Saturday, May 19, 2007

Suns Set

Road Oak, Healdsburg, Ca. May 2007
Wow. S.O.L. is not used to being wrong.

But last night’s game between the Spurs and the Suns makes twice this playoffs that I’ve been on the flip side of right. I really thought the Suns would pull out Game 6 tonight, even though it was in San Antonio. But playing short-handed in the previous game seems to have taken the flow out of their free flow offense.

That and a stifling Spurs defense, especially Bruce Bowen on the perimeter and Tim Duncan inside. T.D. had something like 10 blocks in the game, most of them coming from the weak side as a help out defender. When a two-time league MVP and 10-time member of the All-Defensive team, is playing help D, you’re offense is in trouble. Even the high-powered, high-scoring Suns offense.

The Spurs harassed Steve Nash all night and the refs were letting them do it. For the third time this series, Nash and his mates didn’t solve the Spurs’ defense until their backs were against the wall. And except for Game 3 in San Antonio, they ran out of time.

I still think the decision to suspend Diaw and Stoudemire was stupid and could have been handled better. It disemboweled the Suns for Game 5 and now we'll never know what this series could have been had NBA commissioner David Stern kept his whistle in his pocket.

Nash summed it up well in comments quoted at

"I can sit up here and complain about it after the fact... I guess cry about it after the fact. But it's tough not to just think forever what would have happened if this stupid rule didn't get in the way of this series. There's no guarantees of anything, but to come this far and put this much into a season and for us to be without two key guys for Game 5 for nothing we instigated -- and for not either one of them having a malicious tone in their offense -- will forever haunt us. But I don't want to cry about it after the fact. The Spurs played great."

Allow me to cry then.

This will be a rough summer for Nash and the Suns, a serious bitter pill that was in part self-inflicted. If Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw stay rooted to the bench after Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer’s table at the end of a stirring come-from-behind win in Game 3, we might be talking about the Suns moving on, instead of the perennial championship-contending Spurs.

The only good thing about the Spurs going on to win another title is Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich surpassing Phil Jackson and the Lakers’ recent run. Three titles don’t seem all that impressive when the other guy is out there winning four. And with Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker still relatively young, there’s no reason to doubt they could win this year -- and next.

The Spurs will face the young, upstart Utah Jazz. On paper it looks like a mismatch. But if anyone can man-up against these Spurs, it's the Jazz. Still, the wound of seeing the Suns bounced out of the playoffs like this is still too fresh to talk about the next round. I'll save that for another day.

There’s a fine line between getting over the hill that stands between pretenders and contenders. The window of opportunity is small and it shuts awfully fast (see: Sacramento, Portland and Indiana for recent examples). The Suns are fortunate to be young but if they can’t figure out how to stand toe-to-toe with physical, grind-’em-out teams like the Spurs at playoff time, this Phoenix team will fade into history title-less, just like all its predecessors.

Game 3 should have been the defining moment for the Suns. But it all changed in a blink when Horry disgraced the NBA and Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench to defend their fallen teammate. A lesson learned of course. A lot of lessons learned. How will the Suns respond? They have all summer to think about it.

For now, NBA fans are poorer for not getting to see more of Steve Nash.

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