NBA Playoff Recap - Western Conference Semifinals, Game 2
(3) Phoenix 110, (7) San Antonio 102 - Suns lead series, 2-0
Los Spurs tienen muchas problemas ahora. That's Spanish for "the Spurs have many problems right now." And the statement has absolutely nothing to do with politics, either.
Yes, on the night of Cinco de Mayo in a city with a significant Mexican population, much of the national buzz - especially among people who don't know about or care about basketball - focused on the fact that the Phoenix Suns wore "Los Suns" jerseys to honor their Latino fan base and take a stand against the recently-passed Arizona immigration bill. However, while a lot of non-basketball fans (plus the president of the United States) weighed in on the Suns' choice of uniform, the much more urgent matter concerned Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. It wasn't enough for Phoenix and coach Alvin Gentry to win Game 1 on Monday. Without a 2-0 lead heading to San Antonio for Games 3 and 4, the third seed in the West wouldn't have been very satisfied. The "Los Suns" hoopla was overdone; establishing command against a proud opponent represented the true business at hand.
Mission accomplished, then, for a team that continues to overachieve in the playoffs, much as it soared and surprised during the course of the regular season.
Before this series began, it was hard to imagine the Suns having much of a chance. San Antonio is the second-most successful franchise in professional basketball over the past 12 seasons, with the Los Angeles Lakers being the only other team to have as many as four world championships since 1999. (The Lakers rate higher than the Spurs because of more NBA Finals appearances in that span of time.) San Antonio looked very much like a title contender by dispatching the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, largely thanks to the considerable efforts of Manu Ginobili, the artful Argentine who knows how to eviscerate an opposing defense.
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On Monday night, the tone of the series shifted, but only slightly. Yes, the Spurs did lose Game 1 to Phoenix, but Ginobili had a strong night at the offensive end of the floor in that particular tussle. With star center Tim Duncan going up against Channing Frye in the low post, it seemed only a matter of time before the Spurs brought all their big guns to the U.S. Airways Center and left town with a split, which would then put them in position to hold serve at home and close down this series in no more than six games.
Technically, a six-game San Antonio win is still possible, but frankly, the pre-series optimism which flooded the Spurs' camp has been turned into a state of pronounced alarm. After Game 2, "Los Suns" have thrown down the hammer. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a lot of work to do in the coming days, or else his team won't be able to gain a coveted rematch with the Lakers in the upcoming Western Conference Finals.
Phoenix , if anything, played better in this game than it did in an uneven Game 1 win. The Suns hit only 35 percent of their shots in the first half, but forged a 51-all tie because they rebounded so well. Eight different Phoenix players pulled down at least four rebounds in this game, as the Suns crushed San Antonio on the offensive glass, 18-7. The Spurs have noted rebounder DeJuan Blair plus the services of Mr. Duncan, but Phoenix was simply quicker and far more energetic in the pursuit of loose balls. No one exemplified this reality more than Jared Dudley, a reserve wing whose 11-point, six-rebound box score did not do justice to the immensity of his contributions. Dudley created rebounds for teammates even when he didn't personally snatch a 50-50 ball. He constantly sealed out San Antonio's post players and tipped many balls to teammates such as Louis Amundson, who also gave Gentry some good energy off the bench.
Moreover, when Dudley wasn't mixing it up in the paint, he defended Ginobili on the perimeter... and promptly shut him down. San Antonio's elite sixth man scored just 11 points - no more than Dudley - and hit only two field goals in eight attempts. Duncan did thrive en route to 29 points, and Tony Parker - the other member of San Antonio's Big Three - scored 20 points. However, with Ginobili being shut down and wing George Hill (14 points) needing two and a half quarters to finally feel comfortable on the court, San Antonio didn't receive enough scoring from its perimeter players. It was the Suns who played the better defense in this game, and they also owned the paint as well. Few if any basketball junkies would have predicted such a set of outcomes before the series began. Game 1 was more fast-paced than this tilt in the Desert Southwest, but the scoreboard at the end looked pretty much the same. A 111-102 Suns win on Monday has been followed by a 110-102 triumph on Wednesday.
Phoenix is consistently and comprehensively better than San Antonio right now. If the old guard doesn't win a pair of home games in the Lone Star State this weekend, the sun will set on the Spurs' season... courtesy of "Los Suns."
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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