An NBA playoff atmosphere in Mexico City?
Yes and no. No postseason contest has ever seen the crowd cheer and boo both teams with equal passion. That – along with an incredible series of back-and-forth plays — made the final 17 minutes of San Antonio’s 121-119 win over Phoenix a game the locals won’t soon forget.
Patty Mills left the lasting impression from Mexico’s first overtime NBA game, draining his game-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds remaining. The sold-out arena exploded when the shot went through – less than 30 seconds after roaring when Ricky Rubio’s 3-pointer put Phoenix up by two.
“From the court, I don’t know if you could say there were more Spurs fans than Suns fans,” Mills said. “I think everyone was just fans of the game. That’s how it felt, anyway, but there was a definite energy and atmosphere, especially in the last quarter and in overtime. I think both teams had the opportunity just to feed off it.”
They had plenty to chew on in a game during which both teams held double-digit leads before it devolved into a back-and-forth thriller. Phoenix trailed by seven with 2:10 remaining after one of Mills’ six 3-pointers and a pair of ill-timed technical fouls from the bench. Despite missing Devin Booker (right forearm contusion), the Suns rallied until Kelly Oubre’s corner 3-pointer sent the game to overtime and the Mexico City crowd into a frenzy.
The lead changed hands four times in overtime alone, with each basket being cheered and each free-throw attempt being booed. The Latin cacophony of whistles worked – both teams shot in the low 70-percentile, which would represent a bottom-five mark in the league.
Phoenix appeared to have the game in hand after Rubio’s 3-pointer and a rare interior miss by LaMarcus Aldridge. Rubio was unable to corral rookie Cam Johnson’s inbounds pass, however, giving the ball back to San Antonio with 8.6 seconds remaining. That was when San Antonio’s Australian trumped Phoenix’s Spaniard to steal the game.
Suns coach Monty Williams was direct when addressing his team’s errors late in regulation and overtime.
“How many times did we foul and give up an and-one?” Williams lamented. “How many times did we foul 3-point shooters? We get two technical fouls in a dead-ball situation. Those last nine seconds, that’s a lesson for all of us.
I told our guys we’ve got to grow up.
Suns Coach Monty Williams
The growing pains have already been plenty for a Phoenix team that is playing its first competitive basketball in half a decade. Former No. 1 Deandre Ayton will return from a 25-game suspension on Wednesday, while several other key players have dealt with injuries. Williams brought none of those obstacles up after Saturday’s thrilling, yet disappointing conclusion.
“I told our guys we’ve got to grow up,” Williams said.
The Spurs are also struggling in the standings, but have leaned on their experience to endure an unprecedented stretch of extra basketball. Saturday marked their fourth consecutive overtime game, the longest stretch of overtime games by any team NBA history.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is hardly inspired by the achievement.
“It’s awful,” Popovich deadpanned.
Perhaps for the Spurs, but the onlookers in Arena Ciudad de México felt exactly the opposite. The crowd of more than 20,000 fans was peppered with jerseys of DeMar DeRozan and Devin Booker, along with several other current and former players from two of the NBA’s most Latin American-influenced cities. They made themselves heard almost without pause over the game’s final stages, which served as a punctation point for the league’s 30th regular season game in Mexico.
“It’s good to leave a lasting memory for the fans here in Mexico with an overtime game,” Mills said. “For us, obviously with a win, but I think it’s a win all around and hopefully this can keep growing.”