Saturday, April 19, 2008
Three Phoenix Mistakes
Credit the Spurs with a marvelous against-all-odds come-from-behind double overtime win against Phoenix.
There is a ton to say about this amazing game, but through it all, three times I found myself looking at something Mike D'Antoni was doing and wondering: "Is that smart?"
Let me say here, that I recognize Coach D'Antoni knows a ton more about basketball than I do. There are probably excellent reasons for all these things. But here is my view:
- In the second quarter, the Suns were rolling, and had a 16-point lead. The Spurs were staggering a little. I think almost everyone in the gym thought that, as long as the Spurs were unsure what to do on defense, the Suns had a moment there when they might just crack the game open. But then a few Suns got their third fouls, and D'Antoni sent them all to the bench, radically altering the line-ups, and dumping ice water on that Phoenix hot streak. It was anybody's game by halftime.
- Phoenix was down, and inbounded with about 35 seconds left -- and went really slowly. I thought they should step on it, and try to get two possessions. That's the rule of thumb -- shoot with around 30 seconds left, right? Instead they gave the ball back to San Antonio with less than 24 seconds left, and were forced to foul, which almost sealed the game.
- After Manu Ginobili's game-winning layup, Phoenix had no timeouts and no idea what to do. That was one major flaw. But it was born of using too many timeouts earlier. I remember the one with 19.5 seconds left, when the Suns used their final timeout. I cringed when I saw that. They were down three. Almost no matter what happened, to win this game they were going to have to score twice. Tell me, would you rather move the ball, scheme, make substitutions, and stop the clock with 20 seconds left, or the paltry few that the Spurs were likely to leave you after they got it back? D'Antoni's timeout did lead to Nash's good luck at the game-tying three-pointer, so it's hard to question that. But I do.
A bunch more thoughts about that game:
- Dueling sentiments: San Antonio needed a friggin' Tim Duncan three -- his first of the season -- to beat the Suns at home, even when all the big Suns were in foul trouble. The Spurs may have won the battle, but the war favors Phoenix, right? On the other hand -- doesn't something weird always seem to happen to capsize the Suns when they play the Spurs in a big game? Maybe you can't count on a Tim Duncan three, but you can usually count on something.
- Let's not overlook the brilliance of Manu Ginobili's game-winner. He made it look easy. But it was still a friggin' layup, with less than two seconds left, against a good defensive team -- a team that has held him to about 30% shooting in recent games -- that was set up and waiting for him. Few players can do that. He's one of the best.
- Amare Stoudemire is an hombre. Even though his defense on Duncan is still shaky at times, it's still a battle for the ages we're seeing here. Stoudemire is more poised than ever. When he was on the floor, the Suns were +11, by far the best such mark in this game. He not only makes a lot of plays, but he also makes Steve Nash so much more of a threat. Also, let's be honest: his jumper is a thing of beauty. Big men who can shoot like that have something special -- because for them, that shot is available.
- Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill ... plenty of Phoenix players missed big shots that I'm sure they'd like another crack at.
- The Phoenix offense is very different from last year. For long stretches of the game, O'Neal, Stoudemire, and Diaw are focal points of the offense. That means there are long stretches when Steve Nash is not expending so much energy getting pounded by Bruce Bowen. I think that could prove to be a major difference. Nash looked fresher in the late stages of this one, even though he's not any younger than last year and the year before.
- New Spur Ime Udoka did not have a good game. He missed some shots, and was also the poor sucker who had to be guarding Boris Diaw when the Frenchman made the pass of the game, behind his head to Leandro Barbosa for a lay up.
- Grant Hill -- never won a playoff series. He didn't do a ton to help his cause today. Not that one game plus/minus numbers mean much, but Hill tied Shaquille O'Neal and Brian Skinner for worst on the Suns, at minus 6. A couple of times he didn't seem to even notice some bounce passes coming from Steve Nash.
- Jeff Van Gundy was extremely classy. He and co-worker Mark Jackson are both rumored to be candidates to coach the Knicks. Van Gundy went way out of his way to promote Jackson as a candidate, while calling himself a mere "super delegate."
- Remember how last year the story was Tony Parker's repaired shooting form? He shot nearly 40% from downtown, and it was a key factor in bringing San Antonio a title. How is it his three-point field goal percentage is back to a measly 26%?
- Take yourself to when there were six and a half minutes to play. Phoenix was up three, with some foul trouble. San Antonio was at home. In your mind, who's the favorite at that point? I'd say it's just about even.
- At the end of regulation, if you watch the replay, Boris Diaw was all alone under the hoop. Not sure if there was a passing angle to get it to him, but he had a layup, and the ball was not far away.
- Has Bruce Bowen lost his magic? The Spurs were better tonight when he was on the bench. That's not normally true. I'm suspicious, however, that he may have played a role in Nash falling down on that key inbounds play when Phoenix burned a crucial timeout.
- When Tony Parker fouled out, the Spurs went for a brief time to a no-pass offense. Manu Ginobili just brought it up and scored. Not a bad system.