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Toughening the Suns Up, One Bloody Nose at a Time

By Michael Erler on May 8, 2007.

Game 1 San Antonio @ Phoenix: Spurs 111, Suns 106 (0-1)

Well, that went about the way one would expect. We had, by far, our best offensive game of the playoffs and probably our worst defensive game. Tony sliced ‘em up for 32 points and Tim had 33 against the pansy division that is the Suns’ interior defense. I don’t want to make it sound like it was a boring game, because obviously with that score line that wasn’t the case, it’s just that… well, NOTHING happened the whole time that was surprising – outside of Nash’s busted nose, that is.

Imagine what he’d look like if he played defense. (AP Photo/Matt York)

I’ve heard and read in a few quarters that it was a very fortunate break for us that Nash had to miss about :50 of game action there at the end, and on the surface missing a two-time MVP is a big deal, but let’s calm down a bit here, okay? The dude was a -12 for the game, compared to Barbosa’s +4, even more impressive for the latter and damning for the former, considering how much of their playing time overlapped. We fully deserved our win. We shot a higher percentage, we made more threes, we outrebounded them by 14, and at no point in the second half did it look like we weren’t in control.

To get back to that 2005 theme that we had with the Nuggets, people have to remember that just because we dusted the Suns in five games in the WCF two years ago; it wasn’t like we blew them out or anything. We won the three games at Phoenix by a combined 16 points. We trailed at half time of two of those three games and trailed at the end of three quarters in two of the three as well (oddly enough, not the same two). Our team just has a habit of enforcing its will, especially in the fourth quarters, and mainly due to Tim Duncan, and the Suns just cannot come up with an answer.

Lather, rinse, repeat. (AP Photo/Jason Babyak)

Not to say that whiny D’Antoni won’t give it the ‘ol college try anyway. I fear that the +/- splits were so drastic after Game 1 that even he could not ignore the mountain of evidence against his smallball gimmickry.

Wanna read something shocking? When the Suns played “big” with Shawn Marion as the SF, they were a +11. Meaning -15 when he was PF.

Think about that.

I don’t think it matters all that much if it’s KThomas is in there as the starting center or it’s Diaw, as long as it’s one of them and they put Amare at PF and Marion at SF. It might hurt their offense a bit, but they would guard us a lot better and rebound better when they’re big.

To me, the Suns problem is their insistence on playing Raja Bell, with all his “Manu-stopper” nonsense. Marion was already the best guy they had to guard Manu. With Bell on the floor there is really no one for Marion to guard, at least not commiserate to his skill level. To put it simply, he’s too good/talented to waste on the likes of Oberto/Elson/Horry/Bowen and not nearly physically equipped to handle Tim or Tony. Manu and Finley are the only guys it makes sense for him to guard, and unless Pop does D’Antoni a favor and goes small, we’re not going to play Manu and Finley together an awful lot.

The Suns should play a Diaw/Thomas-Stoudemire-Marion-Barbosa-Nash line-up as much as possible if they want to beat us. Use Diaw as your 6th man to rest Thomas and I would even go so far as putting him at SF for those four, five minutes a game that Marion sits. Make Bell the 7th man and use him to spell Barbosa or Nash, with LB sliding over to point.

Don’t ever play James Jones, ever and don’t use Bell as the SF, ever.

If I’m coaching Phoenix, the defensive match-ups would be simple. When Elson or Oberto is in the game, I’d have Kurt Thomas in there and guarding Timmy and Amare guarding the center. When Horry is in there I’d bring in Diaw to match him and have Stoudemire try his hand at The Big Fundamental, with plenty of help.

I’d put Marion on Manu/Finley and Bell on Parker if I felt compelled to still play Bell a lot, but more likely I’d sit him and go with Barbosa.

Fortunately for us, I don’t think D’Antoni’s about to go to the drastic step of cutting Bell’s minutes from 44 to 20 in one game, the dip will probably be more gradual, and I think it will be too late for the Suns before he figures it out.

If Yosemite Sam ever coached an NBA team…I say, I say, I say, that there call was horseshit! ” (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Anyway, fear not friends, because I’ve already thought about the proper counter-adjustment for the Suns big line-up. And no, it’s not going small to force them to go small (that would be an ironic twist though).

After just one game – a game we came out victorious no less – I admit to flip-flopping my position on wanting Bruce Bowen guarding Nash. Not only did Bruce do a fairly crappy job of it in the opener, allowing Nash lay-up after Nash lay-up, (I understand we’re trying to turn the hoser into a scorer, but I was thinking the points would be a little harder to come by – say 14 foot turnaround fadeaways) but as long as Bowen’s on the floor Nash gets to rest on defense.

Screw that. I say we cut down Bowen’s minutes, play Manu and Fin together as much as we can, make Nash guard somebody, take advantage of him there and drain him physically as much as we can and force the Suns to play Bell and Marion together. My reasoning is simple:

A) I think we can beat the Suns even if they play big.
B) I think we can beat the Suns even if they play a Nash-Barbosa backcourt.
C) But I don’t think we can beat them if they do A&B together.

So the more we play Fin and Manu, the more we can avoid the potentially radioactive light bulb flicking on in D’Antoni’s head.

The Suns are really making that commitment to improve on defense. Their guys are actually inside the three point line now. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Besides, if they’re going to make a commitment to be better defensively, then we have to do whatever we must to be better offensively. And that means Mr. Potatohead riding some pine.

All that being said; from our perspective, I think we should stay big; but perhaps play Bowen less. If we play Manu and Finley together, then we make Nash have to guard somebody and drain him defensively. I don’t think Bowen did that good of a job on Nash anyway and we can still neutralize Marion on offense just by getting back in transition and taking away his threes. Also, playing Manu and Finley together will force the Suns to play both Bell and Marion, which means they can’t stay big AND play a Barbosa-Nash backcourt, which I think is the worst ma
tch-up nightmare for us. Plus, I think Phoenix will figure out that that Bell should be the one to guard Tony with Marion on Manu within the next game or so, and playing Fin and Manu together would nudge them away from that idea too.

Of course, after writing all this strategic gobbley-gook I realize that it will take almost a perfect game for us to win tonight because the Commish will remind the zebras that it’s in the league’s best interest to have the best remaining playoff series not be a sweep. I hope I am wrong but I’m expecting the lion’s share of the calls to go the Suns way tonight and would not at all be surprised to see Timmy out of the game early with foul trouble. Maybe a certain big-nosed Argentine can make up some of the slack.

The game’s not official until someone pops Manu in the head. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Your 3 Stars

3. Steve Nash – Yeah, yeah, -12, I know, I’m a hypocrite. What can I say; he’s still the guy who makes it all go. For the record, I still think we would’ve won the game even if he never went down.
2. Tony Parker – I’ve never seen his jumper be better. He can score at will against these guys if it’s falling. The defense and the floor game (6 TOs, guh!) could’ve been better.
1. Tim Duncan – What? Amare couldn’t guard him? I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

PS: Jacque Vaughn couldn’t have been any worse in Game 1, it’s not possible. He singlehandedly tried to keep the Suns in the game in his ten minutes on the floor. Four turnovers!?! That’s ridiculous. If he does that again we might have to use Manu or Brent as the backup PG.

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  1. Dingo May 9, 2007

    You called it, Michael. Did you read D’Antoni’s mind, or did he read your post?!

    I think we’re going to start Kurt Thomas,” Amare Stoudemire said.

    That would seem to make sense.

    The professed reason that Phoenix acquired Thomas from the New York Knicks in 2005 was to give the Suns a rugged defender to go against the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, who dominated inside for 33 points and 16 rebounds in Game 1.

    “Kurt is a good defender,” said San Antonio’s Tony Parker, who scored 32 on Sunday, “so I guess they want to slow down Timmy. I thought he did a pretty good job on Timmy last night, and I can see why coach D’Antoni wants to do that.”

  2. Anonymous May 10, 2007

    The Spurs are the most flagrant fouling team of the modern era. Steve Nash’s bashed in head is just the latest example. David Stern is to the Spurs what Cheney is to Haliburton.

  3. Anonymous May 14, 2007

    I smell a Nuggets or Mavs fan in here. I say Nuggets, for the sheer hypocrisy of commenting on anyone else’s potential for flagrant fouling. Can Carmelo Anthony play a series without pulling some thug tactic on a player half his size?

    Let me know when it happens. That will definitely be the day to buy a Lotto ticket.


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