I missed games 3 and 4 live, and just finished the revolting task of watching where my lunch money went. I got a lot wrong in my handicapping of this series, and also suffered some bad luck. Here’s my take on the reasons why the Suns dominated:
1) Shockingly, Nash survived the series intact, but Tony Parker didn’t. Nash didn’t appear to be bothered by the hip injury he suffered in Portland. Parker, on the other hand, suffered a back and shoulder injury early in game 3 that ended the Spurs chances in the series. After going 19-35 from the field in the first two games, Parker shot 5-17 in game 3 at home after suffering his injury. All 5 makes came on layups, meaning he missed every jumper he took. He also missed all 4 free throws he took.
The story of game 3, according to the media, was Goran Dragic and his 26 points. Nonsense. Ridiculous. Dragic got his points for two reasons: first, because the Spurs behind a one-armed Tony Parker couldn’t hit a shot, and second, because the injured Parker couldn’t guard him.
Before game 3, Dragic was 2-12 in the series. In game 4, he went right back to 2-6. The story of game 3 was the injury to Parker.
Parker v. Nash was the key matchup, obviously, of this series, and the chief reason I liked the Spurs. Because Tony Parker OWNS Steve Nash when healthy. He has dropped 30 on him in the playoffs more times than I can count. He dropped 30 several times on Chris Paul and the defensively much better New Orleans Hornets a couple of years ago. Parker is what makes the Spurs go.
It didn’t happen in this series.
2) Manu Ginobili’s nose. I didn’t credit this development much before the series but I should have. Ginobili was having a terrific stretch of basketball before he broke his nose. He shot 30% in the games after. Obviously, he was nothing close to the same player, and a lot more reluctant to penetrate.
3) George Hill = FAIL. Hill was so completely outplayed on both sides of the ball that it made me wonder why Popovich had so much confidence in him. He couldn’t guard anyone, he couldn’t shoot, he couldn’t set up his teammates. And unlike both Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, he has zero ball-instinct and no rebounding ability. Which brings me to:
4) The Spurs bench. For most commentators, this is first on the list, and spoken of in reference to the Suns’ bench, which they praised to the heavens. I demur. I don’t think the Suns’ bench is very good (outside of Channing Frye, who I consider a starter). I just think the Spurs’ bench was non-existent. We’ll get a better read on this in the next series, when we see what Dragic, Jared Dudley and Lou Amundsen get accomplished against the Lakers.
I have no idea why Popovich stuck with George Hill. I have no idea why he lost confidence in Roger Mason this year. I have no idea why he lost confidence in Keith Bogans in game 1 of this series, after he averaged 20 minutes a game during the regular season. I didn’t expect that.
I have no idea why Popovich traded Theo Ratliff mid-season, and kept DeJuan Blair. Blair is not an NBA player. He is a 6-7 center. He is only effective when played against big stiffs. He cannot run, he cannot shoot, he cannot defend the rim. It goes without saying that he cannot be played against the Phoenix Suns. But Popovich apparently had no choice.
5) The Suns defense. I shouldn’t even get started on this. But most commentators have this higher up on the list. The Phoenix Suns are not a good defensive team, no matter what these talking heads keep saying. Four of their five front-line players — Stoudemire, Frye, Richardson and Nash — are universally acknowledged to be among the WORST defensive players in the league at their positions. The Suns have exactly two decent defensive players on their team: the 37 year old Grant Hill, and the 20 minute bench player Dudley.
This is the best defense the Suns have ever had? Please. I watched this team when they had Shawn Marion and Raja Bell in their primes.
What this Suns team is on defense, is clever. And that brings me to:
6) Alvin Gentry, who could be much higher up on this list. Having watched the first two series closely, I’m beginning to feel that Gentry is a bit of an unsung genius. I’m beginning to feel like he’s making his bones, like he is joining the ranks of the league’s elite coaches.
Gentry is a master of matchups. His team doesn’t play set lineups and regular rotations. He mixes and matches until he gets the matchups he likes. And if there’s a mismatch on the floor, the Suns go at it relentlessly. His team doesn’t run set plays: With Nash at the helm, they take what the defense gives them.
Like Don Nelson, Gentry likes having five scorers on the floor. It was absolutely criminal that Nate McMillan couldn’t figure out what to do with Channing Frye for two years, wasn’t it? Alvin Gentry knows what to do with Channing Frye.
Gentry deploys his lone defensive pieces masterfully. He put Grant Hill on Andre Miller in the Portland series. He put him on Manu Ginobili, with the aid of clever traps and double teams, in this series.
It’s almost as if he had watched Don Nelson use Stephen Jackson to beat the Mavericks.