A Ho Hum Game One
Game One vs. Phoenix: Spurs 117, Suns 115 (2OT)
So… what’d I miss?
Just kidding, I watched the game. I watched it while alternately cussing, screaming, clapping, yelling, giving myself high fives, doing Tiger fist pumps, and at the end bellowing out “JI-NOH-BLEEE” like a more maniacal version of the Chuckster.
“I SAID MA-NOOO JI-NOH-BLEEE!!!!”
Jesus on a boat what a game. If that’s not our biggest playoff robbery since Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle, it has to be in the top three, along with the “Robert Horry Game” at Detroit in 2005 and the “Brent Barry Game” vs. Sacramento in 2006, when he hit that three at the end of regulation that bounced straight up in the air off the rim before gently falling back through to send it to overtime.
For me though, this will always Always ALWAYS be redemption for Game 7 vs. the Mavs in ’06. This ending is like how that one should have ended, in an alternate universe. You had the same elements at play: A home playoff game against a fearsome, trash-talking opponent, a big early deficit, Duncan and nobody else showing up for the first half, a furious second-half comeback where a Michael Finley three finally tied the game very late in regulation.
Of course you know how the original ended. Manu made a really dumb defensive play and then couldn’t make up for it with a last second lay-up attempt. This time around Hulk came up with a big play in his own end, stripping Stoudemire when the Suns were up five in the first overtime with 1:30 or so to go. While the turnover didn’t lead to any Spurs points, it did give S.T.A.T. his fifth foul, and it would prove to be huge after he barreled into Kurt Thomas for a charge on the next trip down.
And yes, this time the last second lay-up went in. That was kind of noteworthy as well.
These are all mere snapshots of a 58 minute classic though, and it would be impossible for me to encapsulate everything that went on in one of the most thrilling, unbelievable, miraculous Spurs wins we’ll ever see. I can’t do it, I’m not good enough of a writer. I don’t know if anyone can do it.
Here, anyway, is the good ol’ college try.
The way the game started and the way my day started were similarly frustrating. After going to mom’s house just so I could live blog the thing for PtR, I had to sit there angry, annoyed and frustrated after realizing her internet was out and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. And my cell phone was out of juice. Of course it was. I could watch the game, I just couldn’t share the experience with anyone. What I would’ve shared, if I could, would’ve been a lot of four letter words aimed at Pop, Tony, and yes, Manu. We had so many stupid, unforced turnovers, the guards couldn’t make a shot, even when taking it to the basket, and the defense was practically non-existent. The only positives were the guys making some free throws early to keep the game close, Duncan hitting a few shots in the latter part of the quarter and Phoenix missing some open ones. Also, Shaq was in immediate foul trouble after elbowing Fab on offense and flopping against Timmy inside the semi-circle on the other end. Duncan weighs like 60 lbs less than him and pulled up enough to barely touch him, but yeah, I’m sure the force of the “collision” was enough to send Shaq sprawling. Uh-huh. 24-20 Suns after one, and now Timmy had to go to the bench to rest.
The 2nd quarter got off to an even more miserable start. Udoka came into the game and bricked three of four shots, and a couple of them weren’t in the flow of the offense at all. Manu still couldn’t buy one and Tony was letting Barbosa score all over the place. The Suns got off 19-7 (with Barbosa scoring 10) in the first 7:30 of the quarter and we were at our nadir, 43-27. Again, offense looked to be the biggest culprit for the Spurs. The only bright spot in that stretch was seeing O’Neal pick up his 3rd foul, mere seconds after checking in after bulldozing Marbles out of the way on a sideline out of bounds play.
That led to this sequence on the bench after a time out that the cameras caught:
O’Neal sitting next to Gordan Giricek, asked him, “That’s a foul?”
Giricek without hesitation nodded affirmative, and then pantomimed what O’Neal did to get whistled.
O’Neal responded by telling him, “Get the fuck outta here.”
Giricek had a look on his face like, Well next time ask one of your flunkies then, you big dope.
I love European players. They don’t sugarcoat anything and they retain their objectivity. Like last year, when Deron Williams got so incensed because AK-47 and Mehmet Okur acknowledged that the Spurs were the better team and were likely to win their series. Giricek is now my favorite Sun, by the way.
Anyway, the last four minutes the Spurs managed to crawl back into the game a little bit, thanks to, in Mike D’Antoni’s words, the “Hack-a-Skinny” maneuver. Hey, whatever works. We also got a couple of lay-ups from Antoine, a couple more hoops for Goat Puff (who had 20 at half) and a couple of bad offensive plays from Boris Diaw. Still, another 24-20 quarter for Phoenix, we’re down eight points at half and Manu is MIA. Not good.
The third quarter brought us some good and some bad. It seemed like we scratched and clawed and made real progress there, but all told we only made up two points on the deficit. By this point Snaq was so conscious of being called for his fourth foul that he really didn’t protect the basket at all. Amare wasn’t much better. Finley finally hit his first two shots and then Tony and Manu started going to the basket with impunity and all of a sudden, after struggling with offense the whole game, we had scored 15 points in the first five minutes. We weren’t any closer though because Stoudemire was scoring at will on the other end, thanks to numerous defensive lapses by Fin and our center (first Fab, then Thomas). Plus, the guy is just really frickin’ good. You have to give Amare credit for constantly working on his game. Every year it seems he can do more than before, shoot from further out, and now he’s a terror from the stripe and strong enough to finish even after being fouled, far and away leading the league in and-1s.
(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
Despite our backcourt regaining their scoring touch we couldn’t trim the Suns’ lead any because their role
players, Diaw, Barbosa and Giricek combined for nine straight points at the end of the quarter. What really turned the tide in the quarter though was Nash drawing a charge on back to back Spurs possessions from Manu and Tim. Both were dodgy calls but they totally turned the momentum of the game just as the fans were getting back in it and making noise.
The fourth was where the drama and the seesaw nature of the game came to the forefront. BLOG got abused by Bell on a back cut fake but then got it back with a smart and-1 against Diaw. Phoenix got it back up to nine and threatened to run away with it, but then came the play that I think really changed the game – B.O. shot a three and it went straight up like Barry’s did in ’06 vs. the Kings, but this one didn’t quite appear to have the right trajectory to fall right through. Shaq grabbed it high above the rim anyway though and got called for the ultra-rare three point goaltend. That was big. The Suns never got it above six the rest of the way.
From there Parker and Duncan really carried us for a good stretch and we got a few lay-ups against the Suns soft underbelly, Snaq, who was afraid to be too physical playing with five fouls. We tried the Hack-a-Shaq on him (though it was more like Hug-a-Shaq) and it worked out, as he missed two (three really) FTs and D’Antoni had to take him out for a few minutes. After the game The Big Humble mumbled “Mathematics has never worked against me.” I don’t even know who should be more offended by that comment, Shaq’s grammar teachers in elementary school or his priests for the outright lie. Then again, Shaq has never had a strong grasp of mathematics in the first place, once famously telling a reporter that his game is as impossible to figure as the Pythagorean Theorem.” Because you know, A squared + B squared = C squared is like, totally complicated. Anywho, Desperate Jumpshot really had a strong fourth quarter actually and had a couple of dimes as well. The first, to Fab got us within three and the second, to Fin, tied the game for the first time, at 84.
Duncan and Amare traded a couple baskets but Stoudemire was strong enough to get a three point play out of his, despite being raked hard by The Hooligan. With a 91-90 lead came another big play, when Manu drove it and was blocked by The Big Appetite. O’Neal got a lot of arm and face, but again, it’s tough for Gino to get a call driving against these guys (as it will be against LA as well). When Barbosa scored at the other end we were down three with 1:10 left. We had three shots at the next possession but all were bricks and again it looked bleak. However we had our best defensive stand of the game and forced a shot clock violation on the Suns penultimate possession of regulation and we had one last chance with the ball to send it an extra period.
Finley hit it, from the wing, off a Plainview pass, and really he wasn’t that open. Maybe that’s why he made it, who knows? Amare missed the rotation there, for sure, and D’Antoni was mighty steamed about it afterward. We still had to stop them the last play just to get to OT, and we did, thanks to a good close out by Tony on Barbosa forcing him into an awkward floater. Bowen had a good rotation there as well. Overtime here we come. It was close though. Amare rebounded Barbosa’s miss and put it back in on a turnaround baseline jumper, but a half second after the buzzer.
In the extra period we were again quickly behind the eight ball, falling into a five point hole thanks to a trio of Nash jumpers (including a three) and two from S.T.A.T., with the little hoser assisting. The little shit was incredible in extra time. Manu’s second steal of the game led to another clanked three pointer, but Bank was Johnny on the spot and managed to get the offensive board and put it in. Then he and Amare traded lay-ups to keep the margin at three. After that they traded turnovers, with Manu again stripping Stoudamire and he in turn stripping Timmy with just 29 seconds to go. The Suns definitely had the game in the bag now, right?
No. For some reason, maybe they thought they’d catch us off guard, but the Suns ran their play a little quickly, sooner than they had to. Amare got the ball with like eight seconds left on the shot clock and instead of raising up for the clinching jumper he decided to pump fake and go for the lay-up. Kurt Thomas made a huuuuge play and rotated over in time to draw the charge for Stoudamire’s third turnover of the extra period, and even more importantly, his sixth foul. That set up one last chance for us, down three again, and naturally we ran the Manu curl play where he drives left and sucks in the whole defense before kicking it out for a three in the corner. Honestly I don’t know why defenses don’t just leave him the hell alone and let him dunk the damn ball to keep the lead. How stupid are people?
But this time of course Manu didn’t kick it to the corner. No, instead he tossed it back to Fran, even though he also had 36 in the corner. Duncan was wide, wide, wider than Shaq’s ass, wide open. He thought about passing it to Tony for a microsecond I think but decided to let it fly himself. Incredibly, unbelievably, miraculously, the ball rattled in. And Timmy the boring stoic sure as shit showed some emotion, you best believe that. Still there were three seconds left but the Suns for some reason gave it to Diaw (D’Antoni said he had a mismatch on him) and he traveled before launching an awkward turnaround J from the baseline that was short and to the right. Double OT, sans S.T.A.T.
Now I truly thought we’d pull this off.
Again it was back and forth. Manu had a lay-up and a Nash jumper tied it. Manu missed a shot and then a follow but Tim made it on the third try to score his 39th and 40th points. Diaw tied it with a driving lay-up off a nice pump fake. Tony had a nice driving lay in with help from a Thomas screen to give us the lead, but when they tried that play again Kurt was called for his sixth. On the ensuing possession Tony smacked Nash on the elbow for his sixth and luckily Stevie only made two out of three FTs to keep it tied. Manu made another runner and O’Neal slammed home a rebound to tie it again at 112 with 1:21 to go. We just couldn’t put together any kind of run on them. The Exception squirted through for yet another lay-up to put us in front and we were fortunate when Nash missed an open three. I swear I think everything he puts up is going in. Manu missed the three that would’ve iced it and then we got really lucky when Diaw had a lay-up squirt out on him. Really, Duncan could’ve been called for a foul on it but wasn’t. He sure made more contact on that play than that one jumper of Amare’s that he blocked in the third quarter but was called for a foul for. The bottom line is that we had the lead and the ball with under 24 seconds, so the Suns would have to foul.
We brought the right guy in I thought with White Jesus, but he clanked his first freebie. He made the second and one would think that would be the game. Surely a team couldn’t hit three desperation threes in one game, could they?
You betcha they could. The Spurs didn’t foul and the Suns took advantage, with Nash hitting a ridiculous fadeaway corner three to tie the game at 115 with 15 seconds left. But since the Suns had wasted all their timeouts discussing strategy previously in the period they were all out of them. Pop knew this and wasn’t about to do the Suns any favors setting up their defense and personnel. He put the game in Plainview’s hands and well you know how that goes. He drank Nash’s milkshake. HE DRANK IT UP!!!
Blame D’Antoni. I can’t believe he let him go one-on-one with Raja Bell. Maybe he couldn’t communicate on the sidelines. Maybe he was too lost in the moment and became a spectator. If I’m the coach there I’m screaming at my guys to trap him and get the ball out of his hands, regardless of who I have to leave. Gino passing it to anyone is a better option for Phoenix than him taking it one-on-one in a situation where you can’t foul and you have no shotblockers. Manu of course played it perfectly, taking the clock down to the end, bumping Bell a little with his right shoulder to gain separation, then banking it home with 1.8 seconds left. He had good lift with his legs on it, which was surprising considering that he’d played 45 minutes and he’d already gone to the well a few times in the period. Nash missed a 80 foot heave at the buzzer and that was it, we won a game where we led at most for three minutes total out of 58 and never by more than three points.
Just fucking crazy. If we have to do this every time we’re done for.
What I Liked:
- Our heart, our passion, our resiliency. The Spurs fought, they clawed, and they gave everything they had in this one. They didn’t give up on themselves, they trusted each other, and they trusted Pop. Frankly I’ve missed us making spirited comebacks like this against good teams, it just hasn’t happened very often this year. Far too often the guys just folded their tents and told the masses that things would be different once the playoffs would start. Perhaps they weren’t full of it after all.
- Timmy Freakin’ Duncan. I think he answered Matthew’s challenge quite nicely, don’t you. He took the ball to the basket repeatedly no matter who was on him and really didn’t settle for jump shots or his banker very often. He had four turnovers, but none of them were the result of a bad decision or anything, he just mishandled the ball sometimes. Timmy had a great passing game and was aggressive and alert defensively as well, even though Pop kept him off Amare as much as possible.
- Tony’s 4th quarter. If 36 plays like that more often then we can’t call him 36 anymore. Parker was terrific down the stretch offensively and played really courageously, considering his head was all cloudy and foggy from an early collision with Stoudemire. Maybe he didn’t know it was the fourth quarter.
- Manu’s driving. He had no jumper at all, especially from the three point line, so BLOG had to bury his head and drive inside far more often than he usually does. 24 points on 24 shots doesn’t look impressive, but considering that he missed all six of his long range attempts and was awarded only five freebie attempts, he scored all his points the hard way, he URRRRRND them.
- Kurt Thomas. Mug played heroically taking three charges, grabbing ten rebounds and making numerous plays that didn’t show up in the box score. This was precisely the environment we acquired him for. I’m sure the next game we’ll use his baseline jumper against Shaq more.
- Finley’s clutch shooting. The Caribbean Queen didn’t play all that well, he missed numerous defensive assignments, didn’t rebound much, and if Grant Hill was healthy he would’ve gotten smoked all afternoon. But he did drag his withered body up and down the floor for 48 minutes and he drilled three bombs in the fourth quarter (with a little help from The Big Goaltend).
- Pop. Get Off My Lawn always does this, doesn’t he? He takes the year off like Horry and then becomes the coach we all want him to be in May. The trademark stubbornness, the unwillingness to make tactical adjustments, and especially the inability to dole out playing time based on who’s actually playing well or poorly in a given game were all gone. He stopped playing Udoka and Vaughn because they were crap and went with Barry. He used Manu as a backup point. He played big all day, except when Duncan sat. He used Hack-a-Snaq. He played most of the game without Bruce or Ime, an unbelievable concession for a defense first, second, and third coach. Pop’s eyes were wide open for this one.
- The Suns classiness. You read that right. If you look at the postgame quotes I really thought the Suns handled themselves pretty well. D’Antoni, Nash, and particularly Stoudemire all said the right things and didn’t blame the refs for the loss. At one point Raja Be
ll bristled when Express News writer Mike Finger kept repeatedly asking him about the greatness of The Exception and spat out, “I’m not going to suck his dick for you, dog” but that was understandable, given the circumstances. Finger pressed him pretty good. Sure, if I was the reporter, I’d have given Bell the Chris Farley Show treatment, but I can see why Bell would snap.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Our pick and roll defense. Look, I know Nash is the all-time master at it, but if we keep giving S.T.A.T. these easy lay-ups I’m gonna throw up on my rug. Why is our whole team staring at Nash when he’s parallel to the basket? The only guy who should be looking at him is his man. Amare’s guy, particularly should have his back turned on Nash at all times. I think we’d handle the play better with Bruce’s length than Tony’s but I’m not sure if we can afford to play Bowen all that much because…
- Bruce Bowen’s offense. A big goose egg in 21 minutes and he makes life way too easy on Nash, who gets to rest on defense the whole time The Funneler is in there. The Suns have so much size now that scoring on them isn’t a mere formality and we need as many guys who can score as possible in the line-up. Pop can’t afford having Bowen in there because the difference he makes over the next guy on defense isn’t as wide a gap as the difference on the other end of the floor. Especially if we’re playing big, we need all our perimeter guys to be threats. Either make some shots Bruce or ride the pine. A -9 afternoon won’t cut it.
- Ime Udoka. Grimace was unequivocally awful, a team worst -12 in seven minutes. He couldn’t guard Diaw at all, he forced bad shots on offense and he just didn’t look like he had a clue out there. Plus as soon as the game ended, he just headed straight for the tunnel instead of embracing his teammates at center court. I didn’t care for that at all. That seemed selfish to me. I think Pop’ll give him another chance, but Barry could easily swallow up his minutes.
- Manu’s three pointers. Ugh. None were even close. Short and flat like my sister. I don’t get it. I thought Buck Harvey said the groin wasn’t an issue and he made 11 in a row in practice. And his legs certainly looked strong enough on the drives. I hope he finds his shot soon because we won’t beat these guys with Manu not canning any long ones again. Also, his defense for much of the game wasn’t all that great.
- Tony’s three point defense. Not only did Parker get toasted by Barbosa in the second quarter, but he committed two fouls on three pointers, which is really inexcusable. In his defense, asking him to be a focal point on offense and to guard Stevie on the other end (I shudder to think of the 2nd round matchup with Paul) is asking an awful lot. He and Manu should really alternate every possession on him just to confuse the Canadian and to save each other’s legs.
- The incessant whining/flopping. Despite the drama, this game must have been damn near unwatchable for most neutral or casual fans. The bitching and moaning after every call was very annoying. Neither team ever thinks they commit fouls. And now, more than ever they try to outflop one another. Each side has some of the all-time greats, with Manu, Fab, and Kurt for us and Nash and Bell for them. We couldn’t go a trip or two down the floor without somebody falling. Shaq even tried flopping against Duncan. These teams bring out the worst in one another.
- Shaq’s boorishness. Of course he was the one notable 400 lb. exception to the Suns otherwise classy postgame behavior. He credited all of the Spurs success to flopping while ignoring the flops of all his teammates (as well as his own). He refused to admit that his free throw misses were a factor in the game and tried to play revisionist history when he blurted that the strategy never works. He sounded like a fool. To top it off, on Sunday he basically inferred that Manu can’t play in an expletive laden rant about flopping, and you can imagine how I felt about that. Give The Big Fucktard credit though, he’s only been a Sun for a couple of months and he’s integrated himself to the team seamlessly. Already he’s my least favorite guy on the team and I HATE these guys. O’Neal swore (literally) that he wouldn’t change anything with how he played in Game 2 or beyond. So I guess we can expect more idiotic offensive fouls until he gets to five and then matador defense down the stretch because you know, he’s so valuable out there on the floor on offense that it’s worth him to allow lay-up after lay-up to stay on the court. Heh.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
- More Brent Barry. Play him instead of Vaughn and give him some of Finley’s as well. 38 minutes in regulation for B.O. is far too funky for my taste. I can’t believe the Mango Tree only got one shot off in ten minutes. Did the Suns never leave him? No matter what I like the spacing on the floor he gives for Tony and Manu.
- More Bowen on Nash. But only if Bruce can shut down the pick-and-roll, which is almost an impossible thing to ask of him. As I said before, the bigs have to keep their eyes locked on Stoudemire and not look at Nash. Also, I see no reason why Bowen can’t score 12 a night against these guys (except for the part about him being completely unable to shoot of course).
- Keep Nash guessing. Bruce, Ime, Manu, Tony. Let’s throw as many different looks at Nash as possible and wear him out mentally. Let’s trap every now and then, especially on sideline plays with the shot clock low. Either get the ball out of his hands or force him to just be a fadeaway shooter. His passing is terrifying.
- Play Matt Bonner when we’re in the penalty. I’m really proud of this one. If Shaq is in the game and we’re in the penalty, we have to bring in Bonner and go to the Hack-a-Shaq. On offense we can run pick and pops with him all day long and he’ll get one open jumper against Shaq after another. On defense he can use all six fouls to send O’Neal to the line and we can stretch a two point lead into a ten point lead in three minutes. Plus by the fourth time he hugs O’Neal and gives him an “I’m just doing what I’m told” shoulder shrug while Shaq is contemplating his latest 1 for 6 stretch from the stripe, Snaq might just lose it and slug Mary Ann right in the face. Two technicals, our ball, and the big fella would be gone for the series, amid more Suns fan conspiracy protests against David Stern. Uh… sorry about that Matty! Way to take one for the team.
- More pick-and-rolls with Manu and Tim. I was surprised we didn’t go to this more, especially with Shaq in there. Hopefully we will in the future. Neither one can be guarded in that situation.
Well that’s that. A lucky win, but a win nonetheless. If we can grab Game 2 we put immense pressure on the Suns, knowing they have to win four of five. Hopefully the guys will come out faster this time around. I can’t believe we didn’t open with Tony going to the cup at will. At least it’ll be a night game on Tuesday. Let’s really give Suns fans something to whine about.
Three Stars… (sorry boring)
3. Tony Parker – 26 and 5, with only two turnovers. He shot over 50% and had a great second half. Again, the defense needs work.
2. Manu Ginobili – 24-4-5, with three steals, and a team best +9 in 45:00. He carried the mail in the second OT, came up with the game winning points and had the assists on both game tying threes from Fin and Timmy. Now we just need him to be able to shoot a little.
1. Tim Duncan – 40-15-5, with three blocks. He shot 16-24 and that’s with three attempts blocked. One of t two or three greatest games he’s ever played, and for once a 40 point effort wasn’t wasted on a loss. Now he just has to do it about fifteen more times.
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