PHOENIX (AP)—A Frenchman put Phoenix on the brink of elimination, another brought the Suns back to life.
Boris Diaw fell two assists shy of a triple-double Sunday and the Suns avoided a first-round sweep at the hands of San Antonio with a 105-86 rout of the Spurs.
Diaw, starting in place of injured Grant Hill, had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in one of the best playoff performances of his career.
“I trust him. I always have,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think he’s a heck of a basketball player. He’s been maligned here a little bit, but he can play. He stepped up big.”
Diaw also played tough defense on his good friend and fellow Frenchman Tony Parker, who scored 18 points after a career-high 41 in San Antonio’s 115-99 victory Friday night in Game 3.
“I think they kind of relaxed being up 3-0,” Diaw said, “but we came out and played, too. We didn’t come out like the series was over. We came out fired up.”
No one was more aggressive than Raja Bell, who scored 21 of his 27 points in a dominant first half to help Phoenix bring a one-sided end to the defending NBA champions’ nine-game playoff winning streak. The Suns were 11-0 in the regular season when Bell scored at least 20.
“I was really embarrassed by my play and the team’s play after the last game,” Bell said. “It was hard to sleep. I was restless. I couldn’t put it to bed.”
Phoenix still trails the first-round series 3-1, with Game 5 on Tuesday night in San Antonio. No NBA team has come back from 0-3 to win a series, a fact that wasn’t lost on the Spurs’ Tim Duncan.
“We didn’t expect to sweep these guys,” Duncan said. “We’re excited in the situation we’re in, up 3-1. We’ve got to win one more game, and we get to go home and try to win it there. Those are a lot of things that are in our favor.”
D’Antoni drew two technicals and was ejected with 3:38 to play and his team up 104-80.
“I don’t know where the sense of humor has gone,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no use commenting on it. It was kind of silly.”
Bell figured it was a good sign that everybody was emotionally into it for Phoenix.
“We were fired up from the beginning. We were fired up yesterday,” he said. “It was good to see Mike get fired up, too.”
Duncan scored 14 and Manu Ginobili 10 for the Spurs. Parker shot 7-of-17 and committed five turnovers, then said Diaw’s defense was nothing special.
“They always think that’s going to bother me but I had my shots,” he said. “It didn’t bother me at all, I just missed my shots.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich threw in the towel by benching his three stars late in the third quarter.
“You lose by two and you play all those minutes, or you lose by 20 and you get some time to rest,” Duncan said. “I guess you can find a positive there. You don’t want to lose any games like this, but it happens and we’ll be ready to go the next one.”
Popovich had little to say afterward.
“Both teams want to play hard, both teams want to win just as badly as the other,” he said. “They played better than we did, and they were more aggressive right out of the gate.”
After watching the Spurs play to near-perfection Friday, the Suns were the aggressors from the start on Sunday. Phoenix led by 21 after one quarter, by as many as 24 in the second and by 30 in the third.
Nash’s 15-footer gave the Suns a 79-49 lead with 5:50 left in the third quarter. With Parker and Duncan on the bench, San Antonio cut it to 22 late in the quarter, but it was 93-65 entering the fourth.
Bell shot 6-of-7, 3-for-4 on 3-pointers to lead Phoenix to a 65-43 halftime lead. Diaw scored 10 points in the half.
The Suns never led in Game 3, but built big advantages early in the first two games, only to lose at the end. Their first-quarter start Sunday was their best yet.
Diaw’s shot over Ginobili inside made it 11-1, and it was 20-9 after Barbosa’s driving layup with 5:41 left in the first. It was 34-13 after one.
San Antonio was 4-for-19 shooting with six turnovers in the first two quarters.
The Spurs cut it to 12 three times in the second quarter, the last at 49-37 on Ginobili’s 15-foot bank shot with 4:55 to go. Phoenix, though, scored the next 12—six on free throws by Bell—to go up 61-37 on Diaw’s layup with 1:33 left in the half.
Hill sat after being slowed by a sore right groin in the first three games. … The 22-point lead was the largest in any playoff game this year. … San Antonio shot 38 percent in the first half (16-of-42). … Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim were in the crowd. Krzyzewski is head coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Boeheim and D’Antoni are assistants.