For the Phoenix Suns, It's Time to Move On

Look out, San Antonio. Bully Ball is coming for you.

In the playoffs, the team that wins is the one that can adjust when the prepared opponent takes away its primary options.

The Portland Trail Blazers made the decision from the first tip to eliminate Amare's one-on-one game and to aggressively trap Steve Nash and prevent him the freedom to roam and create. The Suns even shot 2 points less from three and had 19 fewer free throw attempts, proving that it wasn't 'hot shooting" or preferential calls that got it done.

The best offensive team in the league in the regular season was fourth in scoring efficiency in the first round and still won the series with a +10.3 points per game differential, as compared to the Spurs, who were a mere +0.5 in their series with the Mavericks

In fact, the Suns points differential was the highest of any playoff series yet. Even the Cavs (+9.2) and Magic (+9.3) didn't dominate as thoroughly as the Suns did.

This series that I expected to be a dog fight wasn't even close. The Phoenix Suns destroyed the Portland Trail Blazers with talent, grit, experience, determination, heart and muscle.

  • I thought Rudy and Webster would make up for a portion of Roy's missing offense. Didn't happen.
  • I was prepared for the Blazers to keep it tight by continuing their regular season domination on the glass and extremely impressive turnover differential. Nope. (The Phoenix Suns were +21 on the boards and only -10 in turnovers.)
  • Brandon Roy is a warrior and one of my favorite players in the league, but he probably hurt his team by trying to come back too soon.
  • Portland's young bench players were inconsistent while the Phoenix subs, at a minimum, held their own and on several occasions were key. 
  • Mostly though, veterans Grant Hill and Jason Richardson proved how valuable experience and desire are when it comes to the postseason. These two competitors stepped up up big time and demonstrated a versatility to the Suns attack and tenacity to the Suns defense that we hoped was there.
  • In a must win Game 6, with a Steve Nash who was so out of whack that he was out-played by Brandon Roy just days off surgery, the Suns won a mucked up game by trapping the main offensive threats, rotating hard and then, late in the game, making the adjustment to stay home on the shooters when Webster and Rudy finally got hot. Winning the rebounding battle on the road just showed which team wanted it more. It wasn't pretty, but it was still a 9 point win.
  • And the scary thing is this wasn't the best possible Suns team. While the Spurs and Magic are playing at full strength, the Suns are still missing a key component in Robin Lopez.

Goodbye, Portland. Can't say I will miss you. You overcame a lot this season and while the Golden State Warriors imploded under the weight of their injuries, you persevered and you deserve all the credit in the world for that. In this series your team simply got crushed by a better team.

I wish I could say you handled it with class and dignity, but instead you complained about "dirty play" and your coach led your team down a loser's path of appealing to the refs for relief. Been there, done that. Doesn't work.

And to the passionate Blazers fans whose feelings I offended, I wish I could honestly apologize. But I don't have a lot of patience for arrogant, self-important whiners who feel entitled to do whatever they want, wherever they want. I certainly should have avoided stooping to their level and for sure my temper got the best of me. That was a mistake.

I am sure those obnoxious few represent a minority and perhaps someday the silent majority of mature fans will find a way to either distance themselves from or otherwise muzzle the trouble-makers. Good luck with that.

On to the Spurs

I don't even know where to begin thinking about this series. I am VERY glad we have until Monday to prepare. Not having to play a Game 7 on Saturday and a Game 1 on Monday could be the difference between beating the Spurs or not.

First, let's just get this out of the way. The San Antonio Spurs have OWNED the Phoenix Suns. Scott will be coming soon with a full recitation of that sordid history, but we all know it.

Not because David Stern hates the Suns. Not because Horry and Bowen were dirty players. Not because Manu flops or because of Timmy's O-Face. The Spurs owned the Suns because they were the better playoff team. They were more focused, more disciplined and tougher both on the court and between their ears and folks, that hasn't changed.Duncan_face_medium

Coach Gentry's immediate response when asked about the history with the Spurs was to mention how few players this 2010 team has in common with the 2007 squad. True to a point. The two main guys are still here (Nash and Amare) and the Spurs are still running out their big three and have one of the best coaches in the league sitting on the bench. 

In Round 1, we saw a Suns team that was more mature and more prepared to deal with the rigors of a playoff series. Our third guy (Richardson) stepped up huge and our bench is better than it's ever been. The Suns don't need to score 105 points to win. The Suns don't need Steve Nash playing at MVP caliber and the Suns don't even need Amare to dominate the game.

The Suns so far in the playoffs are a better defensive rebounding team than the Spurs and a much better offensive rebounding team. If we can continue that dominance on the glass and continue to be the third best defensive field goal percentage team in the playoffs and continue to be poised and mature, then Phoenix will advance to the Western Conference Finals. But there are big questions going into this series:

  • Can Steve Nash get his body right, because right now in the last two games he was barely at 50% and that won't get it done?
  • Can the Suns' improved defense find a way to stop both Manu and Parker and not let Hill or Jefferson get loose either?
  • Can the Suns finally play Duncan with single coverage and limit the use of the double team because, while the Blazers weren't able to take advantage of trapping Aldridge, the Spurs will tear the Suns apart if that's used too much?
  • Can Robin Lopez come back and give a solid 15 to 20 minutes per game?
  • Can the Suns wings (Hill, JRich and Dudley) take advantage of the Spurs three guard line-up when they go to it?
  • Will JRich avoid missing any crucial late game dunks or, in other words, can Phoenix somehow avoid the mysterious collection of strange things that always seem to pop up when these two teams meet?

When I look at the numbers and rosters, I think the Suns should be able to win this series. The Suns are deeper and more talented at most positions. Timmy had a few good games in the first round but it took big minutes (three games at 40 min +) and he seemed to wear down as the series went on.  When Duncan is off the floor, the Spurs don't have the front line depth to hang with Phoenix and as great as Manu and Parker are playing, they've also shown that they can be stopped at times.

And by the way, how AWESOME is it that the Phoenix Suns will have home court advantage through at least two rounds of the playoffs?

That could be the difference in this series but when it comes to the Spurs, you just can't ignore history and you can't help but be scared about what kind of deal-with-the-devil type freakiness will occur in this series.

Suns in 7

 

Links

Media Row Report: Blazers 90, Suns 99 | BlazersEdge
A report from the Phoenix Suns 99-90 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 6 of their Western Conference playoff series.

Game 6 Recap: Blazers 90, Suns 99...Season Over | BlazersEdge
Long Story Short: The Suns did plenty to keep Portland in this game but in the end Blazer blunders, lack of sustained aggression from Portland, and some hot shooting from the three-point arc by Phoenix put the Suns (deservedly) over the top and on to the next round.

Phoenix Suns' Grant Hill, Jason Richardson lead rebound effort
Now that it counts most, the Suns swingmen had been the team's leading rebounders entering Game 6, with Hill averaging 7.6 rebounds per game in the series and Richardson at 6.8 per game.

Phoenix Suns eliminate Portland Trail Blazers in 6 games
"I was really hurting but I didn't want to make my physical problems the center of attention," Nash said. "I just wanted to keep the rhythm."

Games to pay attention to: Series-clinchers? | Ball Don't Lie - NBA Blog - Yahoo! Sports
As good as the Suns are, and as banged-up as the Blazers are, a lot still has to go right for Phoenix to pull out the win. And while they're more than capable of ending this tonight, having everyone on the same page in terms of defense, intensity, and defensive intensity is no small feat.

Phoenix Suns eliminate Portland Trail Blazers despite dismal night from Steve Nash | Valley of the Suns
There was a time not so long ago, earlier this season even, that the Phoenix Suns’ fortunes paralleled the performance of their two-time MVP. If Steve Nash was locked in, the Suns were locked in. If Nash was off, the Suns were off. The momentum of the team essentially lived and died by their offensive maestro.

The mystery of Steve Nash's hair | TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
Steve blow dries his hair. Shocking.

Suns PG Steve Nash: 'Ability To Sacrifice' Has Been Paramount To Team's Success | The Baseline - Sporting News
Q: (Suns forward Jared Dudley sneaked into the media room to ask Nash a question): All before the season, the media said we wouldn't make the playoffs. What does it mean now to be in the playoffs and be in the second round?

SN: Is this just a big joke to you, Jared? (Laughter from the press corps.) We're supposed to be professionals, we're not jacking around here. (More laughter). Obviously, it feels great. We weren't picked to be in the playoffs. But we had a great training camp, and the team really came together. We've got a lot of depth. We're not the most talented team, but our ability to sacrifice for the good of the team has been paramount to our success. We've got a lot of guys with athletic hands like yourself, and we hang in there.

A decisive coaching twist for the Suns | TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
"That switch really changed the way the series was played," says Suns president of basketball operations of GM Steve Kerr. "I thought that was the key matchup for us, because Miller destroyed us in Game 1."

SUNS: Postgame Quotes: Suns vs Blazers Round 1, Game 6
We have a calmness about us. Our bench has the ability to do things for us to keep us in games. I thought that Goran and those guys, LB… They kept us to the point where we didn’t want to play Steve and those guys for the last ten minutes.

Phoenix Suns finish off Portland Trail Blazers with defense, San Antonio Spurs up next | Valley of the Suns
The Phoenix Suns all year have claimed they could win with both offense and defense, playing both fast and slow, and they did just that during their 28-7 finishing kick. But could they do it in the playoffs when the defenses tightened and games slowed to a crawl? If Thursday night’s series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers was any indication, the answer is a definitive “Hell yes!” after the Suns did the unthinkable: win a playoff game without reaching the century mark.

Phoenix 99, Portland 90: Blazers' season comes to end as Suns advance | OregonLive.com
Portland hasn't won a playoff series since 2000.

Phoenix Suns now looking to settle score against San Antonio Spurs
This was not an upset. This was not unexpected. But this was a wonderful night for the franchise, which atoned for a playoff-less season last year. And it was more than a bit ironic that earlier in the game, the Blazers handed an autographed Terry Porter jersey to a lucky fan in the stands.

Basketball Prospectus | Articles | Playoff Prospectus: Going Small
Ultimately, the biggest story from this series has to be the Phoenix defense. While the Suns were alternately dominant (Games 2, 3 and 5) and average or worse (Games 1, 4 and 6) on offense, their defense was more consistently strong. Over the six games, Portland's aggregate Offensive Rating was 108.5, below the league average. Surely, Roy's injury--which first eliminated him altogether, then left him at far less than 100 percent--was a factor in the Blazers' inability to succeed on offense. Still, one of the big takeaways from watching Phoenix in person was the soundness with which the Suns rotate on defense.

KTAR.com - Gibberman: Here we go again
The Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs square off for the fourth time since the Steve Nash Era has begun. The previous three ended with Planet Orange crying after they lost - or whining about officials - most of the time doing both (I am a Knicks fan, I know how it feels…I went through everything all Suns fans have gone through since 2000 in the 1990s-early 2000s). I don't see the fortunes of the Suns changing this year; I am picking the Spurs in six.

Behind the Box Score, where the Spurs had all the answers | Ball Don't Lie - NBA Blog - Yahoo! Sports
The Suns look creaky enough to go out in five in the next series, and serious enough to take this all the way to the Finals. I mean that. They play the Spurs on Monday, and it's a great time to be a fan. Ho-ly cow.

All the Pretty Rookies of the Year | NBA FanHouse
Therefore, rather than live with the single ROY award that's customary in the league, or the co-ROY that's been known to happen, we went ahead and gave out 35 separate little imaginary trophies. One for each first-rounder, and then honors for some second-rounders of note.

Durant + Westbrook: English + Lever 2.0? - Denver Stiffs
Durant + Westbrook: English + Lever 2.0?

Are we in “Bizarro World”? | Fanster.com - All Sports. All Phoenix.
Either that is the saddest or funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Funny because it’s the Suns, a team/franchise with a 42-year reputation of being a high-scoring finesse team who has never had the physical mentality needed to win an NBA Championship. Sad because if the Blazers and their fans actually believe this, Portland might be the softest team in the history of professional sports.

 

 

This is a great post game video...rarely do you see inside the locker room like this


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