SAN ANTONIO: Sometimes, a team isn't meant to win.
In the fourth quarter of a demoralizing 110-96 Game Three defeat, the Spurs, beyond all doubt, established themselves as not good enough.
Then, Goran Dragic became Kobe Bryant.
A fellow B/R colleague described one of Dragic's drives to the hoop as a variation of Hakeem Olajuwon's "Dream Shake."
Yeah, it was that kind of night.
The Spurs blew an 18-point first-half lead and missed so many free throws, the frequent offenders might as well buy Gregg Popovich a car dealership. Dragic scored 23 of his 26 points in the final period, and the Suns outscored the Spurs 39-24 to take the game and firm command of the series.
How firm? No other NBA outfit has emerged from a 3-0 hole.
The team the Spurs dismantled to win their last two titles has now dismantled them.
How San Antonio lost fits the character of a topsy-turvy, 32-defeat season.
Dragic totaled more points in one playoff quarter than any individual ever had against the Spurs.
Not Kobe Byrant. Not LeBron James. Not Chauncey Billups. Not Dirk Nowitzki. Not even Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, or Karl Malone.
Goran freaking Dragic.
The Suns are better than the Spurs, and they did everything in crunch-time their former tormentors in silver and black could not.
That Phoenix pulled away with an ineffective Amar'e Stoudemire (seven points) and Steve Nash on the bench exacerbates the problem. Instead of logging his most minutes of the playoffs after playing 31 through three quarters, he finished with just 33.
Nash shot six of 14, and Stoudemire made three of his 10 attempts. What should have been enough of an effort to produce a win instead made answering a season-long struggle priority No. 1 when the offseason begins.
R.C. Buford and Popovich won't have to wait long for that. If the Spurs show pride in front of their fans and gut out a Mother's Day win, surely the Suns will slay them at U.S. Airways Center in Game Five.
These Spurs need to be put out of their misery. Put the dogs to sleep.
Richardson's sharp-shooting kept the Suns close in the first half. Grant Hill stroked mid-range jumpers like he was Mark Price from the opening tip. Dragic, a former Spurs' draft pick who made two field goals in the first two games combined, took it from there.
Popovich cannot worry about defensive adjustments now. He can no longer wrestle with who should start versus who should come off the bench. The Suns, on this night, could have given any of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls squads a run.
Sometimes, a team isn't meant to win.
Dragic's final shot drove that home for the hapless Spurs. With Phoenix ahead 107-96, the Slovenian pulled up with a hand in his face and drained the victors' 15th triple.
It also gave the Suns 110 points for the third time in this series. Phoenix reached that mark in all three regular season meetings.
The dream was nice while it lasted. The Spurs, however, were foolish to think a seventh seed could duplicate what a sixth seed did once.
That underdog was the defending champion, and an Olajuwon in his prime could still dominate games from start to finish. Duncan needs more size and another post presence the Spurs cannot give him. Not until this summer.
The days when this team could survive missing 12 foul shots are over.
The Spurs did this sort of thing all year. They hung around, and in some cases built double-figure leads, only to watch the opponent out-execute them down the stretch.
Dragic wasn't the first unexpected assassin. Jerryd Bayless and Wesley Matthews come to mind.
Since when does a championship hopeful surrender 39 points in the fourth quarter, 23 of them to a reserve forced to play his way out of anonymity?
With their season and a series on the line, the Spurs lost it all—their composure, their mental death-grip on the Suns, their defense, their clutch gear, and any hope of making history.
A 50-win campaign looked better when the Spurs were on the verge of sending the Dallas Mavericks on an early summer vacation.
Now Popovich must know that what happened this year cannot happen again.
After months of the upgraded roster failing to coalesce, Tony Parker's hand injury forced Manu Ginobili to find his game from 2005. Ginobili brought Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess along for the ride. Rookie Dejuan Blair made a few more cameos.
George Hill stepped in as a cheap temporary replacement for Parker. He learned the rigors of the NBA's stretch run and fought a confidence-shattering injury of his own. His 29-point outburst in the first round showed what is possible. This series has shown how much he still needs to comprehend.
The Spurs came together at the right time in the regular season—March.
The Suns started earlier. With Friday's win, Phoenix is now 35-9 since January.
A seventh seed with one great month of basketball on its resume cannot win four rounds, or in this case, two. The Spurs ousted a Mavs squad that still seems superior to the Suns. Yet, the Suns don't care about auras or perceptions anymore.
Each time the Spurs manage to foil one attack, another blindsides them.
Dragic and the Dream Shake?
Yeah, it was that kind of night.
Manu Ginobili scored 27 points on 17 shots. Matt Bonner contributed 11 points off the pine.
Antonio McDyess chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Few others showed up to the party.
Parker was five of 17, Jefferson one of nine, and George Hill one of seven.
The Spurs cannot win this way.
They paid for their season of sin, their abysmal free-throw shooting, and spotty defensive coverage.
The cost: a more than $80 million payroll and a potential second-round sweep at the hands of the Suns.
Next, Phoenix reserve center Louis Amundson will become Wilt Chamberlain.
It wouldn't seem more out of place than Grant Hill's monster slam with less than two minutes left in the game.
The Spurs aren't meant to win this series.
The funeral will come sooner before later.
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