Game 1 win sets the tone for the series


PHOENIX — There’s a reason that the team that wins Game 1 takes about four out of every five series in the NBA.

Grant Hill was talking on Saturday about how Tim Duncan’s three-pointer that capped a 16-point comeback in Game 1 of Suns-Spurs two years ago just kind of demoralized the Suns to the extent that it took them a couple games to recover (and at that point it was too late).

Hill thought the same thing happened to the Spurs in the West Finals that year when they blew a 20-point lead to the Lakers in Game 1 and never recovered either, losing in five games. Hill said Spurs player corroborated that observation after the fact.

As far as Suns-Spurs goes, Game 1 has always made for a telling and/or bizarre game this decade.

Of course the Duncan shot game shifted the 2008 series. In both 2005 and 2007 the Spurs stole home-court advantage with Game 1 victories in the Purple Palace, and the 2007 game featured Steve Nash’s infamous gushing nose. In 2003, the Suns stole Game 1 in San Antonio when Amare banked home a three (yes, seriously) to send the game into overtime and then Stephon Marbury did the same to win it. Of course, the Spurs ended up sweeping the rest of that series, the only time the winner of Game 1 has not won the series when these two teams meet up.

Yes, that’s often how important it is, with the Suns otherwise 3-0 when winning Game 1s against the Spurs but 0-5 when they don’t in the previous nine series they’ve played since 1992.

In this Game 1, the Suns outshot the Spurs, outrebounded the Spurs, got bigger contributions from their stars than the Spurs and all in all outplayed the Spurs.

Yet when San Antonio made separate 12-0 and 13-0 runs in the second half, the men in black seemed poised to steal a win in the fashion the Spurs always seem to do so in Game 1s in Phoenix.

Sure, we found out in Portland that such a deficit isn’t insurmountable, but it sure makes things a lot easier having that advantage.

“He knows how much these games mean, especially winning Game 1,” Grant Hill said in regards to Steve Nash’s brilliant performance. “We don’t want what happened last series. We came out and played well the first game.”

The Suns had to win this one for their psyche. If they had lost a game in the final minutes after outplaying San Antonio for the majority of the game, it could have been the kind of demoralizing blow that essentially knocked the Suns out in Game 1 two years ago.

It would be par for the course in this rivalry, the kind of thing that always seems to happen. Tonight was the first test of if the weight of previous failures would weigh the Suns down. So far, they’ve passed the test.

The Suns never panicked when the Spurs made their runs; they just answered. They seemed to only be thinking about the 2009-10 Suns instead of the ghosts of failures past.

“That’s the past,” said Jason Richardson. “Whatever happened, the bad blow, whatever it is, that’s stuck in the past. I wasn’t here, a couple other guys on this team wasn’t here, so we’re trying to make a new history, a new beginning and try to win the series.”

If the Suns had lost this game in typical sickening Suns-Spurs fashion, we would all believe that the past is repeating itself regardless of how many times the Suns say they don’t believe in the Curse of San Antonio.

By winning this game in a contest that didn’t resemble the opening salvo of any previous series, we can see that’s more than cheap talk.

The win puts the Suns in a nice position, according to some stats John Hollinger compiled. Home winners of Game 1 in the NBA quarterfinals have won 88.4 percent of the time (114-15). That’s not to mention the fact that since 1984 when the playoffs expanded to 16 teams, home-court teams in any round that also won the season series (as the Suns did) have won 81.9 percent of all series, according to Hollinger.

Now, I understand if there’s any team that defies statistics it’s the Spurs, especially since they’re not the same squad they were in the regular season, and I also understand the Spurs just knocked off the Mavericks despite losing Game 1 and the season series.

So don’t start celebrating a series win or anything like that quite yet.

But considering how catastrophic a Game 1 collapse would have been when amplified by the historical perspective of this series and how convincing those odds look, winning Game 1 sets the tone for a series the Suns now control.

Until Wednesday night at least.