May 10, 2010
Phoenix 107, San Antonio 101; Phoenix wins series, 4-0
I don't know if there's a better defensive frontcourt, at this point in the postseason, than the one featuring Lou Amundson, Jared Dudley(notes) and Grant Hill(notes). The way that Hill finds people in transition, Dudley and Grant cut off angles, and Amundson cleans up any potential mess? You feel as if only Dwight Howard(notes) and company are better. Especially after seeing Kevin Garnett(notes) flail a bit this weekend.
Not sure what more I can say about Steve Nash(notes), coming back to score 10 fourth quarter points and five assists with one (very, very wide open) eye. Not only did he drop double digits and put the Spurs away, but he had several good looks that he over-compensated on and went long with. As good as he was, he was setting himself up to be even better, getting past the San Antonio's initial defense whenever he wanted.
While making expert decisions with the ball. Like deciding to go with Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) on one pass after the Suns big man had made a long jumper and just missed one. The shot was out of Stoudemire's usual range, but Nash knew that Amar'e had his stroke warmed, and that the extra couple of feet on the impending shot probably didn't matter. Stoudemire swished it, of course.
Not sure what to say about Jason Richardson(notes) and Jared Dudley hitting contested threes in the fourth quarter. No idea what to add about the way Grant Hill had tunnel vision when it came to finding Manu Ginobili(notes) in transition, or when he had the ball. Can't begin to wonder just how, once again, Nash played the way he did with one eye. Can't believe Alvin Gentry rolled the dice and played him the full 12 in the fourth quarter; not because of the eye situation, but because Nash isn't used to playing full quarters at this point, even with the unexpected third-quarter rest.
The Suns? The Suns are rolling. They didn't dominate this series, but they won every game; and to win four in a row over the Spurs (a team we'll have more on later this week) is pretty remarkable. Phoenix could have rolled over, it could have let NBA playoff orthodoxy take over and taken this in five games, but Gentry's team decided instead to act as if it were something special.
Which is why we have to regard this team, heading into the third round, as something special.
It deserved that tagger a while back, mind you. Playing the best ball in the West for the last few months of the regular season, shaping up that defense, working around the loss of Robin Lopez(notes) -- something that seemed quite damaging a few times during the latter part of the regular season. Watching Stoudemire improve, nightly. I understand what this team did and didn't do against the Lakers during the regular season, but for now? The Suns are as good as the West gets.
Understand that the Suns are still outscoring teams. Yes, they're technically "outscoring teams" when they score more points than the other team, I get it; but you know what I'm on about. As great as the defensive improvements are, Phoenix still gave up 105 (the first and final games of this series) points per 100 possessions twice, 107 per 100, and 110 per 100 against San Antonio. These aren't world-beating numbers, but as you saw from watching things, it was enough.
Because the Spurs can score now, despite all the hand-wringing about the team's three-point issues, they had their best offensive season in years. And it only made the playoffs and felt dangerous with Manu Ginobili dropping 25 while shooting a high percentage.
Ginobili didn't drop completely off -- scoring 20 a game on 41 percent shooting -- but the difference between that and 26 on 48 percent shooting was enough for Phoenix to win. And that's mostly on Grant Hill. And that's why we're lauding the Phoenix defense, because it's finally doing just enough. It'll never be confused for Charlotte, but it won't be considered a liability. At least not yet.
For now, the Suns are the best team on their particular side of the continent. And as good a team has been during Steve Nash's second go-round in Arizona, we've never been able to say that, this late in a season, about Nash's Suns. We haven't been able to say that about Phoenix since 1993.
Let's see what they do with this. For now, at least, you have to be quite smitten with these Suns.