Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spurs-Suns -- Game 2 thread

Spurs, 102-96. Final. Still a long way to go in this series, but:

* The Suns have held double-digit leads in the first half of both games, but lost both.
* When the Spurs get organized and crank up the defensive intensity, they dictate play at worst and dominate at best.
* Phoenix seems so concerned with getting Shaq involved (this is not Shaq circa 2000) that it's taking the ball out of its best player's (Nash) hands. How about not playing Shaq at all and playing Suns burn-it-up-the-floor basketball? The Suns believed that they were the better team in last year's series against the Spurs, that the suspensions robbed them. So, at what point did they determine they needed Shaq? At this point, I think what Shaq gives them doesn't make up for what they lose elsewhere with him on the floor.
* Barbosa and Bell combined 2-for-14 in Game 2.

Nash a runner of glass. Parker answers, 101-93. One minute.

Ginobili to Duncan for a wide-open dunk. Spurs, 99-91.

Diaw on the block again! Travel! This is a horrible offensive set. Why would you not want the ball in Nash's hands?

Duncan at the line with an opportunity to restore order a bit. 2:16 to go. Duncan misses, makes. Spurs, 97-91.

Nash fadeaway. Suns down 5. 2:35 to go.

Nash 2-for-2 at the line. Suns down 7.

Stoudemire taps in a Giricek miss, deficit now 9.

Suns within 11, 96-85. Spurs are stumbling to the finish here. Can they make it? The Suns have time for another push. 4 minutes to go.

Here's how much the Suns mind-set has changed. Not only are they not fast-breaking anymore, they're not running motion, and they aren't letting Nash create either. On four straight possessions, Nash threw 25-foot passes into Diaw against Ginobili in the post. Diaw then brought the offense to a halt by pounding, pounding, pounding the basketball. This is not "Seven seconds or less basketball."

Nash drains a wide-open 3-pointer. Suns back within 13, 94-81. Spurs now in the penalty with 6:22 to go.

Parker on a teardrop. Spurs, 90-73.

Oberto from Parker on another screen-and-roll. Spurs, 88-73, 9:38 left.

Bowen guarding Nash to start the fourth. Ginobili for 3, 84-73, Spurs. 11:19 left.

A huge Spurs third quarter is over. San Antonio up, 81-72. The Spurs' defense was top-notch and the difference, completely clogging Nash's penetration and dives by Stoudemire. Can the Suns adjust?

With the lead, Spurs are using the Hack-a-Shaq. But O'Neal hits 5 of 6 and is shaking his head. Doug Collins says that teams should not be able to foul off the ball in this manner, that these fouls should result in one free throw (anyone can shoot it) and possession of the ball.

Giricek in for the Suns. Good substitution by D'Antoni. Giricek is much more skilled at scoring in the halfcourt than Bell.

Six in a row for ... Ime Udoka. Spurs extend the lead to eight, 71-63. 17-2 burst to open the third quarter.

Nash fadeaway jumper, breaks Suns' scoreless stretch of more than six minutes. Spurs, 65-63.

Spurs' run now 11-0. They lead, 65-61.

Spurs' run now now 9-0. They lead, 63-61. Suns scoreless the first five minutes of the third quarter.

Spurs open the third quarter with a 7-0 run. Tie game, 61-all.

First-half fastbreak points: Spurs 18, Suns 2. Yes, that's correct. The acquisition of Shaq has completely changed the Suns' style. They don't run anymore. Whether or not they're a better team, well, we'll see. One thing, however, is certain: Failing to get out and run has diminished the play of Barbosa and Bell, two key cogs of the Suns of the past. Stoudemire, Shaq and Nash are the only Phoenix guys who get easy buckets out of the constant half-court sets. The rest of the guys, who thrived on running, have trouble getting anything in a slower game.

MAGIC-RAPTORS UPDATE: Strategy 101 from earlier. Down one with nine seconds to go, the Raptors inbound from midcourt. Calderon gets a screen from Bosh at the top and passes to Bosh, who attempts a deep 19-footer against a challenge from Howard. Not a high percentage shot. It misses. Chalk up that exchange of strategy and execution to the Magic -- and a 2-0 series lead.

Led by Stoudemire's 25, Suns are up seven, 61-54, at the break. Phoenix is shooting 61 percent with just four turnovers, and Stoudemire and Shaq only have one foul apiece. That's a good recipe for a victory. The Spurs, meanwhile, are scoring enough points, but this result won't change if they don't reign in Nash a bit.

Nash is more aggressive tonight: more ball-handling, more dribbling, more probing behind the basket. 10 points, eight assists and one turnover so far.

Stoudemire's skill-set is off the charts: quickness, agility, power, and now shooting range and touch. There isn't a comparable big man in the game. 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting.

Ginobili is on fire, 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 11 minutes! Spurs back within 4, 38-34. Suns answer with six straight, 44-34.

Spurs pushing the ball hard to try and get back into the game, covert three layups, close to within 31-21.

Nash to Bell for a wide-open 3-pointer. Phoenix rolling, 26-12, nine minutes in.

Shaq and Stoudemire both convert inside again. Suns up, 19-8. Phoenix's pick-and-roll defense is much better, sending the dribbler baseline.

Nash with a free-throw line jumper. Suns on an 8-0 run, lead 9-2. Ginobili in.

Shaq with two quick posts for three points, Stoudemire has four. Suns lead, 7-2.

Strategy: Does Nash have the desire and strength to be more aggressive on offense and frequently look for his shot? The Spurs wore out the pick-and-roll late in Game 1, involving Shaq as much as possible. Is there an answer for it?

Pre-game: Always interesting to see how teams, particularly those with several veterans, bounce back energy-wise from a grueling (both physically and emotionally) double-OT game. That classic had a late-series feel to it, but it was only Game 1. We've got a long way to go. For long stretches in the opener the Suns were the better team. Can they continue that again tonight?