Nash Leads Suns to Game 1 Semifinals Win Over Spurs

By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: May 3, 2010

NBA conspiracy theorists, take note. For the first time in this Steve Nash era, the Suns have a 1-0 lead over the Spurs in a playoff series.

Phoenix took Monday’s Game 1 of the best-of-seven Conference Semis at US Airways Center, 111-102, led by the Suns playmaker’s game-high 33 points – a new personal 2010 playoff best.

Setting the tone early with eight of the Suns’ first 11 points off a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, Nash tallied his ninth career 30-plus-point playoff performance and his biggest offensive postseason explosion since 2007. The effort came on the heels of his slow start in the Opening Round clincher against the Blazers last week.

“You never know what the game is going to present,” the All-Star point guard said. “You have to be willing and aggressive and do whatever you can. For me, I didn’t know how I was going to feel physically, but dragging my leg around in Game 6 in Portland wasn’t any fun and it felt great to get out there and feel like I could do something.”

Taking a few days off from practice following the Blazers series, the extra rest certainly helped Nash. He also racked up a game-high 10 assists, making for his sixth career 30-10 game, and helping his team improve to 5-0 all-time when he reaches those offensive numbers.

“He wanted to come out and be aggressive and see what he could get done early,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who posted 20 points and 11 boards. “He shot the ball well and opened the floor up for them so the rest of the game he could kind of pick us apart. We will be ready for him a little more to start the next game. We’ll be more aggressive on him and see how it comes out.”

In addition to 27 points from Jason Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire came alive in the second half, finishing with 23 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

“Steve played great,” STAT said. “He shot the ball well to start the game off and carried us there for awhile until J-Rich and myself got going. He did a great job and the second unit did a phenomenal job of coming in and applying the full-court pressure and causing some havoc out there defensively. It was a great team effort.”

The Suns are 18-8 all-time in playoff series in which they’ve won a Game 1, winning five-straight best-of-seven series in which they have won the opener at home. Monday’s win was their first Game 1 victory against San Antonio since 2003 – a year before Nash returned to the Valley for his second stint with the team that drafted him.

Although seeing their one-time 14-point lead evaporate in the second half of Game 1, the Suns ultimately led in points in the paint (56-48) and fastbreak points (27-20), energizing one of the more raucous US Airways Center crowds seen (or heard) in a long time.

“Timely baskets, big baskets and the crowd got incredibly loud,” Nash said. “There was a great energy in the building. Our fans deserved it, and we’ve got to look for more of the same in the next game.”

The Suns host Game 2 of the Semis Wednesday at 6 p.m.

GENTRY ON SUNS-SPURS RIVALRY

Earning his first career NBA paycheck as an assistant for the Spurs in 1988-89, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry can sympathize with the Phoenix faithful when it comes to the rivalry between his old team and his current one.

“Our fans have gone through a lot of heartbreak,” he said, “and the Spurs have been the reason why. We’ve had a really difficult time getting by them. Hopefully this will be a breakthrough year for us. The last five times we’ve been in the playoffs, they’ve been the ones to knock us out. There can’t be any great feelings toward them, but it’s a rivalry and you have to have a lot of respect for them. They have four banners hanging up in their arena. They’ve knocked some other people out, too. They didn’t get all those banners just for beating us. Obviously, they’ve had a great run. They are a great team and a great franchise.”

POPOVICH TALKS UP GENTRY

“We go way back,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “There’s a respect there, and it’s fun to see him coaching this team. I’m thrilled Alvin’s done so well, and he’s done a hell of a job. It’s always fun to coach against friends and people you’ve known for 20 years. In a sense, it’s fun to do it, because he’s done so well and that’s great to see.

“This is in his blood. He loves the Os and Xs and he loves the competitiveness. He has a great rapport with players. He’s honest and he knows how to use their input. He’s comfortable in his own skin and knows how to develop relationships with people. That goes a long way in the NBA because players know who’s real and who isn’t real. Alvin’s always had that ability to develop relationships and get along with people. When you combine all that with his love of the game, he’s a natural.”

LOPEZ OFFICIALLY UNOFFICIAL

Another Monday means another Robin Lopez availability update, and much like the past few weeks, the big man is yet another step closer to a return to the hardwood. Out since March 26 with a bulging disc in his back, the recuperating Stanford alum has now traded in one of Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson’s balance balls for the real thing this week. The second-year center has begun full contact drills with the team during daily practices. Still, there is no official timetable for his return.

“He’s coming along,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “He’s not ready right now, but he has made unbelievable progress the last 10 days. We’ll see how it goes. He continues to improve every day. Sure, we’d love to have him. You need size to guard Tim Duncan, and if we had that, it would be a big plus for us.”