April 2008 - Posts
In last night's 92-87 loss to the Spurs which eliminates the Suns from the playoffs, Phoenix showed they're still not ready to compete at a championship level. There's plenty of blame to go around:
Costly turnovers with the game on the line - The Suns had 4 turnovers in their last 7 possessions while within 1-3 points of the Spurs.
17 missed free throws... 17!!!!!!!!!!! Shaq missed 11 of them.
Pick & Roll was missing completely - Amare finished w/ 22 pts (combined) in the last 2 games, after averaging close to 30/game prior.
Coaching - The Spurs outplayed & outcoached D'Antoni and the Suns, pure & simple. The stubbornness of keeping Shaq in, despite the hack-a-Shaq being employed by San Antonio, may have helped cost D'Antoni his job.
Steve Nash - He rarely gets called out for playing poorly, but he did not lead the Suns in the closing minutes and committed 2 costly turnovers with the game on the line. He also couldn't hit the broad side of a barn last night, shooting 25% (4-16 FG) and only going to the charity stripe 2 times. He had no assists in the first half and only finished w/ 3.
Leandro Barbosa - One part of the killer B's (Bell, Boris & Barbosa) that couldn't find his stroke in Game 5. Leandro finished 1-7 from the field and only 5 points. The other B's played well, combining for 36 points and 16 rebounds.
I do want to acknowledge the Suns defense effort in Game 5, however, as they did play better defense for close to 46 minutes. Unfortunately for Suns fans, the Spurs played D' for 48 minutes.
No one knows what the offseason will bring, but there is obviously conflict and doubt in the locker room and in Suns management. I don't expect to see the same team and/or coaching staff take the court next year. It will be a shame, but as a basketball fan, the writing's on the wall - this team can't win the way it's setup now.
Standing on the edge of a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the hated Spurs, the Phoenix Suns gathered all of their pride & heart in order to withstand an embarrassing end to the 2007-2008 season. With a strong showing & utter destruction of San Antonio in Game 4, are you back on the wagon.... or do you still think the door has shut on Suns run to the championship?
Phoenix was ailing after 3 straight defeats to the San Antonio. Did a visit to the basketball gods save the day? No, it was a healthy prescription of Diaw-gra - the manliest beast this side of the Mississippi.
Seriously though, I've heard radio announcers calling Suns forward Boris Diaw, "Doris" and commenting on the fastest gender re-assignment surgery in recent history. Come on guys... all you need to do is show some confidence in a guy and let him do what he does best. Did Diaw struggle while playing for France in Olympic qualifying or the World Championships, while teaming w/ his BFF Tony Parker? No... So why does D'Antoni continue to bitch-slap him by starting an injured Grant Hill over him?
In Game 4, D'Antoni wised up and put Boris in the starting lineup. That, along w/ a stronger determination to play defense and the torrid shooting of Raja Bell (Raja who?), allowed the Suns to man-handle the Spurs enroute to a 105-86 victory. Give these guys some credit for showing up (ok, so it's only Game 4 & 46 minutes of Game 1).
Steve Nash played well enough to win & Amare Stoudemire struggled after the coach removed the "dump it in to Amare" routine that had produced exactly "0" wins in the series. I love STAT and his game, but face it... that strategy was working about as well as trying to cut your wrists with a spoon.
The Suns head back to Texas in a 3-1 hole, but w/ at least a bit of renewed confidence & pride in themselves. For us to take this and make history, Phoenix will need to fire on all cylinders for the remaining 3 games. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win, but I watched the Red Sox destroy the Yankees a couple years ago - anything's possible - never say never - it's ain't over till the fat lady... nm, till Miley Cyrus sings. Nice PR stunt w/ the pics btw... You look like crap, get the money before you look like the bottom of my shoe.
Give props to coach D'Antoni for getting thrown out of a blowout & putting on a nice show. I don't know what the hell he was doing, but it was hilarious watching him freak out w/ the team easily in control.
Game 1: Suns 115, Spurs 117 (2OT)
The Suns made some huge mental mistakes down the stretch in both regulation and OT, including a 24-second violation and a charging call (both while leading). They failed to seal the win and as a result, head back to Phoenix (for rest) until Tuesday's Game 2 in San Antonio, down 1-0 in the best of 7 playoffs.
Give credit to the Spurs for playing tough & not giving up on the game. They also did a good job of forcing Amare Stoudemire into a few mistakes, including his 6th foul - a charging call vs. former Suns player Kurt Thomas.
Tim Duncan was incredible - 40 pts, 15 rbs, 3 blks & 5 asts. He hit a super clutch 3-pointer right before the end of the 1st overtime - his first 3 of the year. The Suns couldn't stop him down the stretch due to Amare & Shaquille O'neal's foul troubles. With the foul trouble, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also abused the Suns at will w/ quick drives to the basket.
Phoenix played a great game, but just didn't have it when it counted. Even when it looked like they had it going (ie: Nash's late 3-pointer to tie the game), they broke down and let Ginobili score an easy basket w/ 1.8 seconds left. Then, instead of throwing the ball down the court for a last second shot, they passed it in to Nash who was double-covered and was barely able to get a shot off (not close).
I pointed out the keys to the game last night, so let's see how that played out:
Rebounding - I said the Suns need to be within 5 rebounds of San Antonio to compete. SA - 43, PHX - 42. The game was competitive, so I was pretty close on this one.
Easy Baskets - The Suns committed 17 turnovers and missed 8 free throws. On the other end, Shaq & Amare's foul troubles allowed Parker & Ginobili to score at will in the paint.
Contain the Big 3 - They got burned here w/ a combined 90 pts... Duncan w/ 40 pts, Parker w/ 26 pts & Ginobili w/ 24. The Suns will need to do a better job defensively if they want to win the series.
Defense - Again, the foul trouble limited what Phoenix was able to do. The Spurs scored 117 points, so do the math - defense was questionable at best. There were signs of brilliance, but not when it counted.
Mind Games - There were no shenanigans in this game, but the Spurs' win could be big enough to affect the rest of the series. The Spurs knew they could win the game; the Suns didn't seem to have that same attitude and it showed as they blew the lead each time when it counted.
I also suggested that Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw would need to play well for the Suns to win. Both finished w/ 12 pts, while Barbosa pulled down 8 boards (leading the team - what?). While these stats don't look that impressive, both played very well.
I forgot to even mention Grant Hill's name - I guess that's because I assumed he was a pro & would step up on his own. Apparently, he still needs a wake up call. Hill was a virtual no-show enroute to 5 pts and 7 rbs; I expect better performances from Grant as the series progresses.
The loss is devastating, especially considering how many opportunities the Suns had, but they did some great things in the loss. They proved they can still compete without Amare (fouled out) and Shaq (foul trouble & hack-a-Shaq).
Suns are down in the series 0-1, but have plenty of time to catch-up. The road team isn't expected to win Game 1 anyway, so a loss is not the end of the world. Game 2 is Tuesday - why so far away? (damn NBA schedulers)
Admit it... you would probably prefer that the Suns played another team in the 1st round and saved the Spurs for later in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the basketball gods have chosen to give us the most intriguing matchup of the playoffs - right off the bat. Seeing the Lakers & Celtics battle in the Finals would probably top this matchup, but I'm penciling in the Suns - not the Lakers.
Suns vs. Spurs, homecourt in San Antonio... if the Suns are going to show they belong, what better way to do it than by defeating the defending NBA Champions in their own house. What sweet revenge that would be!
The Spurs will attempt to use their quickness in the backcourt, while also trying to have Tim Duncan control the middle. He'll have a tough time, however, with both Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire defending him. Duncan's hands will also be full defending Amare in the low post or off the pick & roll w/ Steve Nash. Either way, STAT has proved that he's more than capable of playing well against the Spurs; contingent on not being suspended of course :P
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will have to play their best basketball of the season in order to defeat the Suns, but their up for the challenge, no doubt. It's up to Raja Bell and Grant Hill to play some decent defense and at least slow the two down. Keeping Ginobili "cold" is the key, as evidenced by the Suns' convincing defeat a few weeks ago in San Antonio.
The Suns will still need all cylinders firing if they want to win this. That means Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and the bench will have to put up solid numbers & play well in virtually every game of the series. Phoenix will also need Steve Nash to do what he does best - make the other players better. He needs to keep in the flow of the game by being aggressive and taking his shot, however, since the team tends to struggle when Nash tries to hard to get everyone involved.
Coach D'Antoni will need to utilize his bench throughout the series and the playoffs overall. If he fails to keep the starters minutes down, he's going to have a tired bunch in the later rounds and that's never good. The recent play by Brian Skinner is encouraging and he has 6 fouls to give up each game. The Suns should use those each game to punish Duncan in the post and keep him from controlling the game. Mr. Smooth is a poor free throw shooter, so Phoenix should benefit by fouling Duncan and sending him to the line.
Keys to the game (& series):
Rebounding - The Suns don't necessarily need to win the battle of the boards, but they need to keep the totals within about 5 rebounds or they'll be in trouble.
Easy Baskets - Phoenix needs to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers. If the Spurs get easy baskets on the turnovers, it will be a long night (& series). The Suns also need to run the break & get fast break points as often as possible. San Antonio is the oldest team in the league - the Suns should reinforce that by wearing them down.
Contain the Big-3 - While it might make sense to let Parker, Ginobili & Duncan get their stats and shutdown the other Spurs players, I think that doing so would put control of the series SA's hands. Make the other guys beat you, because they're a lot weaker than the big 3.
Defense - Ya, they will have to play defense, whether they like it or not, and lately they do. Look for Amare & Shaq to be aggressive by altering shots and controlling the boards.
Mind Games - This is the biggest threat to the Suns in my opinion. Coach Popovich is good at playing mind games w/ the opponent and leading them into beating themselves. The Spurs get under your skin and force you to react. Last year's cheap shots & subsequent suspensions say all that needs to be said.
I see this series as a great opportunity for the Suns, not only for redemption against the Spurs, but it will also help them ascend to the next level. The Western Conference playoffs will be tough up until the Finals, and Detroit (or) Boston are no cake-walk either.
What do you think the Suns will need to do to win?
Wow! What a game against the Denver Nuggets in Phoenix last night. The Suns pulled off their 3rd best "come from behind" in team history last night against Denver. Trailing by 22 pts in the 3rd quarter, the Phoenix Suns mounted a furious comeback to take the lead and defeat the Nuggets. The win also put Phoenix over 50 wins for the 4th consecutive year; the team is now tied with the LA Lakers for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
There was a lot of praise to go around after the game. Coach D'Antoni said everyone that played contributed in a huge way and the win is a result of their combined efforts. The defense improved (not that much) and the team played very well offensively late in the game. Amare Stoudemire seemed to have his will against Kenyon Martin and Najera, repeatedly beating them for layups and dunks. STAT finished with 41 pts and 14 rebounds - a great effort!
Shaq, Boris, Raja and Barbosa all played solid, but the resurgence can be largely attributed to Steve Nash. After receiving a blow to the head by the Nuggets' Anthony Carter, Nash seemed to respond and take over the game. He made some great passes and hit a few threes that helped Phoenix take the lead and eventually get the win.
It was also nice to see Diaw more aggressive on offense. He has the skills to be a bigger scorer for the team, but he always seems to defer. Last night, he hit several shots and drove to the rim for sweet tear drop floater in the 4th quarter. If he can keep this up, the Suns will excel in the playoffs, as they did the year Amare was out w/ his knee injury.
The loss pushed Denver out of the playoffs by 1/2 game, but they'll get a chance to regain that game tonight against the Suns - this time in Denver. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nuggets make some adjustments and dominate this game. I don't see the Suns shooting as well in the back-2-back game, nor do I think Denver will allow Amare to control the paint. Hopefully, D'Antoni and his staff can make adjustments of their own and help the team get the win.