NBA Playoff Recap - Western Conference Semifinals, Game 3
(3) Phoenix 110, (7) San Antonio 96 - Suns lead series, 3-0
The Phoenix Suns and their fans always wished they could take down the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, but few neutral basketball observers felt they'd ever be able to turn the trick. Yet, in the span of five days and three games, one of the NBA's most luckless franchises has suddenly established a vapor-lock grip on its constant nemesis. This series isn't officially over, but with a 3-0 lead now squarely in their possession, the Suns are almost certain to advance to the Western Conference Finals for a likely date with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Believe it: The Phoenix Suns - playoff losers to the Spurs in the 2005, 2007 and 2008 seasons - are now one win away from sweeping San Antonio out of the playoffs. It's hard to wrap one's mind around this reality.
San Antonio entered this series coming off an impressive six-game defeat of the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Coach Gregg Popovich - who has won four NBA titles in the past 12 seasons - piloted his team past a deep, long and loaded Dallas club that had legitimate NBA title aspirations. With supporting actors such as George Hill and Antonio McDyess supporting the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, the Spurs appeared to have the balance and versatility needed to beat the Suns once again. Phoenix guard Steve Nash was dinged up at the end of the Suns' first-round series against Portland, and the past few years of postseason futility against San Antonio suggested that the folks from Phoenix would not be able to stop the Spurs' offense.
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However, in this series, it's the Spurs who have been utterly powerless in the face of Phoenix's attack.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry - the breakthrough coach of the 2010 NBA season (even though he won't have an award to show for it) - continued to get the best of the highly-credentialed Popovich in this series. The Suns were able to continue to draw Duncan away from the basket, for one thing. Secondly, even when San Antonio extended its defense to take away the three-point line, the Suns had the floor spacing and deployment needed to create readily available driving lanes to the hoop. A few passes plus some ball fakes and shot fakes drew San Antonio defenders out of position throughout the second half, and purple-shirted Phoenix ballhandlers attacked the rim with repeated success as a result.
These dynamics occasionally surfaced in the first half, but they were a constant feature of the second half, especially a 39-point fourth quarter in which the Suns plainly maxed out. Phoenix could not have played any better than it did in the final 12 minutes, which saw the Suns drive to the rim at will against the slow and shellshocked Spurs.
The fourth-quarter knockout blow was so convincing that Nash didn't even have to play for most of the quarter; the Canadian's backup, Goran Dragic, played virtually all of the period (Nash made a brief late appearance) and scored 23 of his 26 points in that 12-minute timespan. Dragic nailed all five 3-pointers he took and hit 10 of 13 field goals overall. The stunning display by the Slovenian - who combined with Brazilian teammate Leandro Barbosa to score 27 of Phoenix's first 29 fourth-quarter points on Friday - left the proud Spurs dumbfounded. It also effectively ended any realistic hopes of a fifth world title for a team that, after the Dallas series, looked like a legitimate contender once again.
Ginobili (27 points, 10-of-17 shooting) and McDyess (6 of 11 field goals) did their fair share for the Spurs, but with guards Tony Parker and George Hill making just 6 of 24 shots between them, San Antonio lacked the teamwide scoring and ball distribution it needs in order to be successful. What the increasingly older Spurs lacked in terms of quickness needed to be compensated for with good ball movement. This emerged at times, but after the Spurs gained a 69-61 lead just past the midway point of the third period, they began to stagnate and settle for jumpers. Phoenix, led by Dragic, took the ball hard to the rim on almost every trip, and the Suns' aggressiveness was most definitely rewarded.
Phoenix leads San Antonio by three games in a best-of-seven playoff series. Who would have thought, before Monday night's Game 1, that a Phoenix franchise without a single NBA title would be one game away from bringing out the brooms against the four-time champion Spurs?
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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