PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference finals; Spurs lead 3-1.
Although no team in NBA history has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, the Phoenix Suns are feeling good about themselves as they head home to face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
San Antonio won 121-114 on May 22 and 111-108 on May 24 in Phoenix, outplaying the Suns’ powerful offense to take a 2-0 lead in the series. On Saturday, the Spurs returned to SBC Arena, and their defense-first style, and held the Suns to 44 percent shooting in a 102-92 victory.
Phoenix, however, avoided a sweep Monday behind the play of Amare Stoudemire. The 6-foot-10 center blocked a dunk attempt by Tim Duncan, had two tough layups, two clutch rebounds and a steal all in the final 1:28 as the Suns posted a 111-106 victory.
“I think in the regular season we played great basketball. Here in this series, the Spurs are playing great as well,” Stoudemire said. “To get this win tonight, we take it back to Phoenix and try to get another one. We’re still alive.”
Stoudemire refused to let Phoenix get swept, going above the rim to reject Duncan with 36 seconds left and San Antonio down three. The Spurs did get within one twice in the closing minutes, yet Stoudemire answered both times with driving layups set up by Steve Nash.
“I stepped up,” said Stoudemire, who scored 11 of his 31 points in the final quarter. “Those are plays that needed to happen down the stretch. We needed some stops and I stepped up and tried to make that block on Tim. I stayed aggressive on offense, on the defensive boards and offensive boards.”
Joe Johnson provided a lift for Phoenix in his second game back from an eye injury that’s forced him to wear a protective mask, scoring 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting.
“We get to go home now. We get our fans behind us,” Johnson said. “We just have to come out with the same intensity and I think we can go home and come out of there with another victory. Game 5 will be big. It’s a one-game series and we just have to look forward to Game 5.”
Nash had 17 points and 12 assists, and Shawn Marion added 11 points and 14 rebounds for Phoenix, which is trying to become the first team since the 1962 Pistons to force a Game 6 after going down 3-0 in the conference finals.
“We’re going to go to Phoenix. We’re trying to win one more game,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s what we’re thinking about. We’ll see what happens. You never know what lurks around the corner. We’re going to give it a shot, then roll with it.”
Phoenix is flying home for Game 5 instead of starting the offseason because of its defense on Duncan on Monday.
Duncan averaged 30.3 points in the first three games of the series, but was constantly pestered by double-teams in Game 4. The two-time MVP scored just 15 points, only four in the second half, and was 3-for-12 from the free-throw line after going 15-of-15 in Game 3 and 33-of-36 for the series.
“Just a tough night all around—from the field, from the line, just everything,” Duncan said. “We’re still up 3-1, still excited about that and we still just got to get one more.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich refused to blame the defeat on Phoenix’s defense on Duncan.
“They have double-teamed him on and off the entire time,” Popovich said. “We didn’t lose the basketball game because Tim Duncan got doubled. That has been part of what they do.
“We lost the basketball game because of transition defense and poor free-throw shooting. And they played well. They deserve credit for playing well. They deserved to win the basketball game.”
San Antonio lost for the first time since Game 4 of the last round, ending a five-game winning streak.
“We are sad, we are angry,” said guard Manu Ginobili, who led the Spurs with 28 points. “But this series continues and we are in great shape. The goal is to go to the NBA Finals, not to sweep them.”
Game 6, if necessary, will be Friday night in San Antonio, where the Spurs have lost only six times in their last 49 games.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Spurs - 2nd seed; beat Denver Nuggets 4-1, first round; beat Seattle SuperSonics 4-2, conference semifinals. Suns - 1st seed; beat Memphis Grizzlies 4-0, first round; beat Dallas Mavericks 4-2, conference semifinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Spurs - Duncan, 24.5 ppg and 11.5 rpg; Parker, 4.9 apg. Suns - Stoudemire, 29.1 ppg; Marion, 11.9 rpg; Nash, 11.4 apg.