Spurs close it out to reach West finals
“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.”
EYE- BALLING IT: Tony Parker of the Spurs stands over Shawn Marion of the Suns as the two watch the loose ball roll away.