Tim Duncan Misses Three's Company, and His Knees Carry Spurs' Burden

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 4, 2010

PHOENIX - MAY 03:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs puts up a shot over Channing Frye #8 of the Phoenix Suns during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 3, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Manu Ginobili caught a pass from Tony Parker and drilled an open three-pointer to give the Spurs their one lead of the night.

In any other year, the Suns would have emerged from the ensuing timeout deflated and scarred.

Instead, Jason Richardson knotted the score two possessions later with his own trey and the Suns did not trail again.

A Game One victory for San Antonio would have sapped the suspense from the series. Now, Phoenix has every right to believe it can turn the tide.

The Spurs like to keep everyone, including their head coach, guessing. Tim Duncan, it seems, wants to buy Gregg Popovich a warehouse full of cars.

He kept bricking free throws, and the Spurs kept blowing chances. Missing in action: a flurry of three bombs to spark the usual late rally and Duncan's non-chalant demeanor.

He has never flinched against the Suns. Monday night, he scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but failed to bring Phoenix to its knees.

His own became the difference.

Two teams have ousted Duncan from the playoffs, Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks and Kobe Bryant's L.A. Lakers.

Steve Nash has admired Duncan, and early exits at the hands of the Spurs gave him plenty of opportunities to do so. He couldn't win in the Metroplex or the desert.

San Antonio lost Game One against Dallas in similar fashion and triumphed in six.

The Spurs, though, used the power of rage to their advantage. They were tired of the Mavericks eliminating them and it showed.

The Suns flashed the same urgency and netted the same results.

The pressure no longer rests with the defenseless combo of Amar'e Stoudemire and Nash.

It wears down Duncan's knees, and it makes the absence of a previous weapon more conspicuous.

What happened to the Spurs' three-point marksmanship? The team missed 15 of its 19 attempts.

Roger Mason Jr. airballed a straightaway open look. Keith Bogans hit one but could not find the range again.

Ginobili barely grazed the rim on four of his six three-point bricks.

Just when the Spurs rediscovered the ease with which they could score in the paint (they totaled 48 points there), they began to fail from long distance.

The Suns, Richardson in particular, drained the triples that mattered. His biggest afforded Phoenix an insurmountable 103-95 lead with less than two minutes remaining.

Tony Parker will start in Game Two, and that will help slow Nash. The Spurs won't trail 11-4 when Popovich calls his first timeout on Wednesday night.

No adjustments, however, can lessen Duncan's burden. He has dominated Nash-led teams for so long that most expect it.

The Spurs handled Jason Richardson types for most of Duncan's run. They have faced better backup point guards than Goran Dragic.

The Suns have never seen this Duncan. The sometimes tentative, brace-wearing version cannot terrorize as readily as he once did.

Phoenix played without fear and with a short memory. San Antonio roared back to tie on several occasions. Phoenix then used 10-0 runs to pull away again.

This series will prove tougher for Duncan than the last one. Another date with Nowitzki and Dallas presented him an opportunity to right a wrong.

The Mavs had everything to lose. Nash and the Suns, fighting the sting of playoff constancy with the Spurs, danced around the U.S. Airways Center court with a rare freedom.

Maybe Nash stopped thinking. If so, his Suns followed.

Stoudemire picked his spots and finished with 23 points.

When the Spurs needed the momentum-turning three-pointer Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, or Brent Barry would have supplied, the replacements abused the rim with misses.

Most of the role players performed as if they were in another dog show.

Beyond Richard Jefferson, George Hill, and others, the recurring theme in game one might not disappear.

The Suns braced for Duncan.

The pressure to make history matter seemed to slow those 34-year-old knees more than they ever could.


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