PHOENIX (AP)—The Phoenix Suns have better players. San Antonio has a better team, at least for now.
That was the conclusion of Suns coach Mike D’Antoni in the wake of the Spurs’ bloody 111-106 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“I hate to say this and I hope it sounds the right way. I think we have more talent than they do,” D’Antoni said after the Suns practiced on Monday. “I think that we’re individually better. Collectively, they’re better right now.”
The Phoenix coach was mum on what changes he planned for Tuesday night’s Game 2, but Amare Stoudemire spilled the beans on one big move.
“I think we’re going to start Kurt Thomas,” he said.
That would seem to make sense.
The professed reason that Phoenix acquired Thomas from the New York Knicks in 2005 was to give the Suns a rugged defender to go against the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, who dominated inside for 33 points and 16 rebounds in Game 1.
“Kurt is a good defender,” said San Antonio’s Tony Parker, who scored 32 on Sunday, “so I guess they want to slow down Timmy. I thought he did a pretty good job on Timmy last night, and I can see why coach D’Antoni wants to do that.”
Adding Thomas will slow the Suns, but will relieve Stoudemire of the burden of guarding Duncan. Foul trouble plagued Stoudemire throughout Sunday’s game.
Parker and Steve Nash pronounced themselves ready to play on Tuesday after their head-on collision late in Sunday’s game. Parker had a headache Sunday night and a bump on his head, but said he felt fine on Monday.
Nash missed a crucial 45 seconds in the final minute of Sunday’s loss because a cut on his nose was bleeding profusely. On Monday, the cut that required six stitches was covered by a bandage.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Nash said. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”
Of more concern to the two-time defending league MVP was his belief that there were times the Suns did not play with the intensity required for a matchup of this magnitude. The 33-year-old point guard knows that the window for winning championships will not be open forever.
“This is the toughest matchup for us,” Nash said. “They’ve got size, sort of a collective toughness you have to deal with. They’ve got experience and they play hard. They’re extremely disciplined.
“I’m at a loss to explain why we think that we can go out there and not outhustle them and outwork them and win games.”
D’Antoni said the Spurs were mentally tougher than the Suns on Sunday.
“We all collectively have to pick up our energy and concentration, our mental ability to get over the hump,” he said. “They put `champion’ by their name for a reason. There’s a lot of guys who will never be in this position again. I told them today `This could be your only chance in life to be a champion, so we’re going to have to dig harder.”’
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich pointed out that a couple of plays at the end won the game, not some dominating San Antonio performance. The Spurs lost Game 1 at home against Denver in the opening round, then won the next four.
“It’s not a desperate situation,” Popovich said. “Good teams come back from losses in the regular season and even more so in the postseason. They’ll be a heck of a team tomorrow night.”
But so will the Spurs, who have visions of their third NBA title in five years.
D’Antoni said he again will start with the bigger Shawn Marion guarding the speedy Parker. Again, the idea will be to force the San Antonio point guard to shoot jumpers rather than layups.
“I would think a 15-foot shot is better than a 2-foot,” the Suns coach said.
That didn’t surprise Parker.
“I think they’re going to change nothing,” he said. “I think they’re just going to see if I can hit shots the whole series.”
Outside shooting was a deficiency for Parker when he first came to the NBA as a 19-year-old in 2001, but that’s no longer the case, as the Suns know too well.
“Tony’s put in the time,” Popovich said. “That’s what it takes. When a player is that dedicated to change something and to improve, it usually works for him.”
The Spurs have won five consecutive playoff games and are 12-4 against Phoenix since Nash came to the Suns in 2004.
“If we put these guys down 2-0 going back to our house, it puts some incredible pressure on them,” Duncan said. “It’s incredible pressure anyway with us up 1-0.”