PHOENIX, June 1 (Ticker) -- Tim Duncan
and the San Antonio Spurs made
it clear to the Phoenix Suns that defense wins championships.
Duncan had 31 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks as the Spurs
returned to the NBA Finals for the third time in seven years
with a 101-95 victory over the defenseless Phoenix Suns.
The second-seeded Spurs closed out the Western Conference finals
in five games, winning all three contests at America West
Arena. They began the series by taking a pair of shootouts from
the top-seeded Suns but fell back on their reliable defense in
"For us to beat them, we have to make some stops because we are
not as good as them offensively," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich
said. "They are better than us offensively, so that's what they
try to do."
Backstopping the effort was Duncan, who continues to assert
himself as the best player in the world. He was in the middle
of a pivotal defensive stand at the outset of the second half
and scored the biggest basket of the game down the stretch.
"We didn't really find an answer for Tim," Suns guard and NBA
MVP Steve Nash
said. "He's just such a terrific player."
As they did all series, the Spurs had their hands full with
, who had a playoff career-high 42 points and 16
rebounds. But they made stops when they had to, which was more
than the Suns could say.
"We're going to keep the (up-tempo) style, but we have got to
get a lot better defensively," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
After whittling a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to 93-90, the
Suns had the Spurs inbounding with three seconds on the shot
clock. Duncan took a lob pass in the lane and drove, tipping in
his miss for a five-point lead with 2:14 to go.
"I didn't know if it had a chance to go in," Duncan said. "But
as soon as I hit the ground, I just went back up with it, popped
(it) back up to me. I had a chance to tip it in."
"I thought the big back-breaker was the three seconds they had
the ball out of bounds and Tim Duncan missed the shot, tipped it
back in, got (the lead) back up to five," D'Antoni said. "That
made a steal and Stoudemire missed a scoop shot
rebounded by Duncan, who worked a give-and-go with a wide-open
for a layup and a 97-90 bulge with 50 seconds
Led by Nash, the run-and-gun Suns topped the NBA in scoring this
season. However, they were last in defense, the staple of the
Spurs. Phoenix was held below 106 points just twice in the
postseason, both times by San Antonio.
"On the whole, we're a little better than them defensively, so
we had to make those stops and we made them in the third and
fourth quarter that allowed us to have an opportunity to win the
game," Popovich said.
San Antonio trailed, 50-49, at halftime but forced Phoenix into
2-of-15 shooting and five turnovers over the first 7 1/2 minutes
of the third quarter, opening a 13-point lead.
"They can lock you up sometimes and they did a good job
defensively on us," D'Antoni said. "We just didn't seem able to
move the ball and get into our stuff. We weren't real fluid."
"We had to go out and play a good strong third quarter and make
that push and put some doubt in their mind and put some fear in
them," said Horry, who had seven points, 11 rebounds and five
had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists and
Parker scored 18 points for the Spurs, who will have seven days
off as they await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals
between Miami and Detroit.
San Antonio, which won titles in 1999 and 2003 behind Duncan,
has home-court advantage in the NBA Finals.
"I won't obsess over it because it is what it is," Popovich
said. "We'll just try to figure out how to keep guys in shape,
how to stay sharp and do the best job we can."
Nash had 21 points and 10 assists and Joe Johnson
points for the Suns, whose 3-point shooting deserted them. They
made just 5-of-17 from the arc, three from Jim Jackson
tried to pick up the slack for slumping forwards Shawn Marion
and Quentin Richardson
"My stomach is sick right now," Marion said.
Duncan made 14-of-24 shots, grabbed six offensive rebounds and
handed out four assists. He was uncharacteristically animated
after bouncing back from a poor Game Four in which he scored
just 15 points and made just 3-of-12 free throws.
"I knew I had to put together a better performance than I did
the last game, whether it be lack of focus the last game or just
a bad night," Duncan said. "I didn't want to have one of those
again and I came in here just to rectify that."
Stoudemire and Nash combined for 39 points in the first half but
could not get going early in the third quarter. Parker had two
3-pointers and Duncan a pair of blocks before sinking two free
throws for a 69-56 advantage with 4:27 to go.
"The third quarter was the telling point," D'Antoni said. "We
just didn't shoot the ball well. We kind of got into a little
bit of a 1-on-1 kind of mode. Once they get you down a little
bit, this is a tough team to come back on."
"I hit those two big threes and that gave me confidence," Parker
Three-point plays by Horry and Duncan made it 84-72 before
Stoudemire began attacking the rim. Working primarily against
Duncan, he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including
consecutive dunks that made it 91-87 with 3:21 to play.
"I grew a lot as a player in this postseason," Stoudemire said.
"I think my confidence level went up and I think my IQ as a
basketball player has gotten better."
"With his athleticism and his ability, just knowing that he's
going to get even better, it's kind of scary," Duncan said.
Ginobili weaved for a layup and Jackson drilled a 3-pointer to
set up Duncan's big hoop.