Phoenix Suns Sweep Men in Black Over Weekend. Looks Like They'll Face Fearsome Los Angeles Lakers in Western Conference Finals
|Steve Nash looks better here, before his right eye swelled nearly shut after a collision with Tim Duncan's elbow. Nash still took over the game in the fourth quarter.|
Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry!
The retired San Antonio center and NBA legend then escorted the coach who's molded the Suns into a contender this season off the court, grinning ear-to-ear with his left arm around Gentry's shoulders.
Finally, sweet revenge against San Antonio, a team who'd knocked Phoenix out of the playoffs four consecutive times -- including once when the Suns arguably would have gone on to win the league championship that the Spurs claimed that season (thanks go to a Robert Horry cheap shot on Nash for that one).
We never thought we'd see the day that the Suns would sweep the Men in Black, but it happened yesterday in game four of the teams' Western Conference Semi-Finals matchup at AT&T Center.
Largely on the fourth-quarter heroics of two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash -- his right eye swollen nearly shut from an earlier-in-the-game accidental collision with Spurs power forward Tim Duncan's left elbow -- the Suns beat San Antonio 107-101 to take the series 4-0.
Indeed, it was a great weekend for the Suns, as they came from behind to pulverize the Spurs 110-96 on Friday night on the sharp-shooting of Nash's backup, Goran "The Dragon" Dragic.
The Suns overcame an 18-point Spurs lead on the first night of the weekend, but the game was back-and-forth close until Dragic, looking more like Michael Jordan than the streaky second-year NBA player he's been this season, scored 26 points in under 14 minutes. It was a feat that had never before been accomplished in a league playoff game.
And Dragic, all of about 6-4, did it both in the paint, on magical layups, and from behind the three-point line, where he hit five of five.
Not only did the Suns get incredible minutes out of The Dragon on Friday night, but out of all of the team's second unit in both games -- especially on defense. The combination of Dragic, forwards Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson and center Channing Frye pretty much shut down the Spurs in the final minutes of each contest.
Starter Grant Hill was his usual bearish self on D, as well. At 37, Hill had the formidible task of guarding superstar Spurs swingman Manu Ginobli, and he held the Argentinian to two of 11 from the field Sunday and 15 points.
The Spurs again pushed ahead early in Sunday's game, this time to a nine-point lead, before the Suns started to get it together. Phoenix led by 11 in the second half, only to see a Tony Parker-charged Spurs unit tie the game 77-77 with 9 1/2 minutes left in the final period. The Spurs' point guard's game was hampered Friday when he injured his shoulder in an on-court collision, but he came back with a fury Sunday to lead all San Antonio scorers with 22 points.
Then, came the Steve Nash show.
Stitched/bandaged eye-socket and all, the heroic 36-year-old took his team on his back, as he's done so may times before, first hitting a three with nine minutes left.
Though the Spurs didn't go down easy, that shot swung the momentum back to Phoenix for the rest of the contest. Other Suns got in the act in the last minutes -- particularly Amar'e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson, and Jared Dudley -- but it was Nash's deft quarterbacking and offensive prowess that sealed the victory.
Nash followed the trey with three floating twos from just past the charity stripe, and he made two incredible passes to Dudley and Stoudemire for scores in the paint. The two assists gave him nine for the game, and he finished with 20 points.
Stoudemire came back from a seven-point night on Friday to lead all scorers Sunday with 29 points. He and Nash combined for 22 points in the fourth quarter yesterday. Jared Dudley, who made so many hustle plays in both games that we lost count, put in 16 points yesterday. And Richardson didn't have the scoring explosion Sunday that we've come to expect from him in the playoffs -- he had 11 points -- but he grabbed eight rebounds to lead the team.
San Antonio kept threatening in the closing minutes on Sunday, and Planet Orange was on pins and needles. Phoenix GM Steve Kerr was shown on TNT rejoicing in the stands over a shot-clock-beating three by Richardson -- and then with his hands over his face because of a subsequent turnover that led to an easy basket by the Spurs.
But Kerr -- the former Jordan teammate in Chicago and San Antonio Spur who put together this team and had the good sense to put Gentry in charge of it -- was all smiles in the end. We're not sure if he got a hug from Robinson, too, but he deserved one.
And we've got to give it to the Spurs in the end. They were a class act, with Coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker all praising the Suns to the rafters and wishing them well in the Western Conference Finals.
But it was Ginobli, himself playing with a broken nose from his team's victorious first-round series over the Dallas Mavericks, who summed up why the Suns dominated his Spurs. And these were words we thought (before the All-Star break this season) that we'd never hear about the Phoenix Suns -- from anybody.
"I've got to give them credit," he said. "They played very good defense."
What you've read so far is the good news. Now for the bad.
The Suns -- unless the Utah Jazz manage to come back from a 3-0 deficit (and no NBA team in history ever has in the playoffs) -- will face the Los Angeles Lakers starting next weekend in the conference finals. The day and time of the first game is to be announced once the Lakers-Utah series is concluded. But the Lakers will have home-court advantage, since they were the top seed in the West.
And the Lakers are loaded with talent. Kobe Bryant, of course, but more ominously for the Suns, Coach Phil Jackson has a very tall team in Andrew Bynum, Pao Gasol (both 7 feet) and Lamar Odum (6-11). Which begs a question: Will Phoenix's only 7-footer, Robin Lopez, return for the next series. Without Lopez, Stoudemire (6-10) will be awfully lonely out there. Channing Frye is 6-11, but he's not physical enough to manage the Lakers' big men. There's also 6-11 Jarron Collins, but he's been unimpressive as the Suns' starting center in Lopez's absence.
All GM Kerr and Coach Gentry have said about Lopez's return this season is -- maybe.
But, hey, we're not counting the Suns out -- even if the wild-haired Lopez remains on the injured list -- because after the San Antonio sweep, they may just be a team of destiny.