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PHOENIX -- The San Antonio Spurs probably envisioned several possible ways they could lose Game 2 to the Suns, but I'm guessing "getting absolutely pounded on the glass" wasn't one of them.
But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Let the record show that the soft, mellow, all-style-no-substance Phoenix Suns dominated the big, tough, experienced San Antonio Spurs on the glass Wednesday. Mercilessly beat them. Bloodied their noses and battered them into submission, in fact, en route to a 110-102 victory that gives them a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. Game 3 is Friday in San Antonio.
Phoenix hammered the Spurs to the tune of 18 offensive rebounds, while the Spurs generated just seven, and several of the Suns' second chances came at the most crucial junctures. Most notably, an offensive board by Amare Stoudemire with 56 seconds left allowed the Suns to run 20 more seconds off the clock before a dagger jumper by Jason Richardson put them up 107-97 and effectively ended the game.
Yet the real impact of the board battle was much earlier than that. We don't commonly think of NBA playoff games being won or lost in the second quarter, but the Spurs are likely to rue a period in which they blew an 11-point lead almost entirely because they couldn't control the caroms.
"Jared Dudley changed the whole game," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He came in and he was a monster. He was committed to the boards and it was infectious and for that period they really got after us on the boards, and that changed it for the first half."
"I felt like that's what we're supposed to do -- bring energy," said Dudley, who had four offensive boards and finished with 11 points and six rebounds. "We tried to come in and slash and get offensive rebounds."
The Suns' reserve forward had three offensive rebounds and three basket-and-ones in the second quarter, getting the Suns back in the game on a night when their shots weren't falling. Phoenix shot only 10-of-28 in the second quarter and missed three foul shots, but tied the game with a 30-point quarter because they grabbed nine of their 18 misses -- including three apiece by reserves Louis Amundson and Dudley.
"Their bench has hurt us both nights," said Popovich. "That group came in and hit the boards with Dudley, Amundson, all those guys, and allowed Steve [Nash] to get his rest."
As a result, the Suns miraculously found themselves tied at 51 at the break despite shooting 34.7 percent in the half.
"You look at the stat sheet," said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, "and see you're shooting 34 percent and they're [at] 52 percent, and you're tied. I thought we'd come back out and have an opportunity to win the game."
The Suns are now in the catbird seat with a 2-0 series lead -- only three of 87 teams to win the first two games of a best-of-seven NBA semifinals at home lost the series. They can't breathe too easy -- San Antonio provided one of those three examples, doing so two years ago against the Hornets -- but Phoenix is in as strong a position as it's ever been in its mostly one-sided rivalry against the Spurs.
The battle of the boards is a surprising reason why. San Antonio was third in the NBA in overall rebound rate, while the Suns were just 13th, yet the Suns have dominated the glass in both games -- especially the second unit.
It should be pointed out, however, that this Suns team rebounds far better than previous incarnations that routinely found themselves losing the board wars in playoff battles with San Antonio. Phoenix was eighth in the NBA in offensive rebound rate, and with this series' matchups often yielding lineups with Dudley, Grant Hill and Richardson on the court together -- three of the league's best rebounding wing players -- Phoenix is in much better shape on the glass.
"We're athletic," said Gentry, "and we've got guys that just play at an unbelievable level. We're a little finesse team that plays hard, that's what we are."
That little finesse team just hammered a team with one of the league's all-time great big men on the glass. As a result, they're halfway to finally throwing the San Antonio monkey off their backs and advancing to the conference finals.