Editor’s Note: Clint Corey will be writing a weekly column for ValleyoftheSuns from the perspective of a former high school basketball assistant coach. This column will delve into the X’s and O’s of the game and eventually include a video component.
Any coach will tell you that once you get through all the talk of X’s and O’s, triangle offenses and matchup zones that basketball is ultimately a very simple game. If a team takes care of the ball, gets quality shots, rebounds and plays good defense you will win much more often than you lose provided the two teams playing are evenly matched in terms of talent.
This was absolutely the case when the Suns met their hated playoff nemesis the Spurs in US Airways Center on Tuesday night. Phoenix was much more more efficient defending the Tony Parker and Tim Duncan pick and roll hedging out on the picks than the Spurs were in these same situations with Nash and Amar’e and surprisingly Channing Frye.
The Suns also out hustled everyone on the Spurs except for DeJuan Blair, San Antonio’s second-round pick out of Pittsburgh and 2008-2009 co-Big East Player of the Year (with Hasheem Thabeet), who apparently wants to prove to every team that let him slip past the first round that they made a huge mistake (both literally and figuratively) .
Finally, Planet Orange let the game come seamlessly to each and every player, allowing Goran Dragic to have the breakout game of what will hopefully be the start of an extremely fruitful and productive tenure in Phoenix.
Pick (your poison) and roll
Recently teams have found success defending the renowned Nash and Amar’e pick and roll by switching the big who is covering Amar’e out on the two-time MVP Nash, providing a disruptive defensive wrinkle that the Suns had rarely seen previously. This is a formula that was first instituted by the Raptors in a pair of November games and was later followed by many of the Suns’ recent opponents.
Fortunately for the Suns, especially in the first quarter, San Antonio looked as though it didn’t know whether to switch or stay on screens, leaving the Spurs often looking flat footed and confused.
Surprisingly, however, it was Nash and Channing Frye, not Amar’e who most often burned Tim Duncan and Co. on the pick and roll in the first.
This trend began with 9:28 left in the opening quarter when Antonio McDyess did not switch or hedge out on a Frye screen leading to an unimpeded layup for Nash.
Then it was Amare’s turn when a minute and a half later Duncan half-heartedly switched out on Nash on a pick in the lane, allowing Amar’e to cut to the basket and throw down a thunder dunk off a beautiful dish by Nash in the two-man game.
Three minutes later it was Frye’s turn again as McDyess actually hedged out well on the screen, which allowed Channing the opportunity to post up on McDyess when he finally got back into position for a gorgeous jump hook.
The quarter was punctuated by the Suns as Matt Bonner switched out on a high screen from Frye, allowing Nash to pirouette his way to the basket and a quarter-ending 12-footer, giving the Suns an 11-point first quarter cushion.
Runnin’ with Amar’e
That is not to say that Amar’e was a non-factor in this quarter; quite the opposite is true in fact. STAT actually set the tone for the Suns’ hustle play throughout the game two minutes in when he outmuscled The Big Fundamental for a board, hustled down the floor as the trailer and slashed to the basket for a beautiful left-handed finish.
Halfway into the quarter he also picked off a pass deflection from Channing Frye, outletted the ball to Nash and got the put back slam on a J-Rich missed layup.
The Human Highlight Film part 2, or “The Sequel” as I like to call him, kept up this kind of effort all night, putting the exclamation point on a 28-point, 14-board performance with an earth-shattering dunk that would have to have made even “Diamond” David Lee Roth proud with six and a half to go, off of — what else — a Nash and Amar’e classic pick and roll.
Enter the Dragic
The final piece to the puzzle in this victory was Goran Dragic providing the much-needed spark off the bench that had been missing since Leandro went down earlier in the season.
It all started with 1:45 left in the first when the newly-inserted Dragic exploded to the basket for a beautiful finish with his vaunted left hand after Roger Mason tried to cheat over a Channing Frye pick.
Dragic, in fact, let the game come to him all night, finishing with a career-high 18 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, as well as having — from a coach’s perspective and with all due respect to Amar’e — the two plays of the game.
The Dragic heroics started with 35 seconds remaining in the third with the Suns clinging to a five-point lead. Goran dove for a ball after a long rebound on a Jared Dudley miss at midcourt, outhustling Manu Ginobili to allow the Suns to retain possession on a brilliant hustle play that is all too uncommon in modern day NBA play.
Finally, after San Antonio had clawed its way back to within 89-88 on a signature Tim Duncan bank shot with eleven and a half minutes to play, Dragic sliced through the lane on the next possession to make a little teardrop runner that put the Suns up three, extending a lead they would never relinquish.