Tim Eh: Spurs Can No Longer Stop Suns or Duncan's Diminution
With one flick of his wrists and in one motion, Jason Richardson buried the Spurs.
With a hand in his face and three seconds left on the shot clock, he pulled up from the right wing and saved a broken play with the dagger triple.
Steve Nash bled again, but the Spurs were the ones in need of an elusive bandaid.
The Phoenix Suns shot as well as a team with human beings can, maybe better. At times, they drilled jumpshots with robotic accuracy.
The Spurs, despite their vehement protestations, did make things tough on the Suns.
Their effort might have been good enough to beat a few other squads. Not piping hot Phoenix.
The sharpshooting team from the desert burned its South Texas tormentors with a 107-101 victory.
Get out your brooms. For just the second time in the Tim Duncan era, the Spurs could not win a game in a playoff series.
They didn't lose by 29, as they did to the L.A. Lakers in 2001, but it still hurt. The pain will not subside for at least a few days, maybe weeks.
This strange postseason unfolded the way it did for a reason. The seventh-seeded Spurs showed championship-caliber fight in ousting the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks.
R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich needed to see their expensive roster grind, bang, and execute as it once did.
The San Antonio brass also needed the harsh lesson a second-round sweep now provides.
The elephant in the room just lost bladder control and threatens to stomp through the house until the foundation fails.
Does it stink in here, or is that just the Spurs' free-throw shooting?
The box score said "16 turnovers." Given that they bricked nine free throws and missed countless layups, that number was closer to 30.
The Spurs can no longer hide from the truth. It stares at them now like a stalker dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit covered with flashing neon lights.
It hits them now like a grand piano dropped from the top of the Empire State Building.
The Spurs aren't the same because Duncan isn't.
In 2005, 2007, and 2008, when San Antonio owned this matchup, Popovich could count on Duncan for 40-plus minutes and 30 points on a given night.
He could miss half of his freebies and still tyrannize opponents.
Steve Nash said this in a post-game presser after a Game Three loss in the 2005 series.
"Tim just puts so much pressure on our defense in every situation," Nash said. "Just by being on the court, everyone is leaning towards him. The other players are terrific players too, and when you are constantly leaning towards Tim, he can destroy a team. That's why they are a team that's won two championships, and that's why we are down 3-0."
Duncan had 33 points and 15 rebounds that night and many still called him "one of the best players in the world."
His best, now, doesn't guarantee a victory. With his season on the line Sunday night, he stepped up to the foul line and hoisted his free throws with zero hardihood.
One attempt should have been an airball.
Twice in the second half, he missed chip shots that even two years ago were automatic.
He fumbled catchable passes that could have become gimme dunks.
Instead, Father Time was the one who said "gimme."
This isn't just about age. His workload matters, too. Popovich managed to limit Duncan's regular-season minutes.
The 31 he averaged ranks as a career-low. In the postseason, though, he was forced to play in the high 30s and low 40s.
Duncan may still have two years of All-Star basketball left in him. He can still be great on select nights, but he can't be everything.
He needs bona-fide, seven-foot help. Antonio McDyess, professional and courageous, wasn't enough.
The Spurs needed more than McDyess' toughness and his pedigree.
The Lakers won a title by employing three bigs who could stand underneath the hoop and play volleyball.
Size matters, sometimes more than effort. Buford needs Tiago Splitter to come stateside and be better than Anderson Varejao.
Maybe the wizard GM can unearth another impact forward or center in the June draft. If Dejuan Blair fell to the Spurs at 37, can't the front office find someone even better at 20?
Buford and Popovich patched together competitive rosters—apologies to Fabricio Oberto, Nazr Mohammed, Francisco Elson, and Rasho Nesterovic—with stopgap bigs.
They contributed just enough alongside Duncan to give the team a title shot.
Since David Robinson's retirement, though, every Spur frontline has been a Duncan-or-bust operation.
That cannot continue. The Spurs need more than just a hustle hound who creates extra possessions with tap-outs and sheer toughness.
Another post-up threat is essential as is a big who can hedge screens and navigate the floor with adequate lateral quickness.
Such a player would make Blair and McDyess more advantageous. Duncan could rest more in these critical April and May contests.
His knees have taken a pounding, and his already underwhelming lift has betrayed him.
He cannot dissect defenses with jumphooks, spin moves, and pump fakes as often.
Sometimes, those shots just don't fall.
When the opponent's best player can bag stepback triples with one good eye and George Hill brushing his teeth, that's not good enough.
Nash's contested trey in the fourth quarter was the story of this lopsided series.
Or maybe it was Dragic bowling over Hill and hanging mid-air, ala Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, to bank in the and-one.
Or maybe it was Jared Dudley splitting two Spur defenders for an and-one layup.
The Spurs dominated the paint battle 56 to 38 and lost.
They outscored the Suns 25-9 on the break and lost.
San Antonio's defense wasn't as bad as its luck or its unfavorable matchup. How's that for a 180?
Popovich and Buford will find a way to fill some roster holes this summer. They will need more than spackle for the one that exposes Duncan.
The Spurs have taken Duncan for granted as much as any outsider. In his 13 years, he's made 13 All-NBA and 13 All-Defense teams.
Fans vote him as an All-Star starter each year, even as many claim he's tougher to watch than Steven Segal and Jean Claude Van Damme in a Broadway Musical.
They say his game is duller than muzak, and still they gawk.
The Spurs organization has been a loyal viewer, too. It cannot turn off reality this time.
No more Robert Horry. No more assumptions that Duncan can explode in any matchup like an unopened soda can thrown in a campfire.
The Suns eliminated the Spurs in a sweep, finishing off the four-time champs at the AT&T Center. The word "overmatched" applies more than "embarrassment."
The Spurs might have given the Lakers a tough six-game series, but this is not the time for what-ifs.
After Duncan's ify showing in a must-win, the organization must face a sure-fire reality.
He has carried the franchise's hopes on his back for so long. It will take more than McDyess and Blair to lighten the load.
Wanted: seven-foot help for the greatest power forward in NBA history.
Now, he's Tim Eh. Instead of Timmy.
Most of the current Suns played for other teams in 2005, 2007, and 2008. Many of the current Spurs were also new to this semi-annual scene.
Buford's offseason list won't read as long as last year's, but he must address its biggest item soon.
Another dead-eye shooter or two would do wonders for the Spurs' out-of-whack spacing.
No addition would mean more, though, than another teammate who doesn't need to stand on a phonebook to bump Duncan's forehead.
More size would negate the frustration caused by the Suns jalapeno-hot shooting.
The resulting conflagration will burn in the stomachs of the San Antonio locker room's fiercest competitors.
If Ginobili's wife wasn't due to give birth soon, Popovich might worry about his Argentine star again locking himself in a room to berate himself.
Duncan looked defeated as he trudged off the court, proverbial mud slowing his exit.
Parker will lament a campaign lost to injury. He dealt with every non life-threatening injury possible and listened to some question his ability to bounce back.
The team's three proud stars will return with a vengeance. Hill, too, should arrive to training camp in late September with a newfound swagger.
Nothing embarrasses him.
McDyess will chase a ring one last time. 2011 is an odd year, after all.
Richard Jefferson isn't dumb enough to leave a guaranteed $15 million on the table, and a humbling year will make him better and tougher.
Alvin Gentry slapped the scorer's table midway through the fourth quarter of Game Three when Dragic spun around Hill for a scintillating finish at the rim.
He yelled "Jesus Christ," according to multiple hoops scribes within an earshot of the Phoenix coach's shocked but pleased eruption.
Popovich will watch Richardson's game-clinching three from Sunday night, and nothing in that footage will console him.
Even He, the son of God, could not have defended that.
The Spurs head into the offseason with a paramount task. It bears repeating.
Wanted: seven-foot help for Duncan.
A size boost would make long-distance shots from Richardson sting less.
Taller teams, as the Suns will discover with the Lakers, are tougher to bury.
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