SAN ANTONIO, May 28 (Ticker) --
The Phoenix Suns no longer can mask
their deficiencies. The San Antonio Spurs simply are a better
Flashing their brilliance on both offense and defense, the Spurs
got big games from Tim Duncan
and Tony Parker
and moved to the
doorstep of the NBA Finals with a 102-92 victory over the Suns.
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Duncan had 33 points and 15 rebounds and Parker added 18 and
seven assists for second-seeded San Antonio, which throttled
top-seeded Phoenix and opened a 3-0 lead in the all-but-over
Western Conference finals.
After bolting to 38 points in the first quarter, the Spurs
flashed their trademark defense for the first time in the series
and made it no fun for the run-and-gun Suns, who were held to
their lowest half of the season and could not recover.
"The defense was a real priority for us," Spurs coach
said. "I think the guys responded to it very well in
the second quarter, made them realize again who they are and
they carried on with that fairly well in the second half."
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
conceded that the Spurs have the same
look they had when they won NBA titles in 1999 and 2003.
"(It) seems like it," he said. "It's pretty good insight. I
hate to be the one that's complimenting, we still got one game."
The NBA's best team in the regular season, the Suns lost two
shootouts at home as their lax defense was exposed in the fourth
quarter of both games. Claiming they simply needed a break or
two, they got one in the form of versatile swingman Joe Johnson
who had missed the last six games with a fractured orbital bone
but returned wearing a protective mask.
Johnson scored 15 points, but his presence was not enough to
overcome the excellence of the Spurs, who again shut down
and made life difficult for NBA MVP Steve Nash
Having sped to a 38-29 lead after one period, San Antonio
limited Phoenix to 10 points on 5-of-21 shooting in the second
quarter, building a 56-39 bulge.
"Pop kept saying we need to play defense, we need to make
stops," Parker said. "In the first quarter, it was a
high-scoring game. (In the) second quarter, we finally got some
stops and finally got in transition to get some easy baskets
"They are a great defensive team," D'Antoni said. "(It) seemed
like we just got rattled and really played in a frenzy, just
really tried to drive everything, force everything, and a little
bit of a mirror of the game that we played down here (earlier
in) the year (a 115-94 loss)."
It was the lowest-scoring half of the season for the Suns, who
fell behind by 20 points early in the fourth quarter before
making a charge behind unstoppable Amare Stoudemire
, who had 34
points and 11 rebounds.
Stoudemire scored 16 points in the final period, helping the
Suns get as close as six points. Duncan offset him with 10
points in the last five minutes, including six from the foul
line, where he was an astonishing 15-of-15.
"Tim just puts so much pressure on our defense in every
situation," Nash said. "Just by being on the court, everyone is
leaning towards him. The other players are terrific players
too, and when you are constantly leaning towards Tim, he can
destroy a team. That's why they are a team that's won two
championships, and that's why we are down 3-0."
Nash scored 20 points but had just three assists while
committing six turnovers as Parker used his quickness on both
ends on the floor to again play his counterpart to a virtual
"He's a real tough-minded individual," Popovich said. "He's a
good competitor, he can handle critics. You tell him you got
to do this or that, he doesn't take it personally. He just
wants to get better."
had 18 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio,
which outshot Phoenix, made 26-of-30 free throws and held a
49-35 advantage on the glass.
"I think as good as we are, we think we can play better," Duncan
said. "I want to get it a little better. I love the effort,
love what we did on the glass ... Just all around a pretty good
Playing at home for the first time in 11 days, the Spurs may not
be going anywhere for a while. If they can complete the sweep
Monday, they will await the winner of the Miami-Detroit series
in the NBA Finals, which would start here.
"I think we understand what we have to do here," Duncan said.
"I don't think anyone wants to go back to Phoenix."
The Suns went scoreless for the final 4:09 of the first half as
the Spurs pushed the lead from eight to 17 points.
"(We) kind of put our heads down," Nash said. "We just can't do
that. We have proven in stretches that we can play with these
guys. For us to put our heads down just made it impossible for
us to come back no matter how well we played in the second
One of Phoenix's problems again was the lack of production from
Marion, who again was shackled by Bruce Bowen
, managing just six
points on 3-of-9 shooting. Averaging better than 22 points
entering this series, the All-Star forward is averaging 6.7
points on 9-of-26 shooting vs. San Antonio.
A jumper and dunk by Stoudemire capped an 11-0 burst that made
it 83-74 with 8:08 to go. He added a pair of inside hoops to
make it 90-82 with 5:07 left, but Duncan responded with two free
throws, a block and a dunk for a 94-82 lead with 3:31 to play.