PHOENIX — The Mike D’Antoni Suns made a habit of winning pretty, and they did it quite often.
But if you need any further evidence that these aren’t the D’Antoni Suns anymore then pop in the film of Phoenix’s 110-102 Game 2 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
On a politically-charged night, Los Suns connected on just 42.4 percent of their shots, but by dominating the glass and getting a major contribution from their deep bench they managed to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in this best-of-seven series, earning such an advantage against the Spurs for the first time since 1993.
“We’ve evolved into a team with more depth and more ways to win games,” Grant Hill said. “I think before we had to sort of win pretty, and we did a lot, but it was hard to win ugly. We’ve learned, and it goes back to our defense, learning how to compete on that end of the court. Tonight was sort of an example.”
Added coach Alvin Gentry, “I think it was as gritty a win as we’ve had since I’ve been around here.”
Back in the days when the Suns were the Spurs’ whipping boy, the Spurs used to gut out all the gritty victories. The Spurs used to win games with 42.4 percent shooting when the Suns shot 50 percent as San Antonio did in this one, but tonight that script was flipped when Phoenix hit shots down the stretch (52.8 percent shooting in the fourth).
The Suns fell behind by nine points in a sluggish first quarter controlled by San Antonio’s defense, which held the Suns to 33 percent shooting, while Tim Duncan exploded for a monster 11-point quarter on the other end.
But then the Suns’ bench came in and turned the tide, as so often happens when that unit enters. The reserves only cut three points from the deficit, but their grittiness set the tone (as I wrote in today’s Daily Dime), best exemplified by the sequence when Jared Dudley grabbed a board, made the putback and got fouled, missed the free throw and then grabbed another offensive board, made the putback and got fouled again.
“I got us going, a couple sparks, a couple And 1s, and from there we took off,” Dudley said.
Continued Grant Hill, “I thought Jared really did a wonderful job of getting second-chance points, rebounding, but just mainly bringing the energy. We were kind of flat, we weren’t in sync, and it kind of gave us a little bit of life there. … Tonight [the bench] just established the mental toughness, and we came back in and were able to get going from there.”
But it wasn’t just Dudley and his four crafty offensive rebounds.
Channing Frye came in and drilled five huge three-pointers whenever the Spurs seemed to be making a run, Lou Amundson contributed four offensive boards and Goran Dragic helped the Suns add three points to their lead during Nash’s six-minute fourth quarter rest.
For the night six Suns scored in double figures and five guys (the starters and de facto starter Frye) all went for at least 15 a game after only Nash, Amare and Jason Richardson even reached double figures.
“So many guys made plays for our team tonight, and I can’t remember really being a part of a team that’s had so many guys step up and play so well,” Nash said.
That statement rings true as well for Phoenix’s effort on the boards, as the Suns outrebounded the Spurs 49-37, including an 18-7 edge on the offensive glass. In fact, the Suns’ bench corralled more offensive rebounds than all of San Antonio, who got six offensive boards from Tim Duncan and just one more from the rest of the team.
Richard Jefferson tied Duncan by grabbing 10 total rebounds but no other Spur snatched more than three. On the other side, eight Phoenix Suns corralled at least four boards, led by Amare’s 11.
“We’re doing a good job collectively of rebounding,” Stoudemire said. “It’s a total team effort out there every night.”
On the defensive side of things, the Suns geared their defense toward making Manu Ginobili a distributor, and it worked. After going off for a team-high 27 points in Game 1, Hill and company limited him to 11 points on 2-for-8 shooting in this one. Ginobili added 11 assists, but he didn’t impact the game with his scoring.
Hill wasn’t pleased with his defensive effort in Game 1 on Manu, so he spoke to his father — former Cowboys running back Calvin Hill — who gave him a little football advice on how to stop the crafty Argentinean.
“He said stop looking at the ball, looking at his shoulders, look at his waist,” Hill said. “I just tried to focus on his waist and his midsection and just stay in front of him.”
What’s most amazing about the Suns’ performance is that they managed 110 points once again on a night in which their offense lacked rhythm at the beginning of the game.
That poor start meant they scored 110 points in a playoff game in which they shot 43 percent or lower for the first time since June 1993, when they needed to hit a playoff-record 57 foul shots to pull out a victory.
The Suns also pinned 110 on the Spurs for the fifth time in five meetings this season. By contrast, San Antonio has only yielded that many points eight times in 85 regular season and playoff games not against Phoenix.
In taking their first 2-0 lead over San Antonio in the Duncan Era, Phoenix puts itself in a pretty good historical position. All-time teams in the conference semis are 84-3 (.966) when winning the first two at home.
Of course, the Spurs came back from such a deficit two years ago against New Orleans, but as Gregg Popovich said, he isn’t going to tell his team to “remember the Hornets.”
Still, Popovich knows his team is in a world of trouble after the versatile Suns won Game 2 in a way that Phoenix teams of recent vintage likely would have lost.
“We did what we’re supposed to do,” Dudley said. “We just battled. That’s not usually the way the Suns have won in the past, but as you can see it’s a different team, a different year.”
- Dudley got some postgame love from Popovich, who said, “In the first half Jared Dudley changed the whole game. He came in and he was a monster.” Meanwhile, Nash called him his player of the game.
- San Antonio lost its 13th straight playoff game when yielding at least 100 points. … The Suns were 10-2 at home in the regular season when at least six players went for double figures. … The Suns have won all four home games this season against San Antonio. They lost the teams’ only meeting in Texas. … The Suns won consecutive playoff games against the Spurs for the first time since taking Games 3 and 4 of the 2000 series, which they won. … The Suns have won four straight home playoff games for the first time since 1995. They’ve won six of seven overall since the Game 1 loss to Portland. … The Suns are 7-2 all-time when taking a 2-0 postseason lead and 2-0 in the Nash Era.