Absolutely nothing in this world brings a broader smile to the face of your humble author than when the San Antonio Spurs defeat the Phoenix Suns. And rest assured, my smile stretches ear to ear because the Spurs toppled the Suns in Phoenix this very merry Christmas day. Although the Spurs took a very narrow lead during the 3rd, the Spurs trailed for the majority of the contest. But some lock-down defense by the silver and black, as well as some last second heroics by Roger Mason Jr. helped send the boys in black back to SA with a signature win over a hated rival.
In all honesty, the game started very poorly for the Spurs as well as myself. The Magic were decimating the Hornets (which is actually a good thing), and I chose to take a nap in preparation for the big game. I awoke when I my father frustratedly noted that "we're getting whooped." In a sleepy, irritated haze I glanced at the TV to discover a 0-11 score in favor of the Suns. A number of my ex-girlfriends can attest to the notion that I am a real SoB when woken from a nap; tack on the fact that the Spurs were getting thoroughly handled by Phoenix and I was in as 'bout a bad a mood as I had been in all year.
My first reaction was "Phoenix Stan must have tipped Porter off." Recently Tim and I took part in a podcast hosted by Phoenix Stan of the excellent blog Bright Side of the Sun. During it Stan asked me what it would take to beat the Spurs. I told him they should crowd the lane, prevent penetration and dare us to make our 3-pointers (which I referred to as our "guilty pleasure.") Well, the Suns heeded my advice and forced the Spurs to take (and miss) long jumper after long jumper.
On the opposite end of the floor the Suns came out efficient and aggressive. The titanic frontcourt of the Suns made their presence known as Shaq and Amare scored 14 of the Suns first 17 points. Deep in the second quarter the Spurs went on and 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 4. The Spurs would enter the locker room at half down by 6.
The game would remain close for the next 24 minutes. In the early minutes of the 3rd quarter Duncan played excellent defense on Shaq, giving the Spurs the necessary stops to tie the game at 52 (and even briefly take a 54-52 lead). The Suns would again open up an 8 point lead at the beginning of the 4th but the Spurs would close the gap with 5:48 to play and never again allow the game to get out of hand.
With 1 minute left Parker committed a technical foul, sending Nash to the line where he tied the game 88-88. After missed layups by Amare (which was defended beautifully by Duncan) and Parker (who was absolutely fouled but didn't receive the call), the Suns came out of a timeout and run a beautiful backdoor screen to Grant Hill, taking the lead 90-88 with 4 seconds to play.
On the play Grant Hill inbounded the ball to Amare and immediately cut baseline where an awaiting Nash picked Finley, giving Hill the easy layup. Parker was covering Nash but failed to make the appropriate switch as Hill slid past and laid in what many thought would be the game winner.
With 4 seconds to go Finley inbounded the ball to Parker (who was guarded by Hill). Parker drove left but was unable to drive past Hill. Luckily, Jason Richardson collapsed on to Parker, leaving Roger Mason wide open in the corner. Parker completed the pass and Mason nailed the 3-pointer as the buzzer went off.
Although Parker played well (27 points, 10-23 from the field), the game ball goes to Tim Duncan, whose offensive consistency kept us afloat in the second quarter and whose impeccable defense put us in a position to win. In the closing minutes of the game both Manu and Parker missed layups but the Suns were unable to capitalize on the opportunity because Duncan played tremendous defense against Amare, who the Suns were relying on to make clutch shots down the stretch. Duncan hauled in highly contested rebounds, produced turnovers, and denied open looks, all while having 5 fouls. He also had a moment, simple yet telling, in which he dove to the ground in order to secure a loose ball. It was a tenacity I haven't seen from the big guy in a while and it was reassuringly beautiful to behold.
Make no mistake, defense won this game. The Spurs shot only 41.8% from the field, typically a percentage not high enough to topple a potent offensive force like the Suns (although no longer as meteoric as the D'Antoni days, this team still knows how to score some points). Another key to victory was the turnover differential: While Phoenix coughed the ball up 14 times, we allowed only 6 turnovers all game. We shot worse and hauled in less rebounds, but by protecting the ball and being aggressive on defense we gave ourselves the opportunity to win.
Let's be frank: the Spurs didn't play a great game. They showed a lot of poise down the stretch but in the closing minutes both Parker and Ginobili failed to make layups after the defense came up with stop after stop. In some ways beating the Suns on merely an OK day leaves room to be optimistic, but this team still gives the Spurs match-up problems and will not soon forget what happened in Arizona today. But now is not a time to worry about the future. Today is a day to be merry. Happy Holidays, Spurs fans.