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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. Steve C - May 6, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    Considering my disdain for the Suns (and their Owner Sarver’s) support for breaking the law via sympathy for the legal and illegal community.
    Sports teams have no business getting involved in politics (taking a position). Doing good in the community without regard for residency status is OK and admirable. Making a statement about enforcing the law as misguided and hurtful to legal (and illegal who’s kidding who), Latinos is a smoke screen.
    Im especially hurt by Steve Nash’s views on this and other political issues. He should stay silent and show his brilliance on the Court and its benefit to the Phoenix Suns. Celebrity status these days seems to give license to making all these “bleeding heart” liberal comments about how minorities are being mistreated. But we pay their salary in the ballpark and in the theater (DVD) to show us their talent, not their opinions (or positions). If that was appropriate then why dont i just pay some guy at a bar $100 for his “dead-on” description of how Jan Brewer is hurting our immigrant population.

  2. Johnny Lightning - May 6, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    Response to Steve C –
    Why don’t you follow your own advice and not give us your “Bleeding Brain” Right Wing Drivel? Why don’t you just do your job and be quiet like you want them to do? Doesn’t feel fair that I don’t want to hear your feelings Does it? I am sure you have no more reason to be heard than “Los Suns”.

  3. Anthony - May 6, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Being from Phoenix, I am happy the Suns are doing well against the Spurs, but I decided to not watch last night out my own protest for keeping politics out of sports. Not that it didn’t do anything to them but I have my principles.

  4. Bennett - May 6, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    I didn’t watch the game in protest, as well. LAWBREAKERS need to leave.

  5. Chuck - May 6, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    Politics and basketball? Why is it ok for illegals to get free healthcare and Americans pay for it? 70% of deliveries in Parkland Hospital in Dallas illegal immigrants. free care. American citizenship automatic for baby and country headed towards what happened in Greece. Basketball fun to watch but everyone better wake up fast or there will not be any basketball. Have you watched the Riots in Greece. Money now worth pennies. Why? Excessive government spending. Fear in Europe is that Spain or France next? Wake up now and secure border before it is too late. Why listen to a Canadian? We can provide safe passage for all direct to Canada. Free bus fro border to nash’s home town! Easy for millionaires to say whatever. Go Suns!

  6. Mike - May 6, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    Too bad you guys didn’t watch…you missed a great game!

  7. director101 - May 6, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    I live in Arizona, too, and applaud the Suns for standing up for basic human rights. Most of us in the Grand Canyon State don’t agree with Jan Brewer and can’t wait for her to be out of office.
    And allow me to point out that SB 1070 has not taken effect yet, so anyone in opposition to it is definitely NOT a lawbreaker.

  8. Chuck - May 6, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Mike and Johnny. Seriously wake up and see what is happening. this is serious for liberal or conservative

  9. director101 - May 6, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    I live in Arizona, too, and applaud the Suns for standing up for basic human rights. Most of us in the southern half of the Grand Canyon State don’t agree with Jan Brewer and can’t wait for her to be out of office.
    And BTW, my forefathers came here from Ireland … and they were discriminated against, as well.
    Finally, allow me to point out that SB 1070 has not taken effect yet, so anyone in opposition to it is definitely NOT a lawbreaker.
    Viva Los Suns!

  10. JT Hollin - May 6, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    The real lawbreakers are those who acquire American citizenship then plant car bombs or other explosives among us, not the “immigrants” out west who are overwhelmingly loyal and hard-working. JT

  11. Wutangmom - May 6, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    Johnny may I use your phrase “Bleeding Brain” Right Wing Drivel? I like it!
    And as for Steve C, if you use the analogy that “we pay their salaries” then I am GLAD that Steve Nash is taking a stand for what he believes in and I will be glad to pay his salary!

  12. CJBran - May 6, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    Most of us in AZ DO agree with the new law. Illegals need to get out and maybe it will spurn the FEDs to actually do something. How about ENFORCE the federal law and get them out. Make the citizenship process easier and quicker so that people that DONT want to break the law do not have too. Sports has no place for political statements.

  13. JBS3rd - May 6, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    Great game if you’re a Suns’ fan. Maybe, just maybe the Suns will finally get the ‘Los Spurs chango (monkey) off their backs

  14. SEMINOLE - May 6, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    This is ridiculous. These people are BREAKING THE LAW, we didn’t
    need a NEW law, we just needed the OLD laws enforced, but Obama
    and his pansy government won’t do their jobs, so Arizona HAS to.

  15. JBS3rd - May 6, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    A realtor friend of mine in Phx missed an appointment that was 2 months in the making because of “Shurif Joe’s” antics. She’s an American citizen of Dominican descent. Her legal driver’s license wasn’t enough and she was held until her status could be verified. Racial profiling is already a problem. Most who don’t agree are those who will never be subject to it. Steve Nash had it right when he asked whether he or Barbosa would more likely be detained, even though they’re both from other countries.
    They have a right to express their opinion, whether we agree or disagree, especially because, as public figures, they’re asked by the media multiple times. Read Sarver’s statement -I thought it was pretty middle-of-the-road

  16. nick - May 6, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Stop with the ridiculous ‘hard working’ moniker for illegals. Sure they work hard – for themselves. They dont pay any taxes, enjoy the benefits of the greatest country on earth, and work hard to make more illegal money.
    THey also work hard at crime – illegals have way a way higher crime rate than citizens.
    I love Steve Nash on the court, but of it, he is so freaking self-righteous. If you want to protest this, do it on your own time. But dont meddle politics with sport. Sport and passion for sport is possibly the only thing left on planet earth that is universal. Dont ruin the beauty of sport with politics.

  17. Nick - May 6, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    Of course Steve Nash has a right to his opinion, as does Barbosa. But when they bring the protest to the court, that’s the problem. The whole Los Suns jersey idea is wrong. Its just simply the wrong place and time to protest.
    If another team wore jerseys that said “keep illegals out” while playing an NBA playoff game, you would be saying the same thing: keep politics out of sport.
    On his own time, Steve Nash can move to Mexico and do whatever the hell he wants. Not on an NBA court though. In the NBA, your paid millions of dollars to play a game and entertain fans. Not to make political statements.

  18. AmericanHistory101 - May 6, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Maybe you all forget, this country was founded by lawbreaking, illegal immigrants. How many Arizonans are willing to mow lawns, make fries, repair a roof in the broiling sun and the dozens of other jobs that get filled by immigrants because we won’t lower ourselves to do them.
    Limits are good and we should clean up the process,for the future. Why punish those who have come here in the past, seeking the same freedom and opportunity?

  19. kmom - May 6, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    i agree, Director, I’m an Arizonan, too and I am proud of our team for echoing the feelings of those of us who understand that this is not a law against “illegals”, but a law that targets U.S. citizens who are here legally and behaving legally, but look different than their “white” neighbors.
    We need more support from everyone to repeal this anti-American law.
    Way to go Suns!

  20. hypogi - May 6, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    The suns have worn the “LOS SUNS” jerseys on cinco de mayo for the last four years. People keep making it sound like it was some kind of protest but it was decided they would wear the jerseys long before any of this legal debate started.
    Sorry you missed the game, it was a good one.

  21. Harry Ball - May 6, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    “Most of us in the southern half of the Grand Canyon State don’t agree with Jan Brewer”
    Actually, 70% of the state approve of SB 1070. I’m not sure where you’re getting your stats from.

  22. Isol - May 6, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    Nick,
    You are dead wrong about the illegal immigrants not paying taxes, they do pay taxes on their wages and get NOTHING back from the government from taxes(tax refunds). The country makes tons of money from them because of this. Get your facts straight before you TRY to sound like you know what you are talking about.

  23. ETII - May 6, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    Interesting today that we cast people as being here illegal. Perhaps Native Americans should have closed their borders. Under the current thinking, we are all illegal. What real right does this country have to call someone illegal when it was taken away from its original inhabitants and claimed as a possession? What goes around, comes around…

  24. Drew - May 6, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    For better or worse, Los Suns have us talking not about the wonderful play of their team, but a political statement.
    I love my Spurs, but Los Suns are not the Los Suns of old. Both teams played great last night, and Los Suns deserve credit for being such a great team this year.
    Anxiously awaiting Game 3.

  25. markl - May 6, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    And if you had actually read the bill you would know that this instance would not have occurred if the knew law was in place. I can guarantee anyone against this has not read the entire bill and if they are still against it, they did not understand the wording…

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