It's is pretty shocking to watch a Suns/Spurs series where the bigger team is wearing Purple and Orange.
The team with more points in the paint (56-48), more rebounds (44-38), and more second chance points (10-4) was the team with the bigger lineups who played better defense and was less dependent on transition baskets and pick and roll. That team is now the Phoenix Suns.
And what a difference that makes. When the Suns attacked early behind 17 first quarter points from Nash, it was still the stifling Suns defense that held the Spurs to 41.7% by the end of the first half. Only a 22-11 advantage from the free throw line kept the Spurs down by 10 instead of 20.
San Antonio made runs in the third and fourth quarters, but both times it was quick-hitting transition offense and some timely threes early in the clock from Ginobili that provided the offensive spark. This time, it was the Suns who were able to withstand the pressure and regroup, get stops and only then run back the other way for some easy crowd-igniting baskets.
It's a new reality that Tim Duncan seems to understand all too well, "They are definitely better and deeper and have a lot more guys playing and they played great. When we did get back into it, we got a whole bunch of points in transition."
What have we learned over the years about smaller teams who need to score in transition, can't defend the paint and can't rebound? They lose in the playoffs.
The Suns can do a better job stopping the ball in transition, as can the Spurs, and Phoenix certainly isn't happy about some defensive breakdowns late in the fourth when Manu and Tony were able to get into the lane at will or find Tim wide-open in the lane.
This series is going to go long, but in the end, I simply don't believe a Spurs team that is getting 30+ minutes out of three guards and a fairly ineffective small forward -- plus Tim Duncan -- can win. McDyess only played 19 minutes. Bonner and Blair 13 and 11. If Popovich continues to try and win this series going small, he simply concedes a big advantage to the Suns, who have much more depth at the guard and wing positions.
The Suns bench didn't do a good job tonight, but there's no reason to think that at some point in this series those guys won't step it up. They are certainly more capable than Keith Bogans and an injured Roger Mason. If Pop wants to make this a run and gun series, he is playing right into the Suns' hands. And he has to know that, which goes to show how little trust he has in McDyess and Bonner.
Steve Nash on the role reversal, "They're definitely looking to score in transition and they run a ton of pick and rolls, maybe more than we've ever ran, and at the same time they're trying to go small with us, as opposed to years past. It is a little different."
Welcome to a brave new world where the Silver and Black are forced to play small and fast in hopes of outscoring the Suns. Their activity at times was able to disrupt the Suns flow, but in those moments it was Phoenix who was able to simply find the mismatch and get quality looks in the paint. That, plus rebounding, is a winning formula in the playoffs.
- The Suns can certainly play better in the next game. Guys missed some open shots early and LB and Goran can both do better. Channing only had 6 points, but he rebounded well and even did a solid job defending Duncan -- including a great block.
- In the first half especially, the Suns were bringing help on Duncan when he put the ball on the floor, which forced him into tough shots. Duncan only had 7 points on 2 of 6 shooting in the first half. In the second half, the Spurs were able to find Tim in the lane for quick strikes. The Suns need to recognize that and do a better job running the floor, but over the course of the series, I don't think Tim can keep up that pace. Not when he's playing 37 minutes.
- The Suns defensive rotations against the pick and roll were fantastic in the first half. There was some slippage later in the game and both sides will be looking at that film.
- Nash's 33 points and early aggressiveness normally isn't how the Suns want to score, but in this case it forced the defense to collapse and opened up some threes. The Suns had 20 three-point attempts against a Spurs team that only gave up 14 per game during the regular season. The Suns hit 35% of them, but that includes 0-3 from Dragic and Amare's buzzer beating attempt at the half. Nash, JRich and Frye were a combined 7 for 14 (50%).
- The Spurs only shot 4 for 19 from three (21%), with George Hill going 0 for 5. All of those bench guys are going to have better games at some point, but the Suns have more players with the potential to put up big numbers than the Spurs do right now.
- After playing a Portland team that kept the pace down and at times held the Suns to just 4 fast break points, the Spurs never looked like a defensive unit that was going to shut down the Suns for long. Phoenix had 27 fast break points.
- What else can you say about Jason Richardson? You had to wonder a bit if his big Round 1 numbers were somewhat overblown by the defensive schemes and open looks he saw against the Blazers, but I think tonight we saw that the Suns have a legitimate 3rd guy that all great teams need. He's stepping up just as Richard Jefferson is fading.
- Amare probably didn't see the ball enough in isolation. It looked for a time there that the Suns were running too much high screen and roll and the Spurs defended it well. Out of a timeout, they went away from that and went to Amare in isolation. He hinted at this as well, "I didn't quite have too many ISOs to see how they're going to play me."
- The Spurs only had 4 second chance points. They are so worried about the Suns transition game that they are conceding the offensive glass. Even if they want to compete on the boards, their small lineups won't allow it.
- Not only did Amare out-rebound Duncan (13-11), but the Suns wing combo of Grant Hill, JRich and Dudley had 17 rebounds compared to only 9 for Ginobili, Jefferson and Bogans.
- That was the best Suns crowd of the year. They wanted this win bad and the noise and energy really helped the Suns.
- It certainly felt like the Spurs were getting all the calls in this game, but it often feels that way watching your team. One thing you can't ignore is that the Spurs had a 25-11 advantage in FTAs through the 3rd quarter and finished the game 31-21 when you remove the 8 intentional fouls late in the game. Whatever the case, Spurs fans certainly can't complain that their team got screwed by the refs.
- How much fun was it watching Lou and Blair on the court together? Hustle factor was through the roof!
- The Spurs adjusted on Nash and started trapping the ball out of his hands in the second half.
- The Spurs will certainly come out fired up in Game 2, but the Suns will as well. My sense is that the Suns can play much better while the Spurs gave about what they can give. Sure, George Hill and Richard Jefferson can play better, but on the Suns side there are far more players capable of improving their totals and at some point (probably when the Spurs adjust and put more focus on Nash), the Suns will go to Amare more frequently in the post
We are just getting started here and as we already saw, this isn't going to be easy. The Spurs have several big weapons and can attack quickly but everything I saw tonight makes me hopeful that the laws of basketball gravity are in the Suns favor. Deeper bench. Bigger players. More variety. Better rebounding.
For more post game, check out the press conferences on NBA.com.