best on how good or who is the most talented player it's based on expectation team record and one of the top players in the league and expectations of lakers were not exceeded to where what the experts thought phoenix was going to be and what phoenix turned out to be made nash the mvp those two years it's that easy david not really hard at all if kobe had 54 wins or so both years they would have to give it to him with the other players on the team but of course that didnt happen so he didnt win. expectatations for phoenix this year was championship or bust not the previous 2. youre probably right expectations was way too low for them he probably in reality didnt deserve them based on statistcal measure but based on his team circumstances it was right place right time thing

At Monday, May 21, 2007 4:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The MVP voters may very well think along the lines that you described but that does not make it right. It is stupid to base the MVP on whatever false expectations might have existed at the start of the year. If you want to do that, then make Boozer the MVP--who thought that that Jazz would be this good? Boozer's a nice player, but he's not the MVP.

I think that the MVP should be selected based on the criteria that I have described here for quite some time and that Kobe should have won the award in '06 and '07.

By the way, if the voters do think the way that you described, why did Kobe finish third this year? By your reckoning, Kobe should be disqualified because his team did not win enough. If the Lakers' record was good enough for him to finish third ahead of Duncan and LeBron, whose teams did better, then why shouldn't Kobe be first? That kind of thinking is inconsistent. The MVP is an individual award that should go to the best player, period--like when Andre Dawson won it in 1987 even though the Cubs were a last place team.

The Lakers were ahead of the Clippers and Golden State when the Lakers' roster was healthy and their rosters were not. By the way, didn't they still end up ahead of the Clippers and Golden State, so what's your point? Anyway, Kobe had a fantastic season and what he did in March should have clinched the award. No one other than Wilt has ever had a month like that.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 6:31:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

he didnt win the award david i dont care if he came in 3rd and i would of had him ahead of duncan and nash this year not the last two andre dawson won because there was no standout year for sombody else and he had a great year on a bad team a rod won it in 03 because of that too dirk team won 67 games and nash won 62 theres no way a guy should win it if his team is 25 and 20 games worse and theres were 14 games ahead of 500 and finished 2 games like kobe did you have your opion i got mine i respect your opion and think you know basketball. what kobe has to do is next year win 55 or so games same offensive production he dont have to worry about noit winning thge award nash and nowitzki got thers now it's kobe time unless lebron snatch it.

At Monday, May 21, 2007 9:47:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

couple things on nash looked at his career stats best year 18.6 10.6 assists and 4 mark price was 19.6 pts 9 ast per game tim hardaway got 3 20 pt 10 assists years kevin johnson got 4 20 pt 10 asissts isiah got 4 straight 20 pt 10 asists magic got 3 20 10 his mvp years were 23.9 12.2 6.3 87 89 22.6 12.8 7.9 90 22 11 6 john stockton best year 17. 14 he did it 3 straight years and and had 10 straight 10 apg or more. oscar robertson wow he had 5 30 ppg and 10 asg seasons and he basically 20 10 every year. jason kidd never had a 20 10 season alot like 18 and 8 but he got the 87 triple doubles going for him. gary payton had five straight 20ppg seasons not close to a 20 and 10. walt frazier had 6 straight 20 pts per game seasons no 20 and 10 seasons. so heres my list in order 1. magic 2 big o 3 isiah 4. johnstockton 5. walt frazier 6 steve nash 7. jason kidd 8 . gary payton 9 tim hardaway 10 kevin johnson 11 mark price. sixth greatest point ever aint too bad

At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 3:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

That list looks pretty good for the most part but, depending on how far back you are looking, Bob Cousy is a pretty significant omission. Also, I assume that you are counting Jerry West as a shooting guard, because otherwise he has to be pretty high on this list.

I agree that sixth is not too bad for Nash and I don't have a problem putting him there but it seems like a lot of people place him higher than that. Magic won three MVPs, Oscar one and the rest of the players (other than Nash of course) never won an MVP, though Isiah won a Finals MVP.

At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 11:57:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

i couldnt get bob cousy career number to compare and jerry west i always thought was a 2 but they both would be ahead too

At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 4:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Cousy won an MVP and once had a 50 point playoff game (albeit with a bunch of overtimes). West was kind of a "combo" guard--scored a lot but also led the league in assists once.


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