By D.K. Wilson
The act is old now. The constant falling by Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, James Jones, and Steve Nash is mind-numbing. If Kurt Thomas gets away with one more illegal screen I’m going to scream. It’s the screen where Nash takes a step-back dribble away from the screen and the defender rolls around Thomas and he invariably sticks his behind out to give Nash that split-second extra to beat his defender off the dribble. Thomas must be the butt of Phoenix film session jokes and endless practice court imitations.
Advocates of this style of play say whatever it takes to win. The not-so funny thing is, they’re right. Playing shorthanded without Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, the Suns are scrambling to make every possession work and though too many efforts fall short, the manic way of play keeps San Antonio from establishing any flow to their game.
In spite of my complaints from the gallery of peanuts, if instead I was Mike D’Antoni, I’d think Game 5 against the Spurs was the most beautiful game ever played. Well, except for the fact that Shawn Marion, who scored 20 points in the first half didn’t score his first two in the second half until there was 9:02 left in the game and that my best player is logging obscene minutes. D’Antoni must be thinking, if we lose tonight there might be hell to pay come next game.
Yet with Phoenix utterly flabbergasting the Spurs it’s totally ironic that the Spurs made their biggest run playing small ball with Tim Duncan on the bench. (BTW, how did the official underneath the basket fail to see or not hear Bruce Bowen smack Nash’s hand as Nash went up for a layin??) But Thomas comes to the fore again with two more moving screens, a flop – as if Manu Ginobili can really knock him over – and a Nash-like, let me jump into Duncan on my way to the hoop since that now constitutes a foul on the defense, three-point play.
At least this game was better then the Cleveland-New Jersey game. Then again, I have never seen a 4th Q as bad as that of the Cavs-Nets. The Nets score six points in the 4th and win?! Cleveland scores 13?! Jason Kidd says, “Our defense was on fire.” And the crazy thing is ——– it’s true!
What is also odd about the second half of this game is how few fouls the Suns have accrued. Four in the third quarter and just one so far in the fourth with 3:50 left in the game; that is impossibility. Nash jumps into Ginobili as Manu shoots a three and cries to the official that Ginobili grabbed him!? Why even try to say something so ridiculous; it’s the Rick Adelman syndrome the Suns have acquired from their head coach, D’Antoni.
Here we are at crunch time, 79-77 Suns and 2:55 to a win. Which players will succumb to the pressure?
Nash fails first and Parker ties the game with a 20-foot jumper. Marion puts the Suns up two then foolishly fouls Duncan while attempting to block Duncan’s jump hook. Tim makes his free throws and Nash fails again. Bell completely flops. Ginobili compounds his mistakes by throwing the ball away; there is 1:55 left. But the Spurs go up three thanks to Bruce Bowen. Duncan tosses the ball to Parker, then Bell fouls does the Hack a Shaq foul on Duncan. The official blows the call as the ball is clearly not in Tim’s hand; Duncan chokes, missing both free throws.
23.2 left, Phoenix ball. Will Nash shake off his recent miscues and take the three-ball? Will he drive and kick to Marion for the three? Nash misses an off-balance three and Bowen trips Nash. Steve N. hits both free throws and the Spurs call timeout with:11.7 left. Will Gregg Popovich put Brent Barry in the game for Duncan so that Ginobili, Parker and Barry can take an inbounds pass and have a more than reasonable chance at hitting both FTs? No.
D’Antoni runs out onto the floor for some reason – and gets away with it! What the—– never mind. This game is already strange enough. Ginobili strokes both free throws and :10.5 remain in the game. The Suns take their last time out – the game is over. Nash missing a force three is a formality – 88-85.
I predicted a Phoenix win and they were two minutes from pulling off the upset. The problem now for the Suns are the extended minutes played by Nash (45 minutes), Bell (46), Marion (46), and Thomas (36). If Phoenix thought they were weary toward the end of this game, just wait until the final six minutes of Game 6.
Nash is the key. Unlike previous years, few people are talking explicitly about his conditioning. But it is Nash’s energy level that will determine whether or not the Suns get a Game 7 back in their building. He must regroup and be ready for a game less than 48 hours from now, something Nash has, for years, had problems doing.
I won’t make a prediction for the next game but I do know the Suns will be hard-pressed to win if Marion is not involved in the Suns offense for four quarters rather than just two. Diaw must take pressure off Nash and become an extra ball-handler. And Stoudemire must dominate the interior. Without production from this combination of players Phoenix’s season is over and the “what ifs” will begin.
What if Amare and Boris had played Game 5. What if David Stern wasn’t biased against Phoenix. What if Tim Duncan had also been suspended. What if Bruce Bowen had been suspended after Game 3.
Phoenix already proved they can go to San Antonio and win. They proved they don’t have to score 100 points to win games. All Mike D’Antoni has to do is give Nash the proper rest during Game 6 and allow Barbosa to do his thing. All Nash has to do is trust his teammates. Game 7 is Sunday. The Suns just need to get there.
See you Friday.