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Now it's the NBA's turn to pit scorers vs. stoppers. The Suns trot out the most potent offense in the league (110.2 points per game scored), while the Spurs possess the stingiest defense (90.09 ppg allowed). Something has got to give.
Delve deeper into the stats and peer at the teams' point differentials and you find that San Antonio (+8.42) had a slight advantage over Phoenix (+7.30) during the regular season. What is the over/under on hearing the old maxim, "Defense wins championships," by the broadcast booth if this series goes seven games? I'm setting the bar at about 39 and taking the over.
They are an unlikely pair to be coupled together, but then again, it's each of their pair of Maurice Podoloff Trophies that make it a natural comparison.
Tim Duncan, the league's MVP in 2001-02 and '02-03, and Steve Nash, the recipient in '04-05 and '05-06, are the catalysts for their squads and whoever can make the game easier for their teammates will probably be the one moving on to the next round.
Nash is coming off a finer '06-07 campaign than either of his award-winning seasons. The 11-year vet averaged 18.6 points (on a career-high .532 shooting percentage) and dished out a career-best 11.6 assists per game.
Duncan, in his 10th year, put up 20 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and bounced back from '05-06 when he averaged less than 20 ppg for the first time in his career.
The two will rarely go head-to-head, it will probably only happen when the Spurs decide to switch on high pick and rolls, but whoever has the bigger individual impact will be likely be on the team that takes the series.
"The 2005 Western Conference Finals vs. San Antonio was the finest basketball of (Stoudemire's) career. Look at the numbers (the Spurs won 4-1):
Game 1: 41 points, nine rebounds
Game 2: 37, eight
Game 3: 34, 11
Game 4: 31, five
Game 5: 42, 16
That's a streak of dominance not seen since Tom Hanks had his Philadelphia-Forrest Gump-Apollo 13 run in the mid '90s."
His 2005 series works out to averages of 37 points and 9.8 rebounds per game for STAT. Fast foward to this year and consider Stoudemire is coming off a five-game romp of the Lakers in which he averaged 24.2 and 13.6 and hope that the NBA's statistician assigned to the series has fast enough fingers to record all the numbers that Amare will be racking up.
Back in the First Round in 2003, the script was flipped and Jackson was on the top-seeded Spurs trying to stave off elimination by the pesky, upstart Suns. The No. 8 seed Phoenix took Game 1 thanks to a Stephon Marbury buzzer beater, but couldn't complete the Cinderella story a la Golden State and ended up falling to San Antonio in six.
Oh how times have changed. Now it's the Suns who are the No. 2 seed with the No. 3 seeded Spurs trying to pull off the (mild) upset.
But the way these two 2007 All-Defensive First Team honorees are the most similar is their reputations as tough, physical and fundamentally-sound perimeter defenders. Even though they both see time on the court playing either the two or three positions, they will rarely match up with each other. Bowen's services will be used on James Jones, Shawn Marion and maybe even Nash, while Bell will have Manu Ginobili, Michael Finley and Brent Barry in his crosshairs.
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Way back in 1996-97, Robert Horry and Michael Finley were twenty-something teammates on the Suns. Since then, Horry has won four rings with the Lakers and Spurs and Finley had a very successful run as the Maverick's go-to guy before settling into his supporting role with San Antonio.
The 34-year old Finley shot 19-for-36 from three in the Spurs' first-round series with Denver and the 36-year old Horry pulled out another one of his magical late threes to help seal Game 3. Will they continue to be effective against the younger and more athletic Suns?
Tim Duncan may be the Spurs' most valuable player, but he can't get the ball in the low post unless he has Parker taking care of the ball. For Parker that means withstanding 75 feet of defensive pressure up the court, which is taxing enough, but then knowing when to pass and when to call his own number.
Even at just 6-2 and 180 pounds, Parker is one of the best guards in the league at getting to the paint and finishing. He shot an incredible .520 from the field this season.
But it isn't just about offense this series. Parker will be given the task of trying to slow down Nash and make him work for everything he gets.
Manu gives a rigid-offensive team like the Spurs a free-wheeling scorer that is dangerous off the dribble or from deep. Marion gives a defensively-challenged team like the Suns a full-court defender that can guard all five positions.
Keep an eye on these guys. Whomever can spark their team on a more consistent basis will probably be marching on to the Western Conference Finals.
Phoenix went on to make just their second NBA Finals apperance in franchise history when Michael Jordan's Bulls beat them for the title.
Nash and Co. are hoping that at least part of history will repeat itself and a series win against San Antonio will propel the Suns back on The Finals stage. If they can get there, then they'll try to re-write history and make up for the team's 1975-76 championship loss to Boston and the '93 loss to Chicago.
These are two men at the top of their craft. Pop took home Coach of the Year Award in '02-03 and the Red Auerbach Trophy on D'Antoni's mantel was engraved in '04-05.
It's not a question of experience -- they both have a ton of it. It's not a question of discipline -- they have their teams' respect. It will comes down to unseen motivation and miniscule matchup adjustments between these two in order to determine who does the better job.