Spurs close it out to reach West fi­nals

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS -

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“We did ev­ery­thing we could,” Phoenix Coach Mike D’An­toni said.

But ul­ti­mately, the same old faces will be head­ing to a familiar place.

It may not be pop­u­lar. The Spurs lost the sym­pa­thy vote when a foul by Robert Horry on Nash in Game 4 re­sulted in onegame sus­pen­sions for Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw of the Suns for leav­ing their bench.

It might not have been ex­pected. San An­to­nio’s Texas neigh­bor, the Dal­las Mav­er­icks, were the high-profile team dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, com­pil­ing the NBA’s best record. Phoenix had the sec­ond-best reg­u­lar-sea­son record.

And it may not ex­cite the television ex­ec­u­tives who pre­fer teams that rep­re­sent the at­trac­tive larger pop­u­la­tion cen­ters.

But like it or not, the Spurs are go­ing back to the con­fer­ence fi­nals for the third time in five sea­sons.

They are go­ing be­cause of Manu Gi­no­bili’s per­for­mance off the bench in Game 6. He had 33 points, (11 of 17 from the field in­clud­ing four of seven three-point bas­kets), 11 re­bounds and six as­sists.

They are go­ing be­cause of Tony Parker, who scored 30 points, handed out six as­sists and out­played his back­court ri­val, Nash, in terms of ag­gres­sive­ness and com­mand of the game.

They are go­ing be­cause of Tim Dun­can, who was solid on the of­fen­sive end with 24 points, strong inside with 13 re­bounds and dom­i­nant on the de­fen­sive end with nine blocked shots.

“He’s al­ways around,” Stoudemire said. “He’s a force to be reck­oned with.”

But ul­ti­mately it could be ar­gued that the Spurs are go­ing to the con­fer­ence fi­nals be­cause of Bowen, the de­fender the Lak­ers’ Kobe Bryant refers to as the best in the league.

The Suns’ high-pow­ered of­fense, best in the NBA this sea­son, de­pends on Nash to flip the ig­ni­tion switch.

And Fri­day night, Bowen, in Nash’s chest, on his back, match­ing him step for step and move for move, kept Nash from kick­ing his team into high gear un­til it was too late.

“It was a dif­fi­cult loss,” Nash said. “What more can I say? It would just be wasted words.”

Nash wound up with a re­spectable 18 points and a morethan re­spectable 14 as­sists. But 15 of those points came in the fourth quar­ter af­ter San An­to­nio had outscored Phoenix, 28-16, in the third quar­ter to take a com­mand­ing lead.

“Bruce has the tough­est job on the team with­out a doubt,” San An­to­nio Coach Gregg Popovich. “I don’t know how he does it. He doesn’t get tired. He did a great job on a great player and that’s all I can ask of him.”

Stoudemire had a game-high 38 points, along with 12 re­bounds and four blocked shots, caus­ing his team­mates to won­der what might have been if Stoudemire had been al­lowed to play in Game 5, which Phoenix lost 8885.

Nash won­dered aloud af­ter Fri­day’s game when asked how the se­ries might have turned out dif­fer­ent.

“Not hav­ing two play­ers taken from us would have helped,” he said. “It’s tough not to think what would have hap­pened if this stupid rule had not got­ten in the way of the se­ries. We did not get a full swing.

“It will for­ever haunt us.”

steve.springer@la­times.com

Eric Gay As­so­ci­ated Press

EYE- BALLING IT: Tony Parker of the Spurs stands over Shawn Mar­ion of the Suns as the two watch the loose ball roll away.

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