Three days past his 36th birthday, in his 10th game with Phoenix, O’Neal scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to help the Suns beat their nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs, 94-87 on Sunday.
The ever-hustling, 7-foot-1, 325-pound center provided the toughness, not to mention girth, the Suns felt they needed inside to finally get past the Spurs in the West. He even dived into the third row of seats for a loose ball, catching an unfortunate fan with an elbow to the lip.
“I think I hit one guy,” he said. “I tried to miss the kids.”
Grant Hill scored 18, including a crucial baseline 20-footer with 1:15 to go, as the Suns showed why they thought they needed O’Neal to compete with the rugged Spurs and the other big teams in the West.
“There’s a lot of teams with size in the West,” Nash said. “We added size, let alone a guy with championship experience. One win isn’t going to say we’re a finished product, but we’re on our way, I think, to improving and getting to a place where we’re going to feel confident once the playoffs come around.”
Phoenix outscored the Spurs 14-2 in the final 3:40 to improve to 4-6 since O’Neal joined the team.
“It was definitely a playoff atmosphere,” said Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, whose team lost a bitter series to the Spurs a year ago. “It’s a big game just because of the standings and everything, but we do know we still need some work, and we know it’s not going to be easy.”
Manu Ginobili scored 22 but missed several down the stretch for the Spurs, who lost their second in a row after an 11-game winning streak. Tony Parker added 21 points. Tim Duncan had 17 points and 10 rebounds but was just 6-of-19 shooting.
“I had two turnovers and two missed layups down the stretch,” Duncan said. “We’re up five with three-something left—a situation where we usually play a lot better than that.”
Amare Stoudemire scored five of his 16 points in the last three minutes for Phoenix, which had lost its previous three in a row at home. Stoudemire played the final 6:51 and O’Neal the last 5:55 with five fouls.
“I should have only had three (fouls) but when you’re playing against Tim, you have to be aggressive,” O’Neal said. “If anybody knows what he’s going to do with the ball, I think it’s me. We’ve had our battles.”
O’Neal’s two blocked shots made him the third player in NBA history to have 26,000 points, 11,500 rebounds and 2,500 blocks. The others are Kareem-Abdul Jabaar and Hakeem Olajuwon.
The intense victory stemmed Phoenix’s slide in the standings, pulling them a game ahead of Dallas for the No. 6 spot in the West.
O’Neal does change things greatly for the opposition,” Ginobili said. “It’s a big body to bother us every time we penetrate.”
Former Sun Kurt Thomas made an 18-footer to put the Spurs ahead 85-80 with 5:12 to play. A frustrated Suns coach Mike D’Antoni drew a technical moments later, but Ginobili missed the free throw in a sign of things to come.
Nash’s 3-pointer cut it to 85-83 with 3:40 to play. A 24-second clock violation by San Antonio led to Stoudemire’s driving shot over Duncan that tied it at 85 with 2:58 left. Stoudemire made one of two free throws with 1:57 to go to put Phoenix ahead for good, then added two more to give San Antonio an 88-85 lead.
Ginobili’s 8-foot floater over both Phoenix big men cut it to 88-87. That set up Hill’s shot from the corner that boosted the lead to 90-87. Ginobili missed three in a row, then Raja Bell and Nash put the game away with free throws.
“We had our chances,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Steve Nash and Grant Hill hit some big shots going down the stretch. We missed some big shots. It was a great game both ways.”
Neither team led by more than six points in the first half or eight in the
Muhammad Ali, who lives in nearby Paradise Valley, watched the game from courtside. He got a standing ovation when introduced to the crowd. … Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his wife Cindy also were in the crowd. … Phoenix was 3-for-14 from 3-point range, San Antonio 7-for-16. … Phoenix had a 23-5 advantage in fastbreak points. … Ten Spurs or Suns players have come or gone on the teams’ rosters since their last meeting on Jan. 31. … Phoenix is 2-1 against San Antonio this season with one to play. … The Suns are 21-2 when holding an opponent under 100 points.