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Art Garcia

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Can George Hill be the spark that coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs need?
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San Antonio's Big Three looking for a capable fourth


Posted May 5 2010 11:45AM

PHOENIX -- The Suns are used to being beaten by a certain San Antonio three. Most of the NBA is. And in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the two teams, that familiar trio of torturers was at it once again.

Phoenix had few answers for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, repeating a pattern that's nearly a decade old in playoff battles. But that was basically it for the Spurs.

The Suns can live with that.

"It just kinda happened that way," Phoenix veteran Grant Hill said. "It's not something we said we were going to do, or like we wanted Tim or the other guys to go off, because they're capable of beating us."

Duncan, Ginobili and Parker accounted for 73 points in the Spurs' 111-102 loss Monday night. Limiting San Antonio's supporting cast wasn't specifically spelled out as a strategy by Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "That was not part of the gameplan," Suns guard Jason Richardson conceded, "but it should be."

The Spurs are at their most dangerous when the Three Amigos are joined by at least a fourth. The most likely candidates are George Hill and Richard Jefferson. That duo combined for a paltry 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the opener. None of the other Spurs scored more than six.

San Antonio shot 45.8 percent in the opener, but just 35.7 percent when Duncan, Ginobili and Parker were taken out of the mix..

"Everybody has got to do a little bit more," said Ginobili, who scored a team-high 27 points. "Scoring from other people would help, but making better decisions from us three [would help], too."

Ginobili said he took at least four bad 3-pointers. He and Duncan combined for six of the team's 11 turnovers. Parker (26 points) was assertive off the bench in the first half and as a second half starter for George Hill. But the point guard had just three assists.

San Antonio made a run from 14 down to pull within one point with less than five minutes left. But just about everything was coming from Duncan, Ginobili and Parker.

"It makes them more predictable, but it's still hard to stop those guys," Richardson said. "It's still hard to stop Ginobili on the pick-and-roll or in transition. It's hard to stop Duncan on the block. It's hard to stop Tony Parker from penetrating in the lane, so we've got to keep doing a good job of minimizing all of that. You know they're going to get numbers, but we want to come up with the win."

Arguably the second-best Spurs player during the second half of the season, George Hill averaged 14.3 points in the first round against Dallas. The second-year guard was seemingly taken out of Game 1 in the first quarter by an attacking Steve Nash. The Phoenix playmaker began the game by repeatedly speeding past Hill for layups before peppering the Spurs with jumpers.

Hill never seemed to find his comfort zone after the early bombardment. He missed all five of his shots in the second half, including four in the fourth.

"He could have just as easily made his shots and we wouldn't have talked about it," said Nash, who scored 33. "It just might have been one of those nights where he didn't feel it."

Jefferson was brought in last summer to be that fourth banana that the Spurs need. Veterans typically don't pick up the Spurs' system completely the first year, and Jefferson is no exception.

But when Jefferson is providing that extra punch, the Spurs are that much better. San Antonio is 23-8 when RJ scores at least 15, including 2-0 in the series win over the Mavericks. Parker, though, said Jefferson and/or Hill can't be spoon fed in an effort to get them started Wednesday night.

"We'll see in Game 2," Parker said. "I still think we need to force TD inside and Manu is playing great off the pick-and-rolls. Everybody is going to have to feed off that."

The Suns weren't exactly a study in balance Monday. Nash, Richardson and Amar'e Stoudemire rolled up 83 points. The other seven Suns that played accounted for just 28.

"If you look at the way Steve, J-Rich and Amar'e are going to play and if then you look at the way Tony, Manu and Tim are going to play, the difference may be whoever has one of the X-factors step up," Gentry said. "Is it going to be DeJuan Blair? Is it going to be Grant?"

It probably needs to be someone.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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