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NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 4: The deed is done.

May 10, 2010, 1:15 AM EST

Nash_eye.jpgThe Phoenix Suns just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns
just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns just swept the San
Antonio Spurs.

Maybe if I type that phrase enough times, the
basketball gods will tie my precious typing fingers into knots for my
blasphemy. In what universe could the Suns sweep the Spurs in the
playoffs? In what bizarro dimension is this Phoenix team a
Western Conference finalist, and the most respected franchise in the
league receiving the business end of a broom?

Ours,
apparently. Suspend your disbelief. It’s not easy; it wasn’t easy to
foresee the Suns closing out the series in four games in San
Antonio facing yet another double-digit deficit. Yet they did it,
107-101, because Phoenix has played like the best team in the Western
Conference, even if a little team in Los Angeles would have something
to say about that.

The Suns aren’t just good, they’re damn
good. They’ll be considered underdogs against the Lakers even after
ousting the Spurs in the most impressive of fashions, but any fan,
basketball junkie, or NBA scribe that pencils L.A. in as a Finals
participant needs to take a long, hard look at what Phoenix was able to
accomplish in this series.

Manu Ginobili, who could have made
a legitimate claim as the best Spur over the final stretch of the
regular season, was trapped like mad in the pick and roll and
completely smothered offensively at times. He finished Game 4 with 15
points and nine assists, but shot just 2-of-11 from the field. Tim
Duncan may seem like an imposing match-up for the Suns, but it’s no
secret that Manu and Tony Parker hold the keys to the offense.
Eliminate the threat of Ginobili operating (for either scoring or
playmaking purposes) off of the Spurs’ staple pick-and-roll, and San
Antonio is quite beatable. Quite sweepable, apparently.

Not that
the Suns’ defense ignored Duncan, either. His lack of effectiveness as
the roll man in pick-and-roll situations was shocking, and though
Phoenix committed two defenders and a strong front to the ball-handler
on almost every screen, Duncan never seemed all that open. There were
so many cases where the Suns’ help defenders would beat him to his spot
rolling down the lane in order to contest his attempts or run
interference on the roll lob, and Tim was left in limbo.

That
strategy wasn’t enough to deny him from reaching 17 points (on 50%
shooting) and eight rebounds in Game 4, but the fact that Duncan wasn’t
more of a factor in this series is as much a tribute to the Suns’ post
defense as it was their defensive rotations on the pick-and-roll.

Limit
the effectiveness of those two players on the offensive end, and Tony
Parker’s 22-point, five-assist effort is solid rather than deadly,
George Hill’s night is nice rather than headline-worthy, and hell, Matt
Bonner’s 14 points on just six attempts is nothing special, as opposed
to the Red Rocket that broke the camel’s back.

It’s almost
cliché these days to praise the Suns’ defense, but there’s simply no
way to write a proper recap without giving Phoenix their due. Alvin
Gentry has simply done a phenomenal job — a Popovichian job, dare I
say — of coaching this team into rotating properly on the defensive
end. No matter how much pressure was committed to blitzing Ginobili or
doubling Duncan in the post, the Suns’ defense never seemed to be on
tilt. It was vulnerable at times, but they always recovered.

Phoenix
just came down the court again and again and played consistently solid
defense. It wasn’t so much the effectiveness of the Suns’ D on a
per-point or even per-possession basis (San Antonio still scored 101
points and scored at a rate of 105.2 points per 100 possessions), but
the resiliency of that defense that was the most impressive. It wasn’t
always effective, but the Suns’ rotations were just relentless. They
forced 16 turnovers and limited San Antonio’s three-point attempts
(just 11 to Phoenix’s 24), and they worked, worked, worked.

With
the difficulties that the Suns posed for the Spurs on the other end,
that was obviously enough for them to not only win the series, but do
it without dropping a single game. San Antonio simply lacked the
ability to cover all of the bases of the Suns’ multifaceted offense,
and their peak-too-early performances reeked of a team that was just a
bit outmatched. “They made it hard for us to guard them for 48
minutes,” Gregg Popovich said. “We’d go into the fourth quarter and
someone for them would step up. Those are the kinds of things that
happen with that team.”

At various points in this series, that
nameless “someone” that stepped up has been a strong perimeter
defender, a three-point shooter, a hustle rebounder, and an undersung
reserve. In Game 4, it was Steve Nash, who came back into the game
after receiving six stitches over his right eye in the third quarter to
lead the Suns to a remarkable close-out performance. Nash, with one eye
swollen shut, was responsible for 21 of his team’s 31 points while the
game was still meaningful.

“I just feel fortunate that I had the
chance to get back out there,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t know how it
didn’t keep me on the sidelines.” It’s something of a wonder that it
didn’t. Nash’s eye was not only bruised, but swollen almost completely
shut. So naturally, he not only hit a pull-up three in transition just
moments after returning the floor, but got excellent looks for both
himself and Amar’e Stoudemire in the game’s deciding minutes.

Amar’e
was a force on his own for most of the game (he had 29 points of his
own), but with Nash spoon-feeding him wide open mid-range jumpers to
complement his prior assault of layups, dunks, and runners, he was
finally able to exact his revenge against San Antonio. “It’s
beautiful,” Stoudemire said of finally defeating the Spurs in the
postseason after falling short in four straight attempts. “It feels
great.”

It must. Phoenix has a long road to head, but the sight
of San Antonio’s corpse at their feet has to offer some relief. If not
as evidence that the Suns have exorcised their demons, then at least as
validation of their success this season. This is no longer the team
that struggled to match up with the Blazers at times, but a deep,
talented squad capable of giving any playoff opponent a run for their money. Even the Lakers. Even an opponent waiting beyond that’s even more challenging.

That’s
just how good these Suns are, and though Phoenix still continues to
surprise — as they did tonight, even when their series victory seemed
imminent — nothing about this team should be startling from this point
forward. Based on their performance from this series, we should expect
the best from the Suns. They’ve played well enough to earn that.   

  1. JT - May 10, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    At least learn how to spell…it’s raping not rapeist. Man you are so dumb and your arguments full of holes.

  2. lakersu*k - May 10, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    The money that bought the lakers championships just might of made colbys sperm disapear. I would really hate to see colby cry when the suns when. So, I really hope the lakers win. (NOT)

  3. Anonymous - May 10, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    ONCE AGAIN LAKERS HAVE THE SIZE ADVANTAGE AND KOBE. OTHER THAN THAT THERE BENCH IS INFERIOR AS WELL AS THERE SPEED AND ABILITY. GASOL AND ODUM WILL BE CONTINUALLY DRAGGED TO THE 3-POINT LINE AND NASH AND AMARE WILL HAVE THERE WAY WITH THE PICK AND ROLL ESPECIALLY IN THE LAST MINUTES OF THE GAME. ONCE AGAIN SUNS IN 6.

  4. Lakers RULE - May 10, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    You Laker haters are so flawed in your stupid comments, you’re making our case for us. Thank you.

  5. always a suns fan - May 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    Suns in 6

  6. fan - May 10, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    raider fan = laker fan. Do I need to say more?

  7. fan - May 10, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    raider fan = laker fan. Do I need to say more?

  8. PIMPNUTS - May 10, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    JUST AN FYI. I AINT HATIN. LAKERS HAVE ARGUABLY THE BEST COACH AND PLAYER IN THE NBA W/ JACKSON AND BRYANT. STILL THE SUNS HAVE JUST BEEN PLAYING GREAT BASKETBALL AND GENTRY GOT ROBBED COACH OF THE YEAR. NO ONE PLAYED BETTER THAN AMARE IN THE SECOND HALF THE SEASON AND NASH IS BETTER AT FINDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR HIS TEAM TO SCORE THAN ANY ONE IN THE LEAGUE. SUNS BENCH IS SO IMPRESSIVE THAT GENTRY TRUSTS THEM TO PLAY ALL MOST AS MUCH MINUTES AS HIS STARTERS. LAKERS WILL BE WORE OUT BY THE END OF THE FOURTH WHICH IS WHEN THE SUNS LIKE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE AND EXECUTE THE NASH/AMARE PICK AND ROLLS. I REPEAT SUNS IN 6.

  9. Nu - May 10, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    All of that resulted in the Lakers winning 3of 4 this year yet now it’s going to be different. C’mon you think Kobe would allow the Lakers to lose to the Suns???

  10. PIMPNUTS - May 10, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    BUT JUST TO BE SURE OF A SUNS WIN OVER L.A. I HOPE THAT KOBE BREAKS HIS LEG.

  11. Lakers RULE - May 10, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    That maybe the only chance the Suns have!!! Thank you again for making our case for us.

  12. barndoor - May 10, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    LAKER FANS don’t hate the SUNs, no not at all. WE HATE BOSTON!

  13. mike - May 10, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Yeah Artest isn’t a thug…you guys are right- he only goes into stands and starts fights…idiots

  14. PIMPNUTS - May 10, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    THE SUNS AND LAKERS HAVE ONLY PLAYED ONCE SINCE THE ALL-STAR BREAK AND I HOPE WE CAN BOTH AGREE THAT THERE BOTH PLAYING WAY DIFFERENT BASKETBALL. AS FAR AS THAT MARCH GAME GOES, SUNS WERE WITH OUT FRYE AND BARBOSA AND FRYE IS GOING TO BE DRAWING GASOL TO THE THREE-POINT LINE AND WILL BE MAKING IT A LOT TOUGHER ON THE LAKERS ON BOTH ENDS OF THE COURT. ALSO NO ONE ON THE LAKERS CAN CONTEND WITH BARBOSAS SPEED

  15. PIMPNUTS - May 10, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    LOL.. I WAS KIDDIN WHEN I SAID FOR KOBE TO BREAK HIS LEG BUT YOU ACT LIKE YOU DONT WISH NASH OR AMARE DIDNT GET INJURED TO GIVE L.A. AN ADVANTAGE. EVEN WITH KOBE HEALTHY SUNS ARE GONNA GIVE L.A. A HARD TIME OPERATING THERE TRIANGLE OFFENSE THEY LOVE SO MUCH. LIKE I SAID SUNS IN 6 THATS WITH KOBE. WITHOUT HIM A CLEAN SWEEP.

  16. dovendaven - May 10, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    mack, wow the pomp. This pomp was earned by the Lakers not by you. You’re pompness blinds you. Don’t forget the Houston Rockets in the mid ’90’s were one or two games over .500 for the season and went on to win it all.
    So when you show little value for the Spurs at the 7th seed, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. These Spurs are champs themselves.
    You may the Suns don’t have interior defense. True there is vulnerability especially with Robin Lopez out and especially against the three Bigs on the Lakers.
    You simply don’t understand the weapons the suns have that picked apart the champs. You may counter that they won’t be able to get past the two Laker proven perimeter defenders in Kobe and George, but so did the Spurs and looked what happened.
    If you were on the team with your blinded pompness, you’d be up for an a$%$#! whoopin. Let’s not hope your team has your mentality (I don’t think they will). Suns defense has been relentless and agreesive with the switches – combine that with their offensive firepower – Suns in 6 games.

  17. Neutral - May 10, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    What a wonderful series to watch… From Steve’s incredible resiliency and determination, to the young rookie rising to the occasion in the game of his life. Most inspiring of all was the class and humility of Duncan, Parker, and their coach in honoring and recognizing the better team.
    Being both a Lakers & Suns fan, the next series is a no lose situation… Yes, the Lakers are awesome and on paper should take this series. However, this why we play this game, and if the Suns should somehow find a way to continue the magic, it will be a wondrous story!
    Please consider setting your ego’s aside, and observe the NBA role models on both the San Antonio and Suns teams. The Lakers are awesome, and the Suns are peaking. This is a gift for all of us to witness history.
    PS – Congratulations Canada! Your man has been, and continues to be, an incredible inspiration for the entire world!!!!

  18. Mazlow7 - May 10, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    The Suns were actually down 0-2 against the Lakers when they (the Suns) roared back and won three straight in the 1993 play-offs. At the time the first round used a five game play-off with the first to reach three wins pronounced the winner. Do the research.

  19. truefan - May 10, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    suns fans must be aware that the lakers will always be the champ of all times..if you still consider proof then be ready to see your suns will never rise again..your respected state will be dark until the lakers won the champ again this year..
    LAKERS ALL THE WAY

  20. Bosah - Maryland - May 10, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    The Suns have made tremendous improvements to their team. I am a hardcore Lakers fan but do personally like the collection of characters on the Suns. They have some high character individuals on that team and dedication and discipline have brought them this far. May be the better team win. I guess that’s why they play the game.

  21. Lakers RULE - May 10, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Actually I want a clean series and everyone to be healthy. Like someone said, Laker fans don’t hate the Suns at all; actually I respect and like the Sun organization. Let’s have fun and whoever wins, wins…it should be lots of fun to watch.

  22. NBA Fan - May 10, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    That was many years ago. Although he acts crazy at times and his antics weird to say the least, on the court, Ron has been a gentleman for a few years. For you to hold on the past and call all of us idiots…kind of shows your intelligent level.

  23. pimpnuts - May 10, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    that i can actually agree on. its gonna be a lot more fun to watch if every one is healthy and playing there best basketball. that way we see the best team win instead of the healthiest. hope lopez is back in full form and like you said let the best team win. its gonna be a tough series for both teams.

  24. Derrick - May 10, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    That’s the year the Phoneix suns had the best record in the league and were supposed to be the team of destiny. They went down 0-2 in the first round to the lakers and were saved by the refs. They were in a game 7 against the supersonics and were again saved by the refs (they went to the freethrow line 50+ times to the suns 10 or 15 attempts). The Bulls beat them the first two games in Phoenix and should have swept them except for the refs saving them in the triple overtime game 3 in chicago. I can’t explain how a team with Michael Jordan gets less than 10 free throw attempts in 63 minutes of game play.

  25. Paul - May 10, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    I am one of a legion of long-suffering Suns fans who has seen too much to talk smack. I whole-heartedly believe this franchise already deserves to have a championship or two in its back pocket with the quality of so many teams we’ve had in the past, but forgetting history, winning this year would be nearly as improbable and elating as it would have had “The Little Team that Could” done it in 1976. Before seeing in person the Suns annihilate Denver in a meaningful penultimate regular season game, overcoming some difficult matchup problems with Portland, and finally showing so much resiliency in exorcising the San Antonio demons, I’m not sure I would have even given them a chance in the unlikely event they ended up meeting the Lakers in the playoffs. The past few years it has seemed the Lakers are always a pass ahead, a step quicker, good enough on defense, and too polished on offense for Phoenix to handle. (BTW–forget all the ridiculous seeding arguments above. Apart from the Lakers, there’s almost complete parity in the W. Conf this year.) But after seeing their end-of-the-season run there is at least reason to hope. They have the valuable intangibles of chemistry, a bench that can hold their own and bail them out of trouble, being relatively healthy, and getting hot at the right time–as well as the fundamentals of a couple of legitimate superstars and trying harder on defense than nearly any Suns team ever has. This could be the year their stars line up. It could be a tough series. Injuries could play a factor. Regardless, I have to say this is the most enjoyable NBA team to watch in a long time and also one of the classiest–the NBA couldn’y have a better standard bearer if they could just get there. And it sure would be nice to give the nay-sayers a run for their money!!

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