By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted May 10 2010 1:08AM
SAN ANTONIO -- Lying on the training table getting six quickie stitches under his right eyebrow and feeling his eye swell shut, a thought crept into Steve Nash's head.
"You've got to be [blanking] kidding me."
The Phoenix Suns are a franchise that knows playoff pain. Figuratively and literally. So when Tim Duncan's elbow opened up that gash on Nash, ghosts of playoff series past were resurrected.
Three years ago in the same round against the same team, trainers couldn't close up a gash enough on Nash's nose and the MVP watched most of the final minute from the bench. San Antonio took Game 1 in Phoenix and went on to eliminate the higher-seeded Suns.
Body parts are as much a part of the Suns' postseason history the last decade as wins and losses. Most of Nash's face, Joe Johnson's eye, Raja Bell's Achilles and Amar'e Stoudemire's knee start the roll call of injuries at the worst possible time.
This time the bleeding stopped, both under Nash's eye and in the long, excruciating playoff rivalry with the Spurs. Phoenix finally broke through, beating a healthy Duncan and the Spurs for the first time in five tries. The Suns finished off the unforeseen sweep Sunday night, overcoming another rugged start to prevail 107-101.
Nash took part in the three previous eliminations and was knocked out another two times by San Antonio during his days in Dallas. As much as he tried to distance himself from the significance of beating the Spurs, this did feel personal. How could it not?
"It's definitely rewarding to win a series against the Spurs, but the past is the past," Nash said. "Like we said before this series and it really rings true, it is two different teams. Obviously, some of the core [players are the same], but so many players are different now than in the past that you can't act like this is a continuation in many ways.
"But for me personally, obviously it feels great."
Nash didn't feel so good midway through the third quarter. He left at the 5:47 mark after an inadvertent elbow from a driving Duncan. The Spurs were in the midst of an 11-0 run that tied the game, shifting the momentum in a game they had to win. Cue the expletives.
"We have 3 1/2 games clear sailing, so it seems like something always happens," Nash said.
Nash, though, returned and played the entire fourth quarter with only his left eye open. His 10 points and five assists in the period doubled his totals through three quarters. Nash twice knifed through San Antonio's defense as the Spurs were trying to mount a furious late rally. He channeled his inner Goran Dragic.
"Almost," Nash said. "Not quite."
After Tony Parker cut the Suns' lead to 99-95, Nash surveyed the full-court press and decided to go 7 seconds or less. Speeding right down the middle, he handed off to Stoudemire for a layup with 1:07 left. Using 20 seconds on the next possession, Nash calmly dropped in a 7-foot runner with 29.9 seconds left.
"Steve had Stoudemire vision and played great," said Stoudemire, who missed much of last season with an eye injury. "He did phenomenal. He got a couple of shots to drop and that helped build his confidence. We played a two-man game, and Tim couldn't figure out who to let go and we took advantage of that."
Stoudemire scored 12 of his game-high 29 in the fourth. Jared Dudley scored 16 off the bench, including three more dagger 3-pointers. Grant Hill continued to harass Manu Ginobili as he did throughout the series, with the Spurs admitting afterward that Ginobili's broken nose may have slowed him down. Nash had 20 points and nine assists.
The Suns weren't going to be denied against San Antonio this time. For the first time in the rivalry, they weren't overmatched in size or chemistry. Phoenix went 10-deep with ease, while Gregg Popovich couldn't count on more than two off the bench.
Still, there were disbelievers. Nash even brought up after that most pundits picked San Antonio, using history and the Spurs wiping out No. 2 seed Dallas in the first round as their guide. Being up 3-0 changed most minds.
"When you play the San Antonio Spurs, you've got to have enough fight to win it," Nash said. "And our team has enough fight."
His appreciation is genuine. Within the celebratory locker room, Nash took a couple teammates aside outside the shower and said: "Thank you guys, seriously."
Channing Frye replied: "Steve, I'm happy for you. I can honestly tell you wanted to win this so bad."
Dudley said Nash's comeback was the stuff of Rocky. Hill said he looked like Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini out there. Alvin Gentry said: "It's always something with his face."
With at least a week before the West finals, Suns trainer Aaron Nelson is confident Nash's swelling will subside and his vision won't be impaired. Nash expects to be fine as Phoenix awaits the Lakers or Jazz. The champs hold a 3-0 lead.
The healing has already begun.
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