In a memorable playoff series for the Suns, several heroes made their mark during the resounding 4-0 sweep of the Spurs.
The team showcased its traditional strengths: offensive prowess and immaculate teamwork. But where the team really proved its mettle, in addition to confounding critics, was by playing hard defense, dominating the boards, and, most importantly, seizing the key moments in each of the four games.
In that context, here are my thoughts on the Five Most Valuable Moments (MVMs) of the series.
These moments set tones, transformed trajectories, and drove the outcome in the ultimate analysis. I have enumerated the moments and the key player that epitomized the MVM for the Suns.
During this four minute time frame, Nash rebounded a McDyess miss, drove it in for a layup, then stole the ball from Richard Jefferson and drove around George Hill for another layup.
After a Duncan jump shot, Nash made a jump shot of his own, then drew a loose-ball foul off of McDyess and snaked around poor George Hill for yet another layup. He capped his four minute show with a 26-foot projectile from downtown!
Phew...just writing about it got me exhausted, and I can only imagine what playing through that must have been like. Not just for Nash, but for poor George Hill as well.
The output of this Nash-driven blizzard was two-fold:
1) It clearly established the tone for the series. Often in the past, the Suns have been guilty of starting slow off the blocks (even as recently as Game 1 versus Portland). Nash took it upon himself to set the gut-check levels high enough for everyone else to tune-in to it.
2) His repeated forays through and around George Hill effectively ended the series for the latter. Remember, Hill was coming off a star-like, much-hyped series against Dallas, and was expected to be the pocket-dynamo as a complement to the Spurs’ Big Three. Nash’s demoralizing display not only got Hill to back-pedal repeatedly and unsuccessfully on defense, but it also left him with absolutely no confidence on the other end of the court. Yes, he did come back later in the series to score a few, but he never turned into the potent threat that he was expected to be.
In a brief three minute period early in the second quarter, Phoenix’s garbage man off the bench, Jared Dudley, got an offensive rebound, made the layup and got fouled.
He missed the resultant FT, but Amare got the offensive board and passed it to Dudley for a layup and a foul.
He then got an offensive rebound off of Frye's missed three-pointer, which resulted in a Barbosa layup after a few passes. After two more possessions, Dudley got a pass from Dragic and drove around Duncan for a layup and, if you can believe it, got another foul!
In those dizzying three minutes, he had three made baskets, and each time, was awarded a free throw.
Dudley’s performance was instrumental because it cut an 11-point deficit down to four, and provided the ideal launching pad for the starters to get back into the game.
In fact, the Suns shot 30 percent in the first half (compared to San Antonio’s 51 percent) and were still tied at 51 at the end of the first half.
All credit for their ability to stay afloat has to be afforded to Dudley’s unbridled energy and effort; he consistently out-hustled TD, Blair, McDyess and Bonner under the rim.
Spanning the duration between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, Phoenix’s seven foot sharp-shooter hit three 3’s to keep the Suns within striking distance.
Again, the key here was that the Suns starters were struggling at the time and the team needed an offensive boost, something that Frye provided by the bucketfuls.
His first three-pointer of the third quarter got the Suns within one point, and the next one got them the lead. The last one gave the Suns a five point lead.
Besides the obvious nine-point surge offered by Frye’s shooting prowess, the Suns were very effective in spacing out the floor and the offense dictated the flow of the game consistently thereafter.
Nash was able to weave through the interior and play his prized pick-and-roll action with Amare, and J Rich started to cut through lanes and get his usual array of jumpers.
Frye’s final three-pointer in this game ensured a lead that the Suns never relinquished.
This game is already part of the Suns folklore as one of its greatest playoff shows.
Most astounding was the fact that the star-of-the-game was a bench player with season averages in the single-digits, and who was, until then, relegated to being a diffident, Nash-speller for four to eight minutes a game!
The game was on tenterhooks at the start of the fourth quarter. Phoenix had done well to endure the hometown energy-surge from San Antonio and, despite not playing too well, had hung on to being down by just one at the end of the third quarter.
Still, the crowd, the momentum, and the apparent sense of urgency were all with the Spurs as the fourth quarter began.
All of that was to change in a matter of seven minutes, as Goran "The Dragon" Dragic simply took over, in typical basketball parlance.
He scored 20 points in that time frame, and single-handedly converted a one point deficit into a 14-point lead. The outcome was a formality thereafter.
One the most breathtaking aspects of Dragic’s play was that he scored by utilizing a variety of different moves: four three-pointers, one jumper from the top of the key, a couple of floor-scorching layups, and even a gritty put-back off of a missed layup.
This was truly the Goran Dragic Show, and probably the most obvious of the series MVMs. Steve Kerr, a veteran of many such moments in his time as a teammate of MJ, Pippen, Duncan and Co, opined that this was the best playoff performance he has had the pleasure of witnessing since MJ in his prime.
Does anything else need to be said?
Steve Nash or Rocky Marciano?
After an inadvertent elbow by Duncan, Nash needed six stitches to suture up a bad cut above his right eye. He came back into the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, this time with more determination.
During his absence, the Suns had let an 11-point lead slip away, and were barely hanging on to a tie-game. "Rocky" Nash nailed a 27-footer from downtown, then pulled-up for a patented, off-balance jumper and got fouled.
He made the free throw, then drove-in fearlessly for a layup, threw-in another finger roll, and capped it off with three pin-point assists to Amare and JRich. All in all, he scored 10 points with three assists in three minutes. All with one functioning eye! Not bad, one might say!
The profound value of this moment was that it wasn’t an act of showmanship by a superstar athlete. This was a genuinely ballsy act on the part of a leader, who realized the significance of this opportunity.
His team was about to close out the dreaded Spurs and had to play well for a few minutes to ensure that. Rather than let this opportunity slip and start-off all over again (even if at home) in a tension-filled Game Five, he figured to give it his all and believe in spirit more than physical ability.
And as the final results show, spirit obviously conquered his bodily limitations.
When you have the entire opposition unanimously applauding your efforts and your resolve, you must have done something remarkably unique. And Nash was nothing but unique in the way, he literally "willed" the Suns to a victory in Game Four.