PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; tied 2-2.
The top-seeded Spurs hope to shake off another loss in which they were burned by last-second heroics, returning to the SBC Center with this best-of-seven matchup against the Suns tied at two games apiece.
While San Antonio’s victories in the series have been by eight and 13 points, both of Phoenix’s wins came in games that were decided in the final moments.
The Suns stole the series opener in San Antonio on Stephon Marbury’s 3-point bank shot at the buzzer in overtime, then Jake Voskuhl hit what he said was the first game-winning basket of his life Sunday to hand the Spurs an 86-84 loss in Game 4.
Penny Hardaway drove to the basket and fed Voskuhl, who hit a short hook shot over Tim Duncan with 2.3 seconds left. Duncan missed an off-balance 16-footer as time expired.
“The ball just ended up in my hands. I just tossed it up and it went in,” said Voskuhl, who scored all seven of his points in the second half. “This was great for the team, great for the city. We feel we have a real chance to knock out San Antonio.”
Duncan, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds, feels his team should have no trouble bouncing back to win this series.
“It does nothing to our confidence,” he said. “We’re going back to San Antonio and get one, then we’ll come back here and win another one. We gave this one away, and they were close enough to take it.”
While the Spurs don’t seem too worried they can rebound from another devastating defeat, the Suns’ biggest concern is the recovery of Marbury.
The All-Star point guard collided with San Antonio’s Malik Rose in the third quarter and aggravated a stretched nerve in his shoulder, losing feeling in his right arm for the rest of the contest. Marbury expects to play in Game 5.
“I thought I broke my wrist when I went down because I couldn’t break myself when I fell,” said Marbury, who scored 18 points but was unable to hit any outside shots or free throws following the incident. “My arm went totally numb.”
Despite Marbury’s ineffectiveness, the Suns overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter. They won 18 games during the regular season by coming back from deficits of 10 or more points.
San Antonio could have prevented such a comeback by limiting its turnovers, having committed 25 that led to 33 Phoenix points.
“We were sloppy,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, named the NBA’s Coach of the Year on Monday. “It was gross turnovers that made for easy layups at the other end.”
The Spurs also could benefit from a better performance by the starting backcourt and their bench.
Tony Parker, who had 29 points in San Antonio’s Game 3 win after shooting 3-for-20 in the first two games, scored 19 but was held to four in the second half and had no assists. Stephen Jackson, who averaged 22 points in Games 1-3, missed all four of his shots from the field and scored only two points.
Despite another solid effort from Malik Rose, San Antonio’s reserves failed to provide much of a boost Sunday after outscoring Phoenix’s bench 84-34 through the first three games. Although Rose had 10 points and 14 boards, the Spurs’ bench shot 3-of-21 from the field and committed eight turnovers while getting outscored by the Suns’ reserves for the first time in this series (19-14).
Before getting to return to Phoenix for Game 6 on Thursday, the Suns go back to a building where they won two of four games this season. The regular-season loss came in overtime, and the Suns blew a seven-point lead with seven minutes to go in their Game 2 defeat at the SBC Center.
“When our backs are up against the wall, we continue to play,” Marbury said. “We never back down. You’ve got to have heart, and we have a lot of heart.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Suns - 8th seed, 44-38. Spurs - 1st seed, 60-22.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Suns - Marbury, 25.3 ppg and 6.3 apg; Marion, 11.5 rpg. Spurs - Duncan, 18.5 rpg and 14.8 rpg; Manu Ginobili, 4.5 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Suns, 3-1. Marbury had 32.5 points and 8.8 assists per game in the series. Duncan averaged 29.8 points, 14.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 3.5 blocks, but no other Spurs player averaged more than 11 points. San Antonio’s only win came in overtime, 108-100 on Jan. 14.