Thursday, May 17, 2007

Suns-Spurs, Game 5: A Recap

All the pre-game conversation focusing on the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw overshadowed the fact that there was an actual basketball game to be played on Wednesday night, and it turned out to be a damn good one! Game 5 served as a reminder of why these suspensions have dominated the sports scene for the past two days: this is the last remaining playoff series worthy of emotion investment. And thankfully, Game 5 was just about basketball. The league’s two best teams playing the most important game of the season. Some thoughts on Wednesday’s game:

-The Suns inevitably came out with a lot of energy and dominated the first half, especially on the boards and on the defensive end. The Suns led by as many as 16 points and, powered by a monster effort from Shawn Marion, looked ready to run the Spurs off the floor. That they were not able to deliver a definitive knockout punch to San Antonio in the first half and went into the locker room leading by just eleven points was cause for a little bit of concern.

-In coming back to wrestle the game away from Phoenix, the San Antonio Spurs were the epitome of professionalism and championship experience. Lost amid talk of the Spurs being “cheap-shot artists” and a “dirty” team was the fact that they are a poised and talented team of championship-quality players. In a well-played game that was not marred by dirty play or cheap shots, the Spurs did not panic when they were faced with a double-digit deficit and embodied coach Gregg Popovich’s manta of “Don’t be in a hurry to win.”

-After a first half in which they had the Spurs back on their heels, the Suns didn’t play with the same aggressiveness in the second half. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe they crashed after the emotional high of the first half, but the Suns had the look of an NFL team that was looking to run out clock after building their lead. Unfortunately, there was too much time left in the game for an eleven-point lead to hold up against a team the caliber of the Spurs. Had Phoenix started the third quarter playing at the same frenetic pace they played with in the first half the Spurs might not have gotten their confidence back as quickly as they did and the crowd could have tried to carry them to a blowout win.

-Filling for Stoudemire AND Diaw, Kurt Thomas played an excellent game, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (X on the offensive end), but he should not have been the Suns’ primary offensive option in the frontcourt. Phoenix went away from Shawn Marion, who was electric in the first half, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, choosing instead to run the pick-and-roll with Nash and Thomas. While San Antonio did go to a smaller lineup in the second half to eliminate Marion’s considerable speed and quickness advantage against their big men, Phoenix neglected to put Marion on the block against a smaller defender and run the offense through him. Kurt Thomas stepped up big when his team needed him, but even at his best he’s not the offensive weapon that Shawn Marion is.

Even with the opportunity to close out the series in Game 6 in San Antonio, the Spurs are not out of woods just yet! The Suns, without two of their top frontcourt players, came within a couple of minutes of taking control of this series. Now, they will head into Game 6 at full strength, with Stoudemire and Diaw rested and hell-bent on taking back the game they feel was stolen from them, with the belief that they are capable of beating the Spurs anytime, anywhere. As long as his aggression doesn’t land him in early foul trouble, you can pencil Amare Stoudemire (who will play Game 6 like a man possessed!) in for 35 point and 15 rebounds on Friday night.

This is Must-See TV! The NBA could expand this series to a best-7-out-of-13 and it still wouldn’t be long enough!

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