Spurs Beat Suns With Parker, Savvy
This statement stretches well beyond today's game. In fact, even if the Suns had managed to win today's game which they lost 103-98, it wouldn't alter that fact. It's a universal truth that springs from such a far ranging set of circumstances, through injuries, season, suspensions, and every conceivable manner of heartbreaking defeat.
Even when the Suns manage to defeat the Spurs, there's the auto-response, "Let's see them do it in a seven game series in May." It's unfortunate that context is ignored, but it's also understandable.
But if you want to really provide perspective for today's game, maybe it would be better to look at this result outside of the Suns-Spurs mythology, and instead examine the weaknesses of the '09 Phoenix Suns, and the strength of the '09 Spurs.
Today wasn't an absolute demolition by the Spurs -- far from it. The Suns took every punch the Spurs sent and responded, even leading in the fourth thanks to some nifty three-point shooting and inspired play from Leandro Barbosa and Grant Hill. But every time they'd claw their way back up the ladder, San Antonio, as they'd done so many times, would kick them off again.
And when the game entered the fabled "crunch time," Tony Parker did what he's done so many times: make clutch play after clutch play, including 12 points and two steals in the fourth, on his way to 30 points and nine assists. Throw in savvy veteran plays like well-timed offensive rebounds and a team fluidity that was sorely lacking from Seven Seconds or Shaq, and you've got a Spurs team that's prepping itself for a lengthy playoff run.
The Suns were brilliant in spots and disastrous in others. But they never really seemed to have any sense of fluidity. All of the plays that were made seemed to work independent of one another: Jason Richardson taking his man off the dribble; Barbosa nailing long three pointers from the corner with a defender in his face; Steve Nash nailing a three off the dribble. Meanwhile, the Spurs were using cross-court passes to bamboozle the Suns' rotations, relying on a tried and true tactic.
Steve Nash can't guard Tony Parker. This is no surprise as Nash, who is no doubt one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, can't play defense worth a lick. It's not an effort or concentration thing; he's physically limited in his ability to defend. And Parker's strength (stop-and-go off the pick-and-roll, creating separation) specifically attacks Nash's weakest areas.
Grant Hill also cannot guard Tony Parker. While Hill has been known to do a tremendous job on Manu Ginobili (who missed his eleventh straight game with an ankle injury -- Gregg Popovich thanks the Argentinian Olympic Team yet again), Parker's top end speed is just too much for Hill. That's why he's a small forward. But Nash's inability to defend (and Jason Richardson's lack of top end speed) forces Hill to try. The result is today's output from Parker, who did a tremendous job in every aspect today, not only attacking the basket and using his vision but also knocking down the pull-up jumper. That's been known to be Parker's weakness, but when he's got that stroke going, there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop it, especially when none of Phoenix's defenders are built to make life difficult for him.
The Suns crushed the Spurs inside for three quarters. Shaquille O'Neal was active but lost steam on his way to a pedestrian 14 points and five rebounds. For much of the game, the Spurs pulled a familiar tactic on Phoenix, allowing the Suns to get out in transition instead of forcing them to slow down, which is largely ineffective. Then they pushed them to actually go faster, which causes Phoenix to outrun itself and miss layups when players get too deep underneath the basket. When the Suns switched to the Shaq option, the Spurs immediately reverted to the same defense they've used against Shaq for years. Double, rotate, rotate. The result was acceptable, and in the act of it, they forced Shaq into huffing and puffing until he blew his game down. He even started missing free throws, which prevented the Suns from using him late for fear of the Hack-A-Shaq.
So the Suns got out in transition, switched to giving Shaq the ball, controlled the inside, and had an offensive rebounding advantage until the fourth quarter. And they still were beaten back, going oh-fer on their road trip and staring down the barrel of missing the playoffs, only a year into the post-D'Antoni era.
Coach Alvin Gentry didn't really make any significant mistakes in this game. He put his best defenders where they needed to be. Duncan had 17 and 15, which is strong, but not dominant; Louis Amundson gave the Suns their defensive highlights; and Steve Nash had 23 and 11. The Suns were more effective in the Seven Seconds versus the Shaq portion. They played tough, played resilient, hit big shots. And still it wasn't enough.
For the Spurs, they're rolling strong at this time of year like always, and are probably within 10 days of having Manu Ginobili and Drew Gooden added to their lineup. For the Suns, the question is becoming less "Seven Seconds or Shaq?" and more "Seven Seconds Till Detonation?"