Preview: Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs, Game 2 (Throat Stepping Time)

Stay awesome, Jason. (Photo by Max Simbron)

Did you hear the news? It's Cinco de Mayo and the Suns will be wearing their "Los Suns" unis. There's some politics mixed in with that, as well, which Steve Nash after shootaround wanted no part of.

Asked about the reaction, he would only say, "I haven't really heard about any reaction, so I don't know. I haven't been to any rallies."

Asked a follow-up question, he would only say, "I just want to talk about the game tonight."

So that's all I'm going to say about that. We'll let Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity duke it out from here.

Game 1 Chess Match

Thinking more on this, it seems pretty clear that the Suns won the chess match in Game 1. Everyone and their brother expected Amare to get going early and continue his domination against the Spurs. The Spurs included. So they they committed to keeping McDyess glued to his side and the Suns hit them where they weren't looking, with a quick Canadian jab to the bread basket.

The Suns insist that Nash was only "taking what the defense gave," but you have to wonder how much of that was a planned reaction to an anticipated Popovich move. I choose to think it was. Both sides felt that early boost set the tone for the game and was a deciding factor.

Gentry 1, Popovich 0

Game 2 Adjustments

Parker starting

The common question is if the Spurs will start Tony Parker or not. I don't think this matters in the least. Not only will Tony get his 35 minutes regardless, the Suns are obviously not going to try the same Nash quick punch again.

Starting Tony to help slow down Nash at the start of the game will only play into the Suns' hands by giving the Suns a smaller help defender to worry about. It also would be a huge boost for Dragic and Barbosa, who would be coming in against Parker after he'd already played more minutes.

Mostly though, Popovich loves George Hill and I don't see him benching the kid just because he had one bad game. The Spurs need Hill to play well to win this series and benching him this early isn't going to help.

My guess is that George starts, but if not, it won't make a difference.

Small vs Big

This, to me, is going to be the biggest decision (no pun intended) that Pop will have to make in this series. His small line-up was used at the end of the 1st half and again to close the game. It was effective in the fourth quarter and sparked a 13-0 run, but I don't think the Spurs can count on that for the entire series.

Steve Nash seems to think Pop will use it, while Amare yesterday said he doesn't think that the Spurs small-ball will get as much play. We will certainly find out.

If/when the Spurs do use it, there are two match-ups the Suns need to exploit. Duncan guarding Amare is the first and most important. 4 times in Game 1, Amare iso'd Timmy from the high elbow and he scored on three of those plays. Amare knows that Tim can't guard him from there. As does Tim and everyone else, which is why you won't see Duncan on Amare until later in the game.

On the other side, that leaves Amare having to guard Tim in the post which isn't great either, but the Suns did a much better job with their team defense against Duncan's post play, holding him to 1 of 7 -- and that was against a rested Tim.

The other match-up is Channing Frye. If Gentry leaves Frye on the court against Jefferson, the Suns have to take advantage of this by having Amare pull Duncan out of the paint. Frye isn't a great post player but he can score on Richard.

Other Adjustments

Both teams will throw some different looks at the others' pick and rolls, but there's really only so many ways you can cover that and these guys will adjust on the fly.

In the end, it comes down to the Suns pushing the tempo, which is always easier when they are winning on the glass.

Not a Must Win, but a Deadly Blow

I read or heard a stat that 2nd round playoff teams that go up 2-0 win 113% of time (or thereabouts). A loss tonight for the Suns won't be a big blow and will only mean this series is going to go long as everyone expects.

If, however, the Suns can clean up the fouls -- which Gentry talked about today -- and get a little more bench production, this game could easily go to the Suns. In fact, a big win wouldn't surprise me. I just don't think the Spurs defense can slow down this Suns team and, while they can score some points, they will be playing from behind just as the Suns did in past years. We know how that went.

 

Other Notes:

Nash said he's feeling great going into tonight's game. Gentry said Robin won't play today but is hopeful for the near future.

The Spurs didn't hold shoot around. I guess they just hung out in their cushy robes and enjoyed a nice brunch at the Ritz.

 

 

Game Links

Spurs vs Suns preview

Pounding The Rock

Spurs vs Suns coverage

Shoot around audio

 

Here's an interesting take on Gentry vs D'Antoni

NBA Playoffs Wednesday Viewing Guide: Why Mike D'Antoni Let The Suns Down - SB Nation
For that, Gentry deserves a lot of credit, but D'Antoni also deserves some criticism. If Gentry can find a way to tweak the Suns' core identity like this and succeed with a worse roster on paper, why couldn't D'Antoni do the same with his stronger rosters? He could have, and it would have helped get his teams over the hump, but it also would have meant admitting his system needed some small tweaks. He wasn't willing to admit that, so instead, they spun their wheels until the Shaq trade. It all could have ended so differently.

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