Look at this little highlight clip. In just a few seconds, we see Amare Stoudemire dunk over Tim Duncan twice, followed by Shaquille O'Neal getting deep position and making jump hooks over Duncan.
Wow. What's up? You can go whole weeks without seeing Duncan give up that many easy points. I don't think the Cavaliers got that many buckets over Duncan in all four games of last year's Finals combined.
More than any other game I have seen this season, this is the one that made the Shaquille O'Neal trade look good for Phoenix.
The Suns were clinging to a slim lead on the road against the defending champions heading into the fourth quarter, and their MVP candidate, Amare Stoudemire, was clinging to the bench with foul trouble -- alongside a tired Steve Nash.
You could feel that the Spurs were about to pounce.
Yet over the next five minutes, Shaquille O'Neal was a huge, efficient presense on both ends of the court. Leandro Barbosa scored at will. The Suns played stellar defense. Gordan Giricek had lousy stats but great energy, and Phoenix more or less put the game away.
If I were Phoenix President of Basketball Operations Steve Kerr, author of one of the most maligned trades of the season (Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks for an aging Shaquille O'Neal) I'd be waking up with a smile today.
O'Neal played about eight minutes of the fourth quarter. During that time he was 3-3 from the floor with four rebounds and a steal, while San Antonio didn't get any easy baskets around the rim. Over the stretch, Phoenix was +13.
When Stoudemire got back in the game, for good measure, he took the ball right to the rack (highlight at the above link) and threw it down over Duncan for an and-one. (On that same play, watch Bruce Bowen encounter an airborne Steve Nash, and send him to the floor.)
The Spurs have been making things hard on themselves lately with an offensive dry spell -- in theory, the Suns should have all kinds of trouble stopping Tony Parker, for instance, but he was barely noticeable. So, I'm not sure you can attribute all of the Suns' success to Suns' play.
But all the same, in the tangle of teams near the top of the West, I had been thinking it was really a case of just four teams with real Finals aspirations: The Hornets, Lakers, Jazz, and Spurs. But last night I learned again that it is useless to make those kinds of predictions.
This is, let's remember, the year that there are no upsets and anyone can win.
And "anyone" includes the Suns.