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Newest San Antonio Spurs Need to Grow Up, Bring The Nasty Back

SAN ANTONIO - MAY 07:  Guard George Hill #3 of the San Antonio Spurs is fouled by Channing Frye #8 of the Phoenix Suns in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 7, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IMay 9, 2010

Just for kicks and old times sake, George Hill should put Steve Nash's groin on watch. He should stand under Amar'e Stoudemire while he dunks and make him think twice about how he lands.

Maybe for one night, the Spurs can do what they used to against the Suns get them to complain about the officials, out-execute them in crunch time, and strike first when it comes to hard fouls and snaring loose balls.

This series is a goner, but this core isn't. Peter Holt, R.C. Buford, and Gregg Popovich are stuck with this group, for better or worse. Given how it responded in the toughest month of the season and against the Dallas Mavericks, that's not the worst reality in the world to face.

Buford will make some roster tweaks, but George Hill, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Dejuan Blair and Richard Jefferson will wear silver and black uniforms next season. Maybe Tiago Splitter, Nando de Colo, and a draft pick or two will join them.

The Spurs did last summer what fans had urged them to do for years. They got younger and more athletic. That roster overhaul, however, has not helped them solve the Suns' riddle.

Having more guys who can dunk and block shots guarantees nothing. Phoenix has won three straight in this series because the sum of its parts outmatches that of San Antonio.

The Suns are deeper, and they play more defense than the Mike D'Antoni squads did.

Not long ago, in 2005, the Spurs were in similar command. They out-ran and out-scored a Suns team with comparable talent.

They also defended when they needed to and limited Phoenix's transition game.

Is a core with Jason Richardson, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, and Amar'e Stoudemire better than one with Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Shawn Marion, Nash and Stoudemire?

The Spurs have lost much of their aura and fearsome image since their last championship. As the team's age dropped, so did the presence of veterans who know how to perform in close playoff games.

Robert Horry retired first, and he needed to go.

Brent Barry bolted for Houston, and he wasn't the same.

Bruce Bowen was traded, and he decided he didn't want to play for another coach.

Popovich granted Michael Finley's request to be waived. Finley now plays limited minutes for the Boston Celtics.

The old guys couldn't perform as they once did, and the Spurs have not recovered.

Barry scored 21 points in the 2005 opener. Horry rifled in a pair of huge fourth-quarter treys. Bowen held Marion to three points after he had averaged better than 18 in the previous two rounds.

That team embodied versatility. This one can, too.

The youngsters, however, must learn to face pressure as their predecessors did. When Popovich needs to diagram a late-game play for a non member of the Big Three, who takes the shot?

McDyess can pop mid-range jumpers, but often the Spurs need a triple. Hill has shown the propensity to become that next clutch shooter.

Richard Jefferson needs something going to the basket.

A rare 3-0 deficit against the Suns prompted an Arizona Republic columnist to call the Spurs "a bit soft."

The label does apply in this series.

What must happen next, whether tonight or next year, starts with Hill. The Spurs need to bring the nasty back.

They need to rediscover their role as tormentors.

This squad showed signs in blitzing the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center and dismantling the Lakers at Staples Center.

More than a few times in the regular season Popovich demanded lockdown defense and he got it.

Some of the newer Suns and Spurs play part-time defense. The Spurs' championship units were never allowed to do this.

Another big body will help. A pending early exit will also help.

Hill learned about postseason intensity by watching the Mavericks shellack his Spurs in last year's first round.

He took the humility borne from his playoff benching and used it as motivation to become one of the NBA's most improved ballers.

He was the difference in this year's first round. Now, he seems like more of a liability than an advantageous young athlete.

The importance of experienced role players has become apparent. The Spurs need a few more, and they must come from within the locker room.

McDyess has lived up to his billing as a battle-tested enforcer. When he sits along with Duncan, Popovich leans on a 6'7" rookie center and Matt Bonner.

Horry once filled one of those slots. Duncan could also force defenses to collapse and fall apart. Now, the Suns want to get him involved in pick-and-rolls and screen-and-rolls. They want him to have to guard outside shooters.

So much has changed in this matchup. So much still can, whether it happens tonight or next year.

Nasty. Bring it back.

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