Suns/Spurs Game 2 Recap
Most important Western Conf. Semi Game 2 ever.
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
Remember how we talked in the series preview about not knowing what we don’t know? Consider how unlikely the following paragraph seemed only a few days ago:
Jared Dudley and Channing Frye told the story on the court for the Phoenix Suns in a 110-102 victory Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs as Managing Partner Robert Sarver, Steve Nash, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, President Barack Obama and the Reverend Al Sharpton weaved quite another off the court in quite possibly the most important Western Conference Semifinal Game 2 in NBA history.
(Forget heading to Vegas. If you had that in mind last weekend, we want in on the ground floor of your cult.)
First, the politics: the decision by Robert Sarver and backed by Steve Nash & the Suns to sport the Los Suns jerseys on Cinco de Mayo gave the world something meaty to sink their hooks into and almost no one resisted. For example, the ubiquitous Reverend Al Sharpton gathered a protest crowd before the game and managed to wriggle into a Los Suns jersey himself inside US Airways Arena.
Even President Obama managed to jab Arizona’s new immigration law between the ribs during a Cinco de Mayo speech at the White House. The New York Times quoted Obama as saying, “I know that a lot of you would rather be watching tonight’s game – the Spurs against ‘Los Suns’ from Phoenix.”
Governor Brewer took her own shot in an article written for ESPN.com about the sports boycotts threatened and/or requested by outside groups. The sports analogies wedged into the piece are nearly as uncomfortable and ill-fitting as much of the political battle itself.
News organizations both national and international couldn’t resist the temptation. The New York Times covered the event as political news as well as a sports story. The BBC pulled a blogger onto its radio waves to discuss the matter.
Both coaches waved the story away before the game with Gregg Popovich exhibiting his usual charm in pointing to his comments on the matter Tuesday and Alvin Gentry making a bland statement about Cinco de Mayo and the team’s jersey four times after each reporter’s attempt to bait him.
Steve Nash did reiterate his views after the game at length: “We feel a sense of pride in our Latino community. This community is what makes our state great. It gives us diversity and a lifestyle that is great. It’s important that we stand up sometimes for what we believe in.”
“I don’t mean to alienate anybody. Those people that disagree with me: fine. Discourse is what democracy is made of.”
Despite message board cries of protest, the house was packed again Wednesday in full throat against a common enemy: the San Antonio Spurs. If some fans chose not to attend, they apparently confused “boycott” with “sold my tickets on Stubhub”.
Many fans passed on the $95 official Steve Nash Los Suns jersey and instead created their own tributes, from masking tape “Los Phoenix” jerseys to one creative gentleman who marked “Los Suns” in electrical tape on the back of his orange polo shirt.
(Of note: the same Los Suns jersey was on sale for $40 at the last regular season home game.)
On the floor, the Suns dug an early hole with no starter acquitting himself well. The Spurs shot magnificently early with Jarron Collins providing no resistance to Tim Duncan on his way to two very quick baskets. Channing Frye relieved Collins on a number of levels. While Frye’s defense has been surprisingly acceptable on Duncan in both games, Duncan continued to hit tough jumpers as he tolled 10 of the Spurs’ first 14 points on the way to a 30-21 first quarter lead.
Frye was demure about his defensive efforts on Duncan after the game. “What do I have to lose?” Frye joked. “I’m not known as a defensive guy anyway.”
No Sun was able to protect the lane nor could they hit a shot. Jason Richardson attempted to reclaim his role as X-Factor from Game 1 but instead forced the action, shooting only 1-5 in the frame. At that point, the Spurs seemed on their way to easy control of Game 2.
Just when the Suns needed a lifeline, Alvin Gentry tossed Jared Dudley down the hole. Dudley became possessed by the spirit of Charles Barkley for nine vainglorious minutes in the second quarter, earning three and-one opportunities and three offensive rebounds while shutting down any Spur that tried to work around him on defense. (All while never leaving the ground, just like Sir Charles.)
“We’re all athletes; pressure kicks in,” Dudley admitted after the game. “We get a little tight…. Early on, the bench players weren’t doing (our) job. I got us going with a little spark, a couple and-ones, and from there we took off.”
(Dudley, by the way, split down the middle on his Los Suns comments after the game so finely that a single human hair laid on the line between the two sides would have been cleaved in twain.)
Behind the unlikely inspiration of the Boston College grad, the Suns turned a disadvantage (being unable to put the ball into the basket) into a positive (nine offensive rebounds and 10 FTA in the second quarter) and closed the gap completely by halftime, leaving the court with a 51-51 tie.
The Spurs and Suns jostled in the third quarter without giving ground. Channing Frye kept the Suns in the game on the strength of 5-6 three-point shooting reminiscent of early-season successes. In the fourth, the Suns pulled away mostly on the strength of free-throw attempts earned by Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire ended the game with 11-13 from the line as the Suns earned 15 more foul shots than the Spurs.
In a fit of civility, Popovich acknowledged Frye’s contributions after the game. “If (Channing’s) going to make those threes, that really makes their spacing work…. When he does that, they are very, very difficult to guard.”
Yes, Spurs favorite Joey Crawford worked the game, Spurs fans, but the fouls were mainly called by Derrick Stafford. (Ron Garretson left before the fourth quarter with an Achilles tendon injury and was replaced by David Jones.) Also, any fussing about the officials masks the 12-rebound advantage earned by the Suns, almost entirely on the offensive end.
From the floor, the Spurs were downright inspired all night (51%). Richard Jefferson’s portrait in the basement of the Alamo (next to Pee-Wee Herman’s bike) aged two full years Wednesday as Jefferson provided thunderous dunks and an 18/10/3 line on 13 shots that should have been enough to take the day.
Duncan did have to work for his shots, but he bore great fruit from his labor (29/10/3 on 12-20 shooting) as well. Tony Parker didn’t start but still managed 20/3/7 on 14 shots in 36 minutes. In fact, the only disappointment from the floor for the Spurs might have been a downright muted Manu Ginobili, who could only muster 2-8 shooting but passed out of the trap for 11 assists for the evening.
With the Suns proving they can win by shooting better from three-point range (47%) than two (41%) and dominating the boards while letting the Spurs wreak havoc from the floor, San Antonio is left to ponder just what they have to do to beat Phoenix back at AT&T Center. One suggestion: Los Spurs del San Antonio en Estados Unidos de América Para Siempre jerseys. There’s no room for subtlety when you’re down 2-0.