PHOENIX(AP) Finding an opponent for Steve Nash to guard is one of the first questions the Suns must answer when coming up with a defensive game plan.
But the question for the Spurs in the teams' Western Conference semifinal seems to be the reverse: Who can cover Nash?
Nash had 17 points in the first quarter -- getting the Suns off to a great start -- and 33 for the game as the Suns outlasted the Spurs in their series opener, 111-102.
Game 2 is set for 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
In the teams' playoff battles in recent years, Nash would be paired against Bruce Bowen.
Bowen's roughhouse defense sometimes bothered Nash. But at the other end, Nash could cover the offensively challenged Bowen with little problem.
In Game 1 of this series, the young George Hill got the assignment on Nash and struggled. And he didn't make Nash pay at the other end, shooting 2-for-9 for nine points.
"Steve gets ridiculed for his defense," noted Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "But he gives you everything he has."
On offense, the Suns' plan was to push the ball with Nash looking to score first.
If the Spurs got back and collapsed on defense, "Then we need to make the extra pass," Gentry said.
But the Spurs didn't get back quickly enough.
"Steve got 'em off to a great start ... He controlled the game too much," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He ran it down our throat. We didn't react quickly. We were half a step behind."
All of this was disappointing, Popovich said, because, against the Suns, "Everybody in the world knows you have to get back in transition.
"No one has to be a genius to figure that out. ... We had our chances, but the transition would kick us in the butt again.
"That was the ballgame."
Superstar big man Tim Duncan agreed: "We didn't react well out of the gates. They're the best transition team in the league. Our focus wasn't where it needs to be."
Nash said, "I was fortunate to get opportunities early to be aggressive."
Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 27 points. Tony Parker added 26 while Duncan had 20 points and 11 boards.
"Those three had great games," Gentry said.
But the Suns prevented anybody else from making much noise.
"When they add a fourth guy to the mix, they're awfully tough to beat," Gentry said.
The Spurs got nothing from Richard Jefferson, who both struggled to stay with Richardson and scored just five points.
In addition to Nash, the Suns got 27 points from Jason Richardson while Amar'e Stoudemire had 23 points and 13 rebounds.
The Suns controlled the game from the opening tip, rolling to leads of 11-4 and 25-14 before settling for a 31-22 edge heading to the second quarter.
The Spurs chipped away against the Suns' reserves, drawing within 37-33. But once starters Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Nash and Richardson re-entered the game, the Suns started to find holes again in the Spurs' defense.
The Suns led 57-47 at halftime, with Nash racking up 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting.
The Spurs fared much better after halftime, starting Parker instead of Hill. They went on a 20-7 run to start the second half as they hit 10 of their first 12 shots and edged out to a 67-64 lead on a Ginobili 3-pointer.
"When we're taking the ball out of the basket, we're not nearly as good at running the ball," Gentry said. "We gotta run on stops."
The Suns got a few of these, picked up the tempo again and got a pair of 3-pointers from Richardson and one from Channing Frye.
Popovich decided to ride out the storm and declined to call timeout. The Suns continued to score, running the lead up to 83-73 on a Richardson 3-pointer in the closing moments of the third quarter.
The Suns pushed the lead to 94-80 in the final quarter, then -- as they did in the first half -- struggled with their reserves in the game.
Nash's backup, Goran Dragic, had trouble directing the offense, and the Spurs efficiently countered.
Gentry elected to give his starters extended rest, a routine strategy that has worked well for the Suns.
But not this time.
While Nash and Richardson waited to re-enter, the Spurs knocked the lead down to 94-86 midway through the final quarter.
Even with the starters back in, the Suns struggled to re-gain their rhythm.
With Duncan, Parker and Ginobili leading the way, the Spurs cut the Suns' lead to just 94-93 -- capping a 13-0 run -- with 4:26 left.
Then Stoudemire and Grant Hill both hit two free throws, and Stoudemire hit a tough running banker for a 100-95 lead.
While the Spurs misfired, Richardson hit the game-clincher, a 3-pointer to give the Suns a 103-95 lead with 1:23 left.
Nash's 33 points were his fourth-most all-time in a playoff game.
This is the 10th playoff series between the teams since 1992, the most between any pair of teams in this span. No other pair of teams have met more than seven teams since '92.
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