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Suns sweep Spurs, advance to conference finals


By Tim Price, for NBA.com
Posted Monday May 10, 2010 12:16AM

SAN ANTONIO (NBA.com exclusive) -- Perhaps it's been proven plenty of times this season, but it took a rare off night by Jason Richardson to show why the Suns will advance to the Western Conference Final. Richardson missed the 20-point mark that has served the Suns so well, but someone else wearing purple and orange stepped up Sunday in Game 4 against the Spurs.

And, now that Phoenix has beaten San Antonio -- swept them, no less -- after four-straight playoff series losses to the Spurs, maybe it's a new sort of team coming from the desert. But the same old names from Phoenix closed this one out.

Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire combined for 22 points off 9-for-15 shooting in the fourth quarter, and the Suns held off a furious rally from the four-time champion Spurs to prevail 107-101 at AT&T Center . Nash, whose right eye was swollen shut after getting knocked from an inadvertent elbow from Tim Duncan, contributed five assists in the final quarter in the closeout game.

"I can't really see out of it," Nash said. "I don't want to glorify it, but it's been a long time since we beat this team and advanced in the playoffs, and I tried to do what I could to close it out."

The defending champ Los Angeles Lakers, the presumptive opponent in the Western final if the Lakers can close out their current 3-0 advantage over the Jazz, could be the only barrier in the Suns' way of appearing in their first NBA Final since their 1993 faceoff with the Celtics that brings back memories of the triple-overtime thriller in Boston Garden .

This one got thrilling late with the on-the-ropes Spurs throwing desperate punches nearing the bell of the final round. San Antonio trailed by 10 points when Richardson, who scored a series-low 11 points and missed the 20-point mark that has built the Suns a 31-4 record, hit a 3-pointer at the two-minute mark.

The Spurs scored 12 of the next 16 points and trailed by two when George Hill hit a 3-pointer and the foul shot after he was bumped on the shot by Stoudemire with 26 seconds to go.

San Antonio steered clear of Nash and instead fouled Grant Hill, an 82 percent free-throw shooter. He hit both, and Ginobili missed a 3-pointer that Richardson rebounded, and Richardson hit two free throws after he was fouled immediately.

And that was it. The Suns set their misery against Tim Duncan and company.

But it was the Spurs who sank slowly past the horizon this time. The only time they won a fourth quarter was in Game 1 when they eked out a 27-26 advantage but still lost after falling behind by as much as 14 points.

Otherwise, they were outscored 132-107 in the fourth this series. Three of the four games the Suns finished the game with a 30-point quarter, most memorably the 39-pointer in Game 3 when Goran Dragic scored 23 points and blew open a game where the Spurs took a one-point lead into the fourth.

"We'd going into the fourth quarter, and someone for them would step up," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

The old Spurs just couldn't keep pace. Duncan scored 17 points, but he was 2-for-8 from the floor in Game 4 and lacked energy at the foul line by going 16-for-34 for the series.

In one glaring example of not finishing inside, Duncan pumped past Stoudemire and missed at the rim and fouled after the miss with 5:56 to go.

And Ginobili, playing with a bandage over his broken nose, was 2-for-11 from the floor on Sunday.

Dragic had his opportunity to step up again in Game 4 when Nash left the game with blood trickling from above his right eye. He got six stitches, and in that time San Antonio continued a run that saw the Spurs erase an 11-point lead. San Antonio led with 1 minutes left in the third quarter and had a tie game with 9 left in the game.

"The great thing about our team is we have a closeout instinct," Stoudemire said.

And that's what Nash and Stoudemire did. They scored 20 of the next 28 Phoenix points.

"I can't really see out of it," Nash said afterward, sporting the Rocky-like swollen eye. "I don't know how it didn't keep me on the sidelines. I wanted to give it a try, and luckily it worked out."

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