Season Series: Phoenix 2-1
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The Phoenix Suns could have finished anywhere between third and fifth and at the end of the regular season, they were able to bust of two huge wins against Denver (123-101) and Utah (100-86) and ultimately passed both of them in the standings which forced the Nuggets and Jazz to face off against each other.
The way the NBA is set up with a bracket style playoff (much like NCAA) instead of best-seed playing worst-seed remaining (like the NHL), made it so the winner of Utah-Denver would have to face the winner of the Lakers-Thunder series... in essence, the Suns gave themselves the privilege of not having to play the NBA defending champions. As nice as that is, the West is so stacked with great teams (a record of 50-32 was enough for 8th place in the West, while in the East, the Bulls stole the last playoff berth at 42-42), its not much of a privilege. I
'd love to say the Suns lucked out by having San Antonio knock out Dallas but this is the way of the West, the only thing that a team is to be thankful for is that they made the playoffs. From there forward, no team should be happy with who they have to play because if you underestimate any of these teams remaining, they will show you the exit quickly.
In game one of the series against Portland, while all other high seeds won their opening game, the Suns took it easy and Portland slapped them around and stole home-court advantage. Realizing you can never take a game off in the playoffs, they came back and dominated games two and three with back-to-back, 19 point victories. Jason Richardson combined to put up 71 points in the two games and was a large factor in the blow-out victories.
In game four, Brandon Roy returned for Portland it uplifted the team enough to help the Trailblazers tie the series at two-games a piece. As the series traveled back to Phoenix, the Suns found their way by once again winning by once again a difference of 19 points in a 108-89 victory on their home court. In the final games of the series (in Portland), Phoenix took control from the get go and never looked back and no matter how hard the Trailblazers tried to make a comeback, the Suns kept on pulling away.
Since the Suns got rid of Shaq and decided not to trade away Amare Stoudemire, not only have the Suns looked better, but Amare has shown Phoenix why it was so important they held onto him. Not only that, but Channing Frye has helped the Suns down in the paint and the Amare-Frye connection has done something in Phoenix that Shaq never seemed to bring, and it's the ability to take pressure off of one of the best point guards in the game, Steven Nash.
Nash quarterbacks him team and although he isn't the superstar he used to be when he was winning MVP awards, he still leads a Phoenix team with a group of talented ballers. Through the series, Richardson has shown he can put up a whack of points, Stoudemire is a threat on offence as well as defence, Nash is Nash (no better way to put it), Grant Hill has brought his veteran presence and they have skilled players who can come off the bench and the Suns don't loose as much fire power as their counter-parts.
Having a big-skilled man on your team is important, and Duncan might be the Suns achilles heal but having a vast group of players who provide extreme depth holds weight. Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa can all chip in enough to help their teams win games (as seem in game five when the bench put up 55 points) and even if some of them started a little slow in this years playoffs, if they start to click and get hot.... watch out.
Personally, I think it comes down to this; the Spurs have a group of players who they count on to win them the game and if one or two of them is having an off night, the Spurs will generally loose. The Suns have a group of players that when one or two players isn't holding their own, the rest of the team picks up the slack. With the additions of Jefferson and George Hill, the Spurs are trying to have both 'the big three' superstar fire-power in which many teams possess with a solid group of players of the bench to back them up.
If it's works, the Suns may have a harder time stopping the core of the team instead of Duncan.
When I took the San Antonio Spurs to loose against the Mavericks, the reason I did was because of the great basketball Dallas was playing towards the end of the season but all those wins and the 96-89 win over the Spurs meant nothing once the series started. San Antonio gave you an idea of why they have one three championships since 2003 and this year will be looking to capture their fourth and by the way they're playing... it's extremely possible.
After dropping game one in Dallas 100-94 (a game in which Nowitzki score 34 points) but two nights later, big Timmy Duncan gave Dirk a little lesson in fundamentals when he scored 25 points with an astonishing 17 rebounds. Also, Richard Jefferson chipped in 19 to give the Spurs the edge they needed in a 102-88 beat-down. Not only did the Spurs ride the momentum of stealing home-court advantage but they went back to San Antonio and won back-to-back games taking a three-to-one lead in the series, which could have been predicted but no one imagined it'd happen... at least not that quick.
Games three and four were closer victories than than the Spurs game two victory was which is odd considering they were on their home court but in the third game, and in game three it was Manu who stole the headlines. When Ginobili came back in the third quarter after getting his nose broken by an elbow, he managed to score 11 of his 15 points in the 4th quarter helping the Spurs grab a 2-1 series lead.
I was once told 'whatever part of you is injured, is a long way from your heart'. Couldn't be more true. Even though Duncan and Parker combined for 48 points, it was simply Manu being Manu that helped them win. As game four approached, San Antonio knew the Mavericks would be giving 100% percent with their season on the brink and even though Dallas shut down Parker, Manu and Duncan, they couldn't stop 2nd year point guard George Hill as he netted 29 points.
Calling the Spurs talented is an understatement. With their backs up against the wall, Dallas came out and played solid ball on their home court and stole game five largely in part to the 35 points Caron Butler had but game six was all the Spurs who dominated all night winning 97-87 and clinching the series sending the number two seed packing.
As stated above, the Spurs are a team with star power and experience and when needed, they know how to pull the trigger in order to win important basketball games. The loss of Bruce Bowen (traded before retiring last year), who is questionable the best defensive player ever to play the game, has hurt San Antonio but don't kid yourself, the addition of Richard Jefferson at the same time has improved them.
Many people hear the team 'San Antonio Spurs' and their first thought is Eva Longoria... man she's hot... No, seriously though, people think of the Spurs 'big three' in Duncan, Manu and Parker but many people who don't follow the Spurs closely when they see Jefferson in a Spurs uniform, tend to do a double take. Jefferson isn't even one of the biggest assets on the team though and don't get me wrong, the 'big three' runs the show in San Antonio but second year point guard George Hill has come in and done the best job any player on an already talented squad.
No player can replace Bowen defensively but Jefferson and Hill have absolutely replaced him on the offensively side of the ball. Also, keep in mind Parker and Hill can switch back and forth and give each other much needed rest to keep each other fresh. I am not surprised the Spurs beat the Mavericks, I didn't think they would due to Dallas NBA-best road record, and i'd be way more shocked if Portland beat Phoenix or the Lakers lost to Oklahoma City.
Both could have happened though as the teams who made the playoffs in the Western Conference make the playoffs way more interesting to watch than the series in the East. Any team in the West could win it all this year and with eight of the last eleven NBA Champions reigning from the Western Conference (four by Lakers, four by Spurs), I wouldn't bet against it.... They have shown by beating Dallas, that they can play with any team and as much as their hands are full with the the talented Suns, again, don't bet against it.
Gregg Popovich knows what it takes to win and if you think he doesn't have the ammunition in order to pull the trigger... stop fooling yourself.
TheCoach's Pick: SPURS in SEVEN