NBA Playoff Recap - Western Conference Semifinals, Game 4
(3) Phoenix 107, (7) San Antonio 101 - Suns win series, 4-0
On a day when one point guard wowed the NBA with his numbers, another point guard amazed the professional basketball community with his guts and resilience.
Earlier on a special Sunday in the annals of NBA lore, Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics became just the third player ever to score at least 29 points, grab at least 18 rebounds, and hand out 13 assists. The spectacular performance materially helped a club that found itself in a must-win situation against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In Sunday's night fight, the Phoenix Suns were definitely not in a must-win position. The third seed in the Western Conference held a 3-0 lead headed into Game 4 at the AT&T Center. The homestanding San Antonio Spurs - favorites at the beginning of this best-of-seven set - were on the ropes and in need of something special just to get on the board and avoid the broomstick.
Late in the third quarter, they got something special, all right... just not in the way anyone hoped.
In the 2007 playoffs, a Suns-Spurs series - also in the West semis - became seared in the public memory for two reasons: one was a Game 4 brawl in which Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire left his team's bench and got suspended for Game 5, thereby making the difference in a taut six-game series won by San Antonio. The other reason was a gash suffered by Nash - Steve Nash, the force of nature who has been Phoenix's fabulous floor leader for the past several seasons. Late in the third quarter of a very tight game, Spurs superstar Tim Duncan drove to the hoop on the left side of the lane and accidentally caught Nash just above his right eye with an elbow. Nash was providing helpside defense on the play, and as he tried to reach in to poke away a steal, Duncan's chicken wing caught him flush. Nash went to the locker room to get the cut stitched up, and when he came back to the Phoenix bench, his right eye was effectively closed. He could barely see anything.
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Yes, Goran Dragic lit up San Antonio in Friday's Game 3, but still: if ever there was a chance for the Spurs to get into the series, this was it. What's more is that the incident recalled a very unpleasant experience for Nash and the Suns in playoffs past against their Western Conference nemesis.
The two-time league MVP got hit in the face by San Antonio's Tony Parker in Game 1 of that series three years ago. The cut set a negative tone for a series in which the Suns got knocked off balance early and were only able to win one game on their own home court. San Antonio won in six games, forming a part of the Spurs' three-series winning streak against the Suns dating back to the 2005 Western Conference Finals. While Phoenix did lead 3-0, the prospect of losing Game 4 and then playing Game 5 at home suddenly seemed a lot more unsettling. What if Game 5 was lost at home with a one-eyed Nash? Then Game 6 would be played in San Antonio. Then a Game 7, a one-shot deal? Oh, for Suns fans - who have never celebrated a title in the franchise's 42-year history - these fears are a lot more rational than they would be if they were vocalized by a Laker fan. Fears of a protracted series became real.
Ah, but guess who caused those fears to subside in the Valley of the Suns? Why, it was none other than Nash himself. The flash with the gash delivered this game's biggest plays.
With the Spurs breathing down the Suns' necks and trailing by only three (85-82) midway through the fourth quarter, it was Nash who nailed a soft floater in the lane.
With the Spurs still down by only four, Nash carved up San Antonio's defense and found Stoudemire for one jumper. Nash did the same thing on two more possessions in the following few minutes, and he also found Jared Dudley for an old-fashioned three-point play that kept the Spurs at bay. Nash's gallantry enabled Phoenix to build a 99-89 lead with two minutes remaining. Yes, the Spurs closed the gap to 103-101 in the final 30 seconds following a four-point play from George Hill, who nailed a trey and was fouled in the act of shooting by Stoudemire, but the Suns held the ball and knocked down 4 of 4 foul shots in the final 26 seconds to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
It was all because of their one-eyed leader, who told Rajon Rondo, "I'll see you your performance and raise you one... with one eye."
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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