By: Mike Moreau
Being in Phoenix for Game 2 of the Suns-Spurs series, I got to experience this NBA playoff game from a very different perspective - sitting with diehard Suns fans on the front row. But to truly appreciate the experience, you had to be underneath the stands even before the game started to see Steve Nash lead his team out of the locker room. Nash doesn't come out jogging casually at the front of the line. He comes out at full speed, tearing around the corner and high fiving season ticket holders as he blows onto the court with his team trying to keep up behind him. That's a leader. Every fan there was ready to charge the court with him.
Sitting amongst the sea of orange clad fans, although my perspective was skewed by the partisans around me, here were some key points that jumped out at me in Game 2.
The Spurs clearly had a focus early in the game of chasing the Suns off the three-point line; the made threes energize the Phoenix crowd and fuel the explosive runs. San Antonio was aggressive, didn't over help on Nash, and contested nearly every three-point attempt the Suns took in the first half. Mission accomplished. In the second half, the Spurs were a step slow in those same situations - and paid for it with a barrage of threes that nearly blew the roof off the arena. You can bet there will be more consistency from the Spurs defenders in Game 3.
When Phoenix was struggling to score in the first half, and with Nash and Jason Richardson on the bench, it was Jared Dudley who kept them in the game with offensive rebounds and hustle plays. Dudley provides a grit and toughness that has been missing in Phoenix, and it was Dudley who kept the Suns hanging around until the shots started to fall later in the second quarter. Without his effort, Phoenix would have been down double digits and the crowd out of the game by halftime.
In crucial offensive situations in the second half it was often George Hill - not Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker - who was taking the big shots for San Antonio. What a contrast to last year's playoffs, when Parker had to score 40 to keep the Spurs competitive. That speaks to Hill's development and the confidence Gregg Popovich has in his young guard. But, it also says that Parker and Ginobili must come out more aggressively in Game 3. Both did not start attacking the basket off the ballscreen action until late in the game. To the Suns credit, they defended those ballscreen situations well. But, if Parker and Ginobili are in attacking mode, they should be able to get to the rim and the foul line much more frequently. In Game 2, they often bailed out and deferred.
Sitting courtside, Steve Nash and Grant Hill both look like they could each play five more years. Nash went wherever he wanted off the dribble against any Spurs defender - a little hesitation here, a little stutter step there - so subtle most fans don't even notice how he toys with his defender. And Hill was nearly unguardable in isolation situations in the second half. You forget how good he was a decade ago, but you got a glimpse of it in Game 2. When the Spurs insulted him by switching Tim Duncan onto him after a screen, he punished Duncan with textbook attacks for jump shots in Timmy's face.
Antonio McDyess barely played in the second half as the Spurs tried to match up with the Suns' perimeter shooters. With a lineup of Parker, Hill, Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson, the Spurs still couldn't guard the Suns, and could not get stops on crucial possessions. The Suns spread them out in crunch time, and went to a steady diet of Amare's high ballscreen, and rolling down the lane for the Nash return pass. San Antonio had no answers, which doesn't bode well for Game 3.
That being said, all the Suns really did was hold serve. As good as the Suns were in this game, and as rowdy as their crowd was, they will have to be that much better in Game 5, because the old, tired Spurs are going to win both games in San Antonio. The shots will fall, the calls will go their way, the defense will be more stingy, and the energy and aggressiveness lacking in Phoenix will return to the Spurs at home. So, before Suns fans start celebrating, and talking about how the Spurs will have to win 4 of the next 5, the veteran Spurs are going to handle their business in Games 3 and 4, and make this into a best of three series.