For Steve's Sake: Usual Suspects Will Decide Spurs-Suns Rematch

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 3, 2010

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 24:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns in action against the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. The Blazers defeated the Suns 96-97. 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 Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The last time Phoenix beat San Antonio, Tim Duncan watched the series in street clothes.

Steve Nash has never played on a team that could beat the Spurs.

The Suns believe. They swear. They promise. They insist.

This time, it's different.

This will be the year, players say, that the whipping boy and punching bag becomes the abuser.

The Suns will repeat the above sentences until they convince themselves the torture will end, until they accept it as the truth.

A return of the familiar verity, then, would smash them like a cement truck. Steve Nash should prefer a hip check into the scorer's table to a body slam on asphalt.

A Game One victory for the Spurs will decide the series, just as it did in 2005, 2007, and 2008. The Suns could not recover from their collapses in those contests, and they won't rally from another pratfall.

The Suns have this list. It contains all the reasons they think the past means nothing.

Goran Dragic. Robin Lopez. Jason Richardson. Channing Frye. Alvin Gentry instead of Mike D'Antoni.

Forget all of those names.

Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire still captain the Suns' ship.

The Spurs still lean on Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker to do the heavy lifting in crunch time.

Role players will not alter the complexion of this one-sided rivalry.

The Suns do all the hating and complaining. The Spurs take care of the winning part.

Not much has changed since 2005. The Suns remain best when opponents allow them to turn games into track meets. They live on the run.

The Spurs play salty and stingy defense, preferring to muck up matches and mutilate the opponent's offense. They did both in dispatching a better team than the Suns, with more on the line.

The Mavs boasted more weapons and played above average defense in stretches.

The five stars who defined Spurs-Suns postseason meetings in the previous decade will dictate this one.

One moment from the double-overtime opener in 2008 tells the Suns' sob story.

Amare Stoudemire found himself wide open from 20 feet. That jumper would have sealed the game and maybe turned the series in Phoenix' favor.

Instead, Stoudemire bowled over Kurt Thomas, who had been parked in the paint since the middle ages, and collected his sixth foul.

Moments later, Duncan swished his lone three-point field goal of the season to force a second session of extra minutes.

The Suns squandered a 16-point lead in that crushing defeat. Somehow, they managed to lose a game they dominated.

In Game Two, the Suns blew a 14-point lead.

Flashback to 2005: The Suns allowed a 20-point advantage to evaporate in that series opener, too.

The Phoenix supporting casts received extreme makeovers. Kurt Thomas gave way to Shaquille O'Neal, Lopez, and now Frye.

Dragic's emergence as an effective two-way reserve point guard allowed Leandro Barbosa to come off the bench as a two.

The Brazlian Blur never did learn how to run an offense.

Lopez and Louis Amundson provide frenetic defensive energy and rebounding.

The marquee names haven’t changed.

Stoudemire will confound the Spurs defense again. He averaged 37 points per game in the 2005 conference finals and close to that in 2007.

His monster performances have always played into Gregg Popovich’s game plan.

He let Stoudemire go nuts in those series and used his defensive aces to fluster key shooters and Barbosa.

Duncan guarded Quentin Richardson in 2005’s opener.

That allowed Bruce Bowen to hold Shawn Marion to three points in the game that set the tone for future clashes.

The final score sent the Suns into a depressive funk. The Spurs used D’Antoni’s fast-break plan against him and won 121-114.

“They run more than you think,” he said of the Spurs a few years ago. “They killed us with their small lineup.”

Popovich will instruct his players to take advantage of run-out opportunities. He can also decide which new Sun he wants to suffocate.

Duncan could spend some time on Richardson or Frye tonight.

A Don Nelson pupil would try such a thing.

This will be about whether Stoudemire can conquer his late-game idiocy and outduel Duncan in the clutch.

Gentry’s ability to hide Nash on the defensive end will matter more than ever. With Bowen retired and Keith Bogans unlikely to get significant burn, Nash can no longer cover a one-dimensional spot up shooter.

He’ll have to guard someone quicker and stronger, someone who will mercilessly leave him in the dust en route to the rim.

Good luck, Steve, taking six charges on Parker, Ginobili, or Jefferson.

The Suns cannot hide from history, even as they pledge to reverse it.

They dropped two consecutive series in which they enjoyed a better regular-season record and home court advantage. They stumbled to a 0-3 start in the last postseason battle.

In each of those years, the Phoenix front office tweaked the roster in hopes it could finally topple the evil silver and black empire.

Management hired Raja Bell to be the Ginobili stopper after the conference finals ouster.

Ginobili scored 33 points in the Spurs’ series clincher in 2007.

When Joe Johnson bolted for Atlanta after what he considered an insulting contract offer, D’Antoni made sure he netted Boris Diaw in a sign-and-trade deal with the Hawks.

Diaw curled up in the fetal position in crunch time of the Spurs’ series clincher in 2008. In the fourth quarter of a tight Game Five, he threw a pass to a fan in the first row when his team needed just one bucket to retake the lead.

The ill-advised decision to trade for Shaquille O’Neal deserves its own novel.

The Suns lost to the Spurs days before the Super Bowl in February 2008. Jacque Vaughn started in place of an injured Parker.

GM Steve Kerr was so disgusted with the 84-81 defeat that he ripped apart the roster with the best record in the Western Conference.

Out with the versatile Marion. In with the Shaqtus.

Each time the Suns reloaded, the Spurs found a new way to beat them.

Instead of limiting Marion’s shots, Popovich ordered his fringe rotation players to intentionally foul O’Neal.

The “Hack-a-Shaq” decreased Stoudemire and Nash’s touches and slowed the tempo to a crawl.

What comes next will prove the most compelling component of the next chapter.

Familiar faces will decide how it ends.

Nash and Stoudemire promise. They insist.

This time, it’s different.

They should know better.

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