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The Most Physical Game Ever Played

By Michael Erler on May 14, 2007.

Game 3 Phoenix @ San Antonio: Spurs 108, Suns 101 (1-2)

Now that’s more like it. That vaguely resembled what I remember Spurs playoff games looking like in ’05. The Big Three was the Big Three again. Brent Barry was doing Brent Barry things again. Bruce Bowen was getting under people’s skins again. The Spurs are turning their opponents into soft, whiny crapweasels again.

Amare had plenty of time to look for signs from the bench. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For now, all is right with the world.

It didn’t start out too cheery though. The Suns ran out to an early ten point lead, we fought back to make it close, and they sprinted on another ten point lead. Raja Bell, in addition to being a punk bitch extraordinaire, has apparently added the 3-ball to his résumé as well and he connected on four early ones, thanks to our atrocious close out defense. Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire (when he was in there) were chipping in their share inside too. The only guy who wasn’t scoring was Nash.

We didn’t allow an obscene point total or anything, the Suns only had 53 at half, but we were giving them a bit too much room, not rotating to the shooters quickly enough, and they were knocking down some shots. The only reason it didn’t look worse was because S.O.F.T. (Sitting Over Foul Trouble) was incapacitated for most of the half and the little Hoser was a bit off.

Stick that up your five hole, you goofy Canuck. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

As for us, we simply couldn’t hit a jumper. Manu, Tony, Fin, Bowen, Horry… clank, brick, thud, ick, and guh. Elson hit like a 16 footer early, and Fab made one from the baseline, but that was it for the first half. We were just missing wide open shots. Consequently, it was left up to Parker and Duncan to keep us in the game for most of the first half. We hit ‘em with a 16-5 run late to go into half with a two point lead, thanks mainly to some Tony heroics inside and a decent stretch of defense. And Finley hitting our first three, after an oh-for-seven start behind the line, didn’t hurt either.

Besides our lousy shooting, the biggest question of the first half was whither Manu Ginobili? It was pretty simple, really – dude’s shot is off. And Pop refused to run any plays for him while Tim and Tony were out there. Basically, he got treated like Brent Barry. Then, our scorers checked out, Fab and Jacque checked in, and – voila! – coach ran a back cut play for Manu, through Oberto. Two possessions later the two of them created another lay-up off a backdoor cut. Amazing! It’s almost as if Ginobili can execute plays that don’t involve him standing behind the three point line. Who’d have thunk it?

The 3rd quarter got pretty chippy. First, Nash got a little too close to Bowen on the wing, when Bruce was clearly not looking to drive or shoot, and lil’ Stevie got a knee to the “inner thigh” (perhaps in the nardular region) and the Suns bench went apoplectic, even though the zebras did blow a foul on the play. Four minutes into the period they had fashioned a four point lead for themselves and lo and behold, the first sub off Pop’s bench was Bones, who had sat the whole game up to that point. Barry immediately hit a deep three, then dished to Bruce for another. We wouldn’t trail for the rest of the game. Bowen hit a 3rd bomb shortly after, right in front of a Suns bench screaming at him, appropriate since no on court defender was anywhere in his vicinity.

Time to up his dosage. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Still, the Suns crawled back into it. Two Ginobili forays toward the hoop resulted in blocks and fast break points the other way for Phoenix. We had a one point lead when he tried to spin his way into the lane, only to be raked in the eye by Shawn Marion. Gino was crumpled in a heap out of bounds and a foul wasn’t even called. Once he got up, it became quickly apparent that he hadn’t flopped, hoping for a call. His eye was puffy and swelling fast. He had a cut and a bruise right below it and it looked awful.

The Suns made Manu angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Gonzo quickly hit a runner, fooled Bell into fouling him on a three and nailed all those freebies, and then hit a three in his mug. Just like that an 8-0 personal run, with Tim and Tony on the bench no less, and the Spurs had a nine point cushion going into the fourth and the fans were into it.

The Suns have just done what can not be undone. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The 4th quarter was mainly The Tim Duncan show (he’s very, very good) and we got a couple of timely bombs from Horry and Fin for good measure as well. The Suns never got closer than six the rest of the way. They scored 29 in the final quarter, but Stoudemire, Marion and Nash combined for 27 of those. We never did let Bell get another shot off and took Barbosa and Diaw out of the game as well. The Suns finished with the same point total that they blew us out with in Game 2, and I suspect they’ll be around that number the rest of the way. We just picked up our offense, which had become far too one dimensional in that second game. We’re not going to beat these guys scoring 81 points.

So what now? After three games, what have we learned?

1. It’s time for an eight man rotation. – Neither Elson or Vaughn are giving the team anything. Let Barry or Manu run backup point. It’s not like the Suns are playing full court, pressuring defense. Taking Vaughn out of the rotation would be a way to get Bones more run without squeezing Manu or Finley’s minutes.

2. Elson has been a complete disaster in these playoffs. He had three turnovers in eight minutes and wasn’t providing much resistance in his own end either. We should just start Horry at this point, give Fab more minutes, and maybe give Bonner a look for six or eight minutes. Maybe he can hit a couple bombs if nobody pays attention to him.

3. Alright, alright, tinyball worked. We were +20 playing small in Game 3. But 15 of those 20 were with Duncan, and that’s a pretty big key. I guess if there’s one team it can work against, it’s the Suns, since they don’t rebound. And Stoudemire was on the bench for most of it. Just don’t run it against the Jazz or the Pistons, ok?

4. Let Tony guard Nash. TP and Manu did a good job of shutting down Nash in the first half. In the second half Bowen had him most of the way and he started scoring again. Plus Marion went off against Finley. Let’s just play it straight here. Not only is Bruce struggling on Nash, but he might be suspended for Game 4 thanks to that knee.

5. It’s okay to run pl
ays for Manu. If he can score when we run actual plays for him when he’s the only guy out there and the Suns know it’s coming, then he can score with Tim and Tony out there. Don’t just use him as a stand still shooter when he’s on the court with him. Run wing pick and rolls with Timmy, run the curls, run the backdoor cuts. These plays have worked all season and they’ll work now.

I’m not sure how the Suns will play Tim this game. I think they might have seen enough of him abusing Kurt Thomas over and over again. And despite the added intention, both Manu and Tony had an easier time getting to the cup at home than in Phoenix. Maybe they’ll switch it up and put Bell on Tony and Marion on Manu. All the more reason for us to run combination plays, move the ball, and get that defense scrambling and switching.

I think we’re okay here. They WILL NOT hit nine threes on us again. I expect that to be the core of our defensive focus between games 3 and 4. As long as we take care of the ball and give ourselves a chance to score every possession (only 3 turnovers in the second half, none in the fourth) and rebound the ball, I think we send this to Phoenix 3-1. We’ve gotten Ginobili going and survived a game where they made more bombs than we did. I expect we’ll get a lot of good looks in this one with more of an emphasis by the Suns in closing off the lane and helping out on Tim.

Timmy can blink Kurt Thomas out of existance with a mere thought. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

3 Stars

3. Tony Parker – Locked down first Nash and then Barbosa in his own end and blended in well with the flow of the game. He was aggressive when we needed him to score and moved to the background when Manu and the three point shooters had it going in the second half.

2. Manu Ginobili – Had three steals and was responsible for two other turnovers in his own end and ran the pick-and-roll well on offense. Slowly, but surely, Pop will give him more responsibility as these games go on. If he gets his 3 point shot going, this series is fucking over.

1. Tim Duncan – He’s a monster right now. This is like ’03 Duncan. Absolutely unstoppable. He’s making the MVP voters look sillier by the day.

[Postscript: They just announced Bowen won’t be suspended. Phew.]

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  1. Anonymous May 14, 2007

    Watching the Western Conference semifinals without a Dallas presence is positively painful for me.

    Well, I guess there is a Dallas presence if you want to include Don Nelson, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas. Good thing that Josh Powell is riding the bench with the Warriors.

    But what is painfully obvious to me is the reason those four teams are playing and the Mavericks are not.

    Phoenix, Golden State, SA and Utah, the teams with the four best point guards in the West, remain standing. The rest have fallen.

  2. Michael May 14, 2007

    Ooh. I like this. You can say the same in the East with NJ, Det, and Chi too. Plus Cleveland really took off when they put Hughes at point.


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