The Suns did win the season series three games to one, which would lead one to think that they are the favorites. At first glance Shaq does make a huge difference to a Phoenix team that lacked interior toughness in the middle, especially on defense, and this has made it a more difficult match-up for the Spurs.
We must not forget that San Antonio are the champions for a reason. They have mastered the art of playoff series survival, which Phoenix has not.
They are really a throw-back type of team that will grind it out and get stops when they need to. In an era where the flash of run-and-gun basketball gets all the headlines and replays, disciplined and hardnosed play is what gets it done in the playoffs. Even the Suns realized that their style of play doesn’t win championships.
Bruce Bowen vs. Steve Nash
Bowen’s assignment is key to the Spurs success. He must slow Nash down enough to make the rest of the Suns have to be a factor on offense for them to win. He won’t be able to completely shut down Nash, but he can slow him down a little.
A. Stoudemire/O’Neal vs. Duncan/Oberto/Thomas
Even though they won’t be guarding each other all of the time, it is crucial that the Spurs limit the amount of damage that Stoudemire inflicts. He is a game changer, and if he gets loose he will open up everything else on the outside for Pheonix.
Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto, and Robert Horry will probably take turns trying to slow Stoudemire down. O’Neal will be a facilitator and must be kept off the offensive glass. San Antonio will play Shaq one on one and take their chances with that rather than leave openings for their sharp shooters.
Duncan is always a tough guard and he is capable of getting Stoudamire and Shaq in foul trouble. Winning the inside battle will go a long way in determining who will prevail in the series. I give the edge to the Suns here.
Finley/Parker vs. Hill/Bell
San Antonio has a slight advantage. When Finley and Parker are playing well they become a formidable offensive team. If they don’t in this series they are in trouble because Grant Hill is experienced and has had good games against them this year. Raja Bell can shoot the three, and is an excellent defender.
Parker is a one man fast break, and if the Suns don’t get back on defense they can be beaten at their own game.
Raja Bell is The Sun’s version of Bruce Bowen, and will be asked to shut down, in my view, the most important player on the Spurs, Manu Ginobili, when he is in the game. This is where I believe the series will be won. Ginobili has struggled against the Suns, and Raja Bell and been a big reason why.
Ginobili single-handedly won games for San Antonio when Parker was hurt and proved he could put the team on his back when needed, but he hasn’t been able to against the Suns in the regular season.
This is playoff time and I believe Ginobili will have to find a way to be effective for the Spurs to prevail.
Leonardo Barbosa and Manu Ginobili play vital roles as sixth men, and if things get tight in the 4th quarter they will both be in the game. As previously stated Ginobili is much more important to his team than Barbosa is to his.
The Spurs are deep with Brent Barry, Horry, and Damon Stoudamire at their disposal. The Suns counter with Boris Diaw and Brian Skinner off their bench.
San Antonio is the deeper team and that will come into play if they get into foul trouble.
The only weakness I see with San Antonio is that they sometimes struggle with their half-court offense. I don’t think this be a major factor in this series.
The Spurs will wear down the Suns over seven games. It will be a tough series, especially in light of how the playoffs ended last year for the Suns. They accused the Spurs of being dirty and Nash was bloodied.
They are looking for revenge and are better prepared this year, but will still fall short.