In summary, this was a good win against a quality opponent. Before the game, D'Antoni said a win today against the Spurs would be "Huge" and it was! The SUNS were down 5 with 6 minutes to go and were able to come back. The Suns have won three grinders thus far and lost none: (Celts, Blazers, Spurs). They have lost all their games with scores over 100.
Let's begin by reviewing SRP's pregame Factors for Achieving Most Glorious Victory
Get healthy on D -
This was an improvement! There were fewer Spurs left wide open for threes. I counted about 3 or 4 times a shooter was left wide open for a three and no one near enough to contest the shot. There were more, but those other threats did not result in a shot being taken. A lot of Spurs makes were tough, contested shots.
Use the clock -
Throw the ball into the post and when they double down swing it around a few times and go back into the post again.
Absolutely. We saw this early in the game when the suns used it's array of early half-court offensive maneuvers to get Shaq and the ball deep into the paint together. D'Antoni has been an innovator of some of these schemes to free up players under the hoop (see X's and O's), but now these schemes are effective in getting Shaq deep position. Importantly, the suns would also need to have, and apparently do have, the passers that can deliver, in very timely fashion, the ball to a deep in the paint Shaq. D'Antoni offensive ingenuity and SUNS skills made it happen this game.
WAKE UP -
The Suns came out with energy and played with intensity. Further, they maintained it throughout the game. Possibly the Spurs came out a little sluggish. Amare was not on as sharp as he could have been. Kurt seemed to get the better of him a little.
Now let's review SRP's Main Matchups.
Shaq vs. T-Dunkin
This first matchup turned out great for us. Tim was frustrated the whole game, making 6 of 19 and collecting 10 rebounds. Tim Duncan had his shot blocked - three times!!! (One exclamation mark for each block on a 7-footer!) Some of the blocks came from help defenders, but seeing both Amare and Shaq fighting in the paint together brought tears to my eyes! Those two giant fighters in the trenches duking it out with a bunch of black and whites! In contrast to Tim, Shaq had a monster game in his defense, poise and impacts that rippled through the other players on the court. He was on the court for 35 minutes and I'm sure most of us would have liked to see more.
STAT vs. Ol' Crazy Eyes
Regarding some of the matchups, credit Kurt Thomas for taking Amare out of his game. Although Kurt didn't hurt us a lot offensively (11 pts), he drew a number of goofy fouls early on Amare. Amare played only 32 minutes in this big-time, nationally televised game and shot just 6-17. Most of Amare's impact was in a few shots in the late 4Q using Nash as a screen.
It was a shock to see Kurt put the ball on the floor - twice! It was out of character because as a SUN, Kurt may have never had to dribble in a game - his job was inbound, set screen, pick-and-pop, rebound. Look for the next game the Spurs use him that way more too and look for him to possibly hurt us a bit more with open 15-footers as we attempt to trap guys like Manu.
Nash did a good job staying close enough to Bowen, as Bowen shot one open 3 in the 1Q (while Nash was on Parker, I think) and one in the 3Q, but that was just after Nash had exited the game. Nash was tough on Parker and was able to stay in front of Parker most of the time. Nash also got some good help and deserves some credit for the heavy fouls the frontline picked up. For example, with 5:55 to go in the 4Q, Parker left Nash standing still at the top of the key. Parker was stopped only after drawing a 5th foul on Shaq.
Using Length late in the 4Q on Parker, now in the form of Grant Hill, continues to frustrate the Spurs PG.
Manu was off today, despite scoring 22. Early he was pushing too hard into the Suns improved interior defense and several times ran into brick walls, accumulating two offensive fouls and five turnovers in the process.
Player of the game,
Without question, today's game ball goes to Shaq, but with the caveat that just about every game ball probably should go to Nash. D'Antoni gets an assist for changing the offensive strategy to get Shaq close to the rim. The Suns came out early, featuring Shaq deep under tha basket and he delivered with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 2 of 3 from the line and 16 rebounds. But the key was Shaq's energy and savior-faire which was a huge boost to Suns fandom. We are no longer the little overachievers running around double-teaming and getting knocked on our asses and Kwame Brown steps over us for a face-in-the-crotch shot. Those days left when an inadvertent elbow shot sends Oberto to the cut-man. Those days left when the Suns outrebound the Spurs 57-52. The first thing Manu noticed at half-time was that they were not getting all the second chance points their poor-shooting team needs to win.
Great Shaq plays included:
1Q: Nash cutting under the basket, feeds to Shaq, Shaq bobbles it, Nash saves it and refeeds Shaq, Shaq flushes it. Great assist by Nash.
Edit: jasonsuns1 says this was STAT not SHAQ. Thanks jasonsuns1!
1Q Tim Duncan downs Shaq, foul on Duncan, Duncan offers hand to help up Shaq, and Shaq doesn't even acknowledge Tim's existence.
3Q: Shaq flies like Shamu out of the Sea World tank into the crowd to save a loose ball and still has enough to cleanly fly safely over a first row of two very excited kids. Shaq-Shamu is a killer! A killer whale on the court!
3Q: One a single defensive play, Shaq blocked/thwarted two different players and made one out-of-bounds save to get the possession.
There were numerous feeds to Shaq, rebounds and other good defensive plays. Importantly, Shaq's effort and energy shows the Big Cactus is going to compete. Things are looking good!
The one matchup that was not discussed is really the main story of at least the past three games.
The Suns Achilles Heel continues to ache:
The Bench problems were exacerbated by the Spurs most effective player coming in just as the Suns most effective player was coming out.
To grossly summarize: the bench played 54.5 minutes cumulatively and in that time shot 5-for-20, got 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers and 16 points. Barby was in a funk and missed wide open threes repeatedly. Boris is still traveling more on the court than off it - he was called for it twice,. He committed all 4 TOs to go with his lone assist. I can't tell whether the issue is that he is indecisive, thinking too much on the court or just not physically strong enough to execute his plan under pressure. G-squared really should not even be criticized, playing only five minutes in his third game with the team. He was 0-for-3. One part of the problem is that the passes from Barby and from Boris to the rest of the team are often off by just enough that the shooter has to move a lot to get the ball. Then by the time they reset for a shot, a black-and-white is there and they are no longer open. Or the launch a hurried shot. Boris and Barby both need to improve their passing to open shooters. For example in the first quarter, G-squared was wide open in the corner, Barby drove and dished to a wide open GG, but GG had to save the ball from being a turnover instead of shooting the three. The bench was also 0-5 in 3 point shooting. (Bell was 1-for-5, Nash was 2-for-2).
Boris played some decent defense, however, quickly sliding from fronting Duncan to getting behind him once Duncan got the pass. On one play, however, in the 1Q Barby and Boris had trapped Manu in the corner - it was a great trap. But then Boris dropped off on a fake and Manu had a clear path to the basket, drove, scored and drew a Boris foul to top it off. After those shenanigans were done, what was a 3 point lead when Nash left at 9:08 was a 3 point trail at the of 1Q.
The bench from accumulated an unscientific sum of -38 plus/minus. All suns benchers were -8 or more plus/minus. The Suns starters were +2 (Grant) or better than +13. All of the Spurs starters were -6 or worse (Duncan, -23!). With the exception of Mighty Mouse, the Spurs bench were all +6 or better (Udoka, +17!).
It's pretty clear that the bench is not cutting it. So clear that D'Antoni uncharacteristically tightened bench play further, playing Nash 38+ minutes and Shaq 35+ in this contest. The bench played 10 minutes less than in previous contests. The key was playing Nash almost all the way through the 3Q to avoid a late 3Q meltdown. By 1 minute to go, Nash was falling down all over the place and needed to be rested. We were up by 2 when he left and only down by 1 (70-69) by the start of the 4Q.
These Suns bench weakness was also evident in the loss to the Nugs (3rd-4thQ Nash break) and Sixers (1st-2ndQ Nash break). Dark Side: We haven't had any solution for the past 4 years. Bright Side: Nash really is that good.