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NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Ignore the shiny superstars, this one's about the reserves

May 6, 2010, 12:34 AM EDT

dudley.pngTim Duncan had 29 points and 10 boards, the Spurs had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1%, and George Hill and Richard Jefferson combined for 32 points (including a 18-10 double-double). It just wasn’t enough. San Antonio made runs and they pressed Phoenix repeatedly, but every lineup the Suns put on the floor had an answer.

Regardless of which five of the Suns — I’m sorry, Los Suns — were on the floor, they were able to compete. Things were looking bright for the Spurs after they racked up a 10-point lead in the game’s first 12 minutes, but from that point on, the Suns simply outworked and outperformed them. Duncan was brilliant, Parker’s game was lethal at times, and the help from RJ and Hill was much-needed, but the Suns really looked the part of the better team on Wednesday night in beating the Spurs 110-102.

Probably because they were the better team. It was Phoenix that was able to persevere despite poor shooting (the Suns’ eFG% was a full seven percentage points below their regular season average) thanks to effort plays (18 offensive rebounds will do wonders), huge three-pointers (Channing Frye and Jason Richardson were especially prolific), and their frequent trips to the free throw line (37 FTAs to the Spurs’ 22). San Antonio may still be something of a powerhouse, but Phoenix clearly wasn’t ready to play the role of the underdog in this series. They’re playing like the 3-seed that they are, and right now it’s a bit too much for the Spurs.

The Suns remain the most deceptively deep team in the playoffs, and Alvin Gentry’s decision to run with a bench unit at times is not at all misguided. Every player off the Phoenix bench plays with an incredible energy, and the unique combination of shooting, defense, hustle, talent, and rebounding among the Suns’ reserves has a tremendous impact on a frequent basis. Frye and Jared Dudley were the heroes this time around, but on Friday it could just as easily be Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic.

The Suns had two essential 17-8 runs, one to start the second quarter and another to start the fourth. Any guess as to which lineup was on the floor for Phoenix? The reserve unit did serious damage in the second, and reprised their roles as gangbusters to start the fourth quarter with the help of Grant Hill. The first run brought a solid San Antonio lead to a measly two points, and the second run gave Phoenix a seven-point edge that the starters would essentially hold for the rest of the game.

Contrast that success with the limited production from the Spurs bench — Tony Parker aside, San Antonio’s reserves scored four points on 28.5% shooting in almost 29 combined minutes — and it’s no wonder why Duncan, Parker, Jefferson, and Hill weren’t enough. The four productive Suns starters (woe is Jarron Collins) just about went point-for-point with the four highest-scoring Spurs, meaning this game really was won in the trenches.

When both teams were looking for a spark, Jared Dudley came up with offensive rebounds and loose balls while Tim Duncan ran on tired legs. Channing Frye shot the lights out while Matt Bonner clanged away open looks. Having a reliable bench is a luxury that few head coaches have in the NBA, but Alvin Gentry is a lucky man. Or really, a man that has done his job over the course of the season in not only recognizing the talent that he had but also in grooming them for situations just like this one both as individual players and as a unit. This did not happen by accident.

If the Suns end up winning two more games, one could look at two of Phoenix’s offensive sequences in the mid-fourth quarter as the series’ defining moments. With Channing Frye as the lone big man on the floor for Phoenix, Tim Duncan was out of his element. He had no one to guard and no way to help. The Suns moved the ball, set screens to force switches, and isolated Grant Hill against Duncan. That was Phoenix’s game plan: they used two straight possessions with the specific purpose of going at one of the greatest defenders of all time.

And it worked. Hill hit two huge jumpers over Duncan, each helping to preserve the Suns’ then-vulnerable lead. The point is not Tim’s decline from his glory days, but just the fact that whereas he was once the matchup nightmare for the Suns, it now seems that the Suns are the problematic matchup for him. All of a sudden it’s the Spurs trying to find a place to put Duncan on defense rather than the Suns desperately searching for someone who can defend him.

He may still get his 29, but apparently Phoenix can live with that. There’s enough scoring and enough depth that it just doesn’t matter. We could be in for a very different series when things shift to San Antonio, but two games into the series, it’s abundantly clear that the Suns are not messing around. This is a dangerous team playing with a lot of confidence, and unless the Spurs pull off the four-wins-in-five-games mini-miracle, they’ll soon be rolling into the Western Conference Finals.       

  1. Mazlow7 - May 6, 2010 at 6:25 PM

    Seminole – you seem to forget that pretty much all of the immigration woes were occurring long before Obama came into office. This has been a long term problem that can’t simply be passed on to the new guy. Obama owns some of it for sure, but lets return to reality and call it what it is, and that’s a problem that has existed for some time.
    The state law sucks because no matter how good intentioned it might be, it will not address the more serious problem, which is violent criminal elements that are coming across the border selling drugs and killing people. In my opinion, the law might be have been well intended (by some legislators) but it was not well thought out relative to where, and how it could impact the real criminal element which is the coyotes and drug traffickers.

  2. cc - May 6, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    As a Hispanic in Southern Arizona, I and the majority of Arizonans support SB1070. As previously stated, Arizona is only enforcing a current existing federal law. Illegal aliens broke the law when they illegally cross the U.S. border. They knew if they were caught that they would be sent back. So what if they’re caught in the desert by the Border Patrol or caught by Phoenix or Tucson P.D., they’re felons and should be deported.
    As for the Suns, Tarver is a fool but I’m still rooting for the home team.

  3. DANCAN - May 6, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    Steve, Everyone in the U.S. has the right to make political comments, including roundball players. That right outweighs your opinion that they should not talk on your dime. Take that dime to another country where they don’t allow freedom of speech and the press.

  4. ddo - May 6, 2010 at 11:54 PM

    Joe, how does you flying from L.A. to Florida have anything to do with an Arizona law? Having lived in AZ for over 20 years (left a couple of years ago) I saw how much things changed there over that time. I had – and still have – many Hispanic friends there and pretty much all of them were against illegal immigration… it’s illegal. What AZ needs to do is get rid of ol’ Sheriff Joe. That guy has always been hateful and out of control.

  5. Steve - May 7, 2010 at 12:51 AM

    Yes, they have. The Federal Law states the same….The Law is being broken. You said people of the Grand Canyon State oppose this law, How come ever poll that has been out says as low as 60% and as high 70% favor it?
    Illegal Hispanics are pissed because something of measure is FINALLY being done. And there alot of them in that state!

  6. Steve - May 7, 2010 at 1:00 AM

    This will go all the way to the supreme court and when it’s UPHELD every time all you people that are against it can pound sand!
    Dude, you wife was search because she is a chick! And that’s why you were not….

  7. luffty - May 7, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    Everyone in AZ supports the bill. enough of the hardworking sh*#, We are talking about ILLEGAL immigrants here not the LEGAL immigrants so enough of the pity thing…
    Not just in AZ but in every state of USA, illegal immigrants should be kicked out of the country…

  8. Fishhook - May 7, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Last time I checked, professional athletes and owners have the right to freedom of speech along with the rest of us. Why should we suppress that fundamental American right? Because they’re athletes, role models, famous? What, since they’re sports stars they should keep their mouths shut?! Bull!
    I may not support their politics (in fact, I dont give a **** about their politics), but I support their basketball!
    So, lets not be so hypoctritical.

  9. Los Suns Fan - May 7, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Elated the Suns and their owner made a stand for human rights. I am Native American and live in Arizona- kind of ironic there is a debate on illegal immigration. LOL. Maybe people are getting a little taste of what tribes all over this country experienced. I do not support this bill. Yes there needs to immigration reform but there is no room for racial profiling which- if you are a person of color you are in danger of.

  10. Brad - May 7, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    Not true!!!!!! polls show 75% of the state agrees with Jan Brewer. 60 plus percent of the country.
    How is there racial profiling? show us one instance that this has happened. YOU CAN”T. If a person is being questioned about a SEPERATE incident, the police officer can ask for identification if they have a reasonable suspision the person might be illegal. How is that racial profiling???? I have to show my id to a police officer if they pull me over for a violation!!! what a load of crap you are trying to spread.

  11. pam - May 7, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    Steve just because these guys chose to play national sports doesnt mean they have to be stupid brainless “jocks” who only care about getting to a championship, i find it refreashing that in phoenix our Los Suns actually care about something other than the current NBA season. Steve Nash is a great role model for Anyone not to mention young players who may see one of their heros as a thoughtful, intellegent PERSON who has thoughts,ideas,and opinions of his own. as far as i know it is still a free country and arizona lawmakers havent figured out how to get around that pesky freedom of speech thing yet im sure they are working on it though!!get over yourself and realize everyone has a right to their opinion and if people dont step up and become involved in ANY issue that may be important to them and show their support for causes close to their heart and do/say what they think is right then what good is freedom anyway?

  12. Wana G - May 7, 2010 at 8:39 PM

    Athletes have always used their influence in political situations in our country. And they should!!!!! And thank God for people like Muhammad Ali, who had enough courage to do so. They should not sit on the sidelines and watch when they know something in legislation or our country

  13. Wana G - May 7, 2010 at 8:53 PM

    SB 1070 is unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment(Section 1) states that the States do not have the authority to make laws that will impose on U.S Citizens (Mexican Americans) immunities and privileges. Racial Profiling does this. SB 1070 does this. If there are some Mexican Americans who do not mind then they will not care when they are being constantly harrassed, but they do not speak for their entire ethnicity. This law must be stopped, it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

  14. Wana G - May 7, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Athletes have always used their influence in political situations in our country. And they should!!!!! And thank God for people like Muhammad Ali, who had enough courage to do so. They should not sit on the sidelines and watch when they know something in legislation or our country

  15. Olie - May 7, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    I believe 80% of the people in AZ agree with the proposition. And protect what human rights. If they are here illegally, they have NO rights.

  16. Chris - May 8, 2010 at 1:57 AM

    Nice call on predicting ‘it could be Lou or Goran on Friday’. Not a bad fourth quarter for Goran tonight! I won’t be relaxed though until the last second of the fourth win ticks off. Imagine the new chapter of pain that can be added to the hip-check, the broken face, the bloody nose and three pointer if the Spurs do what no other team in the history of NBA has done – turn 0-3 to 4-3.

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